Review of Hope in Hopeless Times by John Holloway, Pluto Press, October 2022 – https://www.plutobooks.com/9780745347363/hope-in-hopeless-times/
Two books arguing that we need to go beyond money to achieve postcapitalism were published by Pluto Press last year (2022). The most recent, Hope in Hopeless Times, is the climacteric closure of John Holloway’s remarkable trilogy, which began with Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (2019) followed by Crack Capitalism (2010). Holloway refers to these works as grandmother, mother and daughter. Here, I refer to them as Change, Crack and Hope, respectively.
A central theme of Change is to redirect and recreate the Left’s sense of power as enabling ‘power-to’ and ‘power-with’, rather than ‘power-over’ as in state power in its current hierarchical form. Crack is more oriented around the content and meaning of the various resistances and interventions centred on self-determination, a key characteristic of prefigurative politics. Hope is a rallying cry to action, to call out and go beyond the breathing and beating essence of capitalism – money.
‘Money’ encapsulates monetary relations of buyer and seller; investor; borrower and debtor; and monetary values (prices and calculations) that all ground and reproduce capitalism. As such, Holloway writes of the ways that money weaves ‘a single grand narrative’ and elaborates on ‘the totalising force of money’ (34). In short, he highlights that money stands for ‘an historically specific form of organising relations between people’ (46).
An Autonomist Marxist influenced by the Zapatista movement in Mexico, where he has lived for three decades, John Holloway is a sociologist and philosopher with the Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Autonomous University of Puebla. For decades his preoccupations have centred on analysing and writing about anti-capitalist struggles for socio-political and economic change, with foci on power, the state and, now, money.
By way of an example of Holloway’s inimitable prose-poetry style, the title of Crack’s first chapter reads ‘Break. We want to break. We want to create a different world. Now. Nothing more common, nothing more obvious. Nothing more simple. Nothing more difficult.’ As for his latest, the titles of chapters 27 and 28 respectively read: ‘Hope confronts the Hydra of Money’ and ‘Money rules. Money is the serial killer destroying us all.’ It is not surprising that Holloway has developed a cult following as much related to his expressive and engaging style as to his analysis. A style that in certain ways compares with that of the Uruguayan journalist, fiction and non-fiction writer Eduardo Galeano (1940–2015).
Richness and hope
Holloway’s work reverberates with a passion for us to discover and to reappropriate our ‘richness’, which means developing ourselves to act, think and feel in empowered, fulfilling and connected ways. In other words, to seek, demand and recover our dignity not simply as individuals but as a community of humanity. Monied wealth in capitalist societies contrasts with his concept ‘richness’ in the way a reflection differs from its source by simplifying and contorting it, oft times grotesquely.
In an earlier work, from which Holloway draws some of Hope’s passages, he describes this distinction with wealth in terms of richness ‘having a broader meaning: a rich tapestry, an enriching conversation, a rich life or experience, a rich diversity of colours’. These contrasts between richness and wealth are, to some extent, comparable with Karl Marx’s value-form (money-form) analysis, specifically Marx’s concepts of use value and exchange value, as well as ‘form’ and ‘content’ or ‘substance’, which attach to products and commodities. Yet Holloway’s concepts of richness and wealth go beyond – all-encompassing and holistic, pertaining to agency at the heart of the social system. As such, overflowing richness – ‘the richness of a street filled with different traditions and ways of living, the richness of the turn of the seasons in the countryside, the richness of a voice raised in song, be it human or of a bird’ – is continuously threatened by its societal context and circumstances.
Indeed, Holloway’s teasing out of the differences between ‘wealth’ and ‘richness’, which he argues is profoundly significant to understanding the way that Marx starts Capital I, packs an important punch. Bourgeois wealth is a dead noun. Richness, as a characteristic of agency and being, is lively. In Holloway’s hands, we can have wealth but we are rich. Holloway’s argument attaches to Marx’s intent and authorial position, namely a fatal judgement on capitalism counterposing alienation associated with wealth to agency, as latent freedom. Wealth contrasts with richness only in the ways tightly clasped hands might be falsely imagined as separable, or if distorted reflections might be torn from the genuine matter that they represent. Here, as a result of societal structures, patterns and processes, ‘money’ and markets consecrate, constrain and alienate richness in assets and commodities. Capitalist activities bind, dominate and exploit our very being.
In short, what emerges immediately in Capital, argues Holloway, is that we live in constant tension between submitting to capital and breaking away from the system to create our genuine selves beyond its confines. As we read in Hope, ‘Richness is both captured by, but at the same time pushing against and reaching beyond the commodity form.’ (109) So, everyday life ‘is the struggle of richness against capital.’ (51) In newspaper headline style, he writes: ‘Richness against Money. A titanic battle.’ (161) As such, our real and most often suppressed potential remains a candle of hope in and of itself. ‘There will be no automatic collapse, capitalism will end only if we make it happen.’ (151)
Chapter 27 presents as near as the book gets to a manifesto with a solid throughline. There we read that ‘[a]t every level of protest, it is money that draws people back into the logic of the system.’ So, ‘we have to follow the example of Hercules, we have to kill the hydra. The hydra is money.’ Even as we have it in our grasp: ‘How can we possibly kill money? It seems impossible, even ridiculous, but perhaps our struggles have already driven a chronic and possibly fatal illness into its heart. Kill the hydra. Kill Money. That is hope.’ (151)
Current struggles for freedom
Liberal totalitarianism combines weak representative democracy with a strong market economy, and touts this model as the only possible future, the epitome of ‘freedom’. The holy trinity of liberalism is individuality, competition and efficiency, enabled by standardised production under the disciplining force of monetary relations and value. This model can only offer monetarily defined forms of individuality, competition and efficiency. Comparison in monetary terms between productive units and their outputs is the key dynamic. Of course, the wealthy seem ‘free’, but only in as much as we are the wind beneath their wings. The majority (the ‘99%’) constantly experience suffocating and overwhelming politico-economic force, tensions and crises. Not freedom but alienation. Ironically, given that they are tied to managing money making more money, even the wealthy are not free.
Real, universal, freedom centres on self-determination and collective governance enabled by horizontalist approaches to power and decision making. This direction has flowered in the prefigurative politics of the twenty-first century. Yet, any ‘struggle for diversity, for differences and alternatives, can only be understood as a struggle-against, a struggle against the totalising effect of money’ argues Holloway, captivated by an imaginary of ‘a “world of many worlds”, as the Zapatistas express it with their customary beauty.’ (36) So, think ‘occupy’, and apply it to everything. Liberation is open, necessarily communal and horizontalist. Twenty-first century social and ecological movements have both inherited and deeply developed horizontalism – assemblies, open spaces, collaborative and cooperative activities, central approaches of solidarity and commoning integrating, and living with, diversity.
In such struggles, the ‘anti-logics, anti-grammars’ (115) of money are more than mere escape routes. For those travelling beyond money, Holloway cautions that barter is a dead-end alley, a logic akin to, and generative of, commodity exchange and value (103). There is no money without capital; ‘If money, then capital and exploitation’ (93). Only totally nonmonetary alternatives are genuine pathways for transformation and to flourish with communal agency. And we must act with haste. ‘Humanity is in a moment of great danger,’ warns Holloway. ‘Money is pushing us towards the final abyss.’ (238)
Money and financialization
Much more than a thread linking traded things together, ‘[m]oney is at the heart of the civilisation in which we live,’ points out Holloway (234). And today monetary relations and values absorb more and more daily activities and needs-satisfaction into trade and production for trade. Money is the unit of value that capitalist companies use to make decisions associated with production – what to produce, how to produce, who they will employ and the buyers they will target. Monetary values smother, even eradicate, ecological and social values leading to unsustainability and injustice. Meanwhile, ‘The driving force of money is its own self-expansion.’ (91) In other words, M –> M’ is the primary target of all business activities, binding them together and orchestrating their competition. All these money-making activities rely on certain people exerting control over other people, to produce for them and to keep producing more, and more, for them.
Part VII of Hope draws us into controversial discourses on financialization central to analyses of our current politico-economic conjuncture. Here Holloway’s focus is on financial claims to the revenue (profits) of capital via shares, securities, bonds and the plethora of all such agreements that have burgeoned over the last several decades. He is particularly interested in speculative trade in such ‘fictitious capital’, as Marx referred to it. ‘The increasingly fictitious character of capital accumulation is probably the most important characteristic of modern capitalism,’ argues Holloway, as do many analysts (168).
He posits Marx’s theory of the tendency for the profit rate to fall and its significant counter-tendencies as a central dynamic of capitalist production for the market (129ff). Of course, one might argue that this notion of time-saving technological production undermining capitalism has spawned so many countervailing tendencies as to question its conceptual worth as a self-defeating systemic threat. Still Holloway’s discussion focusses, first, on the break from gold, the prevailing global money commodity in the twentieth century, as key to the ubiquity of fictitious capital (176) and, second, on ‘the existence of huge centrifugal forces driving a separation between value and its monetary expression.’ (171) Money and financial capital have always embodied the presumptuous magician-like role of representing past and future value with workers expected to dance to their tune. Reasons for the dancers moving out of sync with the tune – Holloway’s breach between value and money – are many and various. This breach is the leitmotif of Part VII.
Holloway contends that ‘[d]ebt is a severe and chronic illness, very difficult to eliminate.’ (203) Indeed, indebtedness exists in the very DNA of capitalism. For the capitalist only invests on the expectation of a return greater than the one they invested. Oft spoken of as credit, from the capitalists point of view the investment is a debt par excellence that society owes them in a continuously and expansively reproductive cornucopia. As capitalism grows so, proportionately, do debts. On top of that, speculation associated with capitalist owners and shareholders trading as they change their bets on their claims to individual capitals also grow apace. ‘The constant juggling of claims to a wealth that has not been produced becomes more and more precarious,’ concludes Holloway (235).
There are various reasons why fictitious capital seems so ubiquitous. Social and mainstream media, neoliberal cant, flagrant practices and worker’s pension/superannuation funds invested in capital have had the effect of raising the consciousness of fictitious capital and its outlandish features. But the rapidity with which capitalism has expanded and intensified is key – global population doubling from 4 billion in 1975 to 8 billion in 2022 and global trade quadrupling in the shorter period between 1982 and 2012. Out of control carbon emissions is a mere symptom of the massive increase in capitalist exploitation of Earth. The ecological burden of capitalist activities right now is estimated to be around twice the regenerative capacity of the planet. Think working twice your own capacity which, of course, is our experience of capital as workers too. As such, the exploits of capitalism are notorious and know no bounds except for our ‘No’. Resisting what’s asked of both us and Earth, our genuine source of life.
Autonomists analyse economic crises as struggles that highlight workers capacity to disrupt and frustrate the system. Holloway’s agent struggling for change is a pre-eminent ‘rabble’. In his operaista plot (247), ‘the fear of the rabble continues to shape the development of money’ (200). This ‘anti-working anti-class’ (143) rabble is ‘in-against-and-beyond the working class, as the disidentifying overflowing of the working class’ (178). These are the appropriate agents to bring forth a new world (236), to raise a collective ‘No’ to money – money being capital’s language and practice – because ‘the narrative of money … is a narrative that appears to be leading us towards extinction’ (53). Because money and its alter-ego financialisation enable capital(ists) to trespass on our erstwhile commoned and cogoverned lands (215).
‘Insecurity, fear and violence are built into the act of commodity exchange’, writes Holloway (159). We submit to capital because, without other ways to achieve our sustenance, we are dependent on the market, to purchase. Yet exchanging shapes and entangles us as veritable functionaries of capital. So, this ‘logic of money … makes us complicit in the day-to-day reproduction of terror … that constitutes the hopeless times against which our hope is directed.’ (87) Both conciliatory and violent reactions are based on fear and are destructive (71). But, understanding the implications of such exchange, which ‘breaks the communal’ (92), offers a strategic opening. Defiance as a communal act, in solidarity.
Indeed, Holloway’s postcapitalism is ‘some sort of communal process, some sort of communising, but a million miles removed from the “communism” of the last century’. (238) He concurs with the imaginary of the Zapatista’s ‘world of many worlds’ (85), which embraces the fulfilment of our numerous richnesses (84). ‘We are the rich in revolt against wealth, we are doers in revolt against labour, we are social values in revolt against Value,’ writes Holloway. ‘We are Richness in-against-and-beyond Money.’ (64) But, in our path to constituting and consolidating communal agency, lie several traps.
Holloway has a fundamental concern with the general philosophical and strategic approach of anti-capitalist struggles. Hierarchical cultures are perfect for, and have been perfected by, capitalism. Such top-down processes are antithetical to anti-capitalist processes. Hierarchical structures are exclusive and enclose. Yet, in general, political parties and trade unions run in sync with hierarchical capitalist processes. Perhaps it is not surprising that we are so successfully indoctrinated by our indoctrinator that we ape their approach? Against power-over orientations, Holloway is firmly pivoted towards horizontalist power-with and power-to analyses as well as actions.
Often the state is the focus of proposals and campaigns. But, given that the state is born of capital, seduced by capital and colludes with capital, the state is not our saviour even if, like money, it appears ‘permanent, timeless, ahistorical, indispensable’ (231). The strategy of adopting Keynesian policies and public control, say of basic services, is inadequate to address current crises. State-reliant strategies might well soften the system and, as such, are important in and of themselves, but aligned public debt offers capital great power over state and populaces. So, we must create powerful structures among us that go beyond the state.
Meanwhile, identitarian struggles can become navel-gazing exercises falling far short of the inclusion and justice they seek, unless set in analyses that connect with systemic domination and suffocation (119). In short, Holloway calls for a direct approach and clear vision of ‘a society based upon a communising self-determination that strives towards the mutual recognition of dignities’ (116).
Holloway’s contention that ‘the idea of abolishing capital or abolishing money is taboo or has fallen beyond the bounds of imagination or of civilized conversation’ (104) is correct. Still, a growing core of Marxian analysts and activists have been radically challenging money. One work with strong synergies, even if a distinctive style and arguments, is Harry Cleaver’s Rupturing the Dialectic: The Struggle against Work, Money, and Financialization (2017, AK Press). Hope is yet another of the ‘candles in the rain’. In Holloway’s imaginary, ‘we will no longer tolerate the rule of money’ (242). ‘Money is killing us and the only way that humanity can survive is to kill money,’ he concludes. ‘By abolishing it as a social relation, by getting rid of it as the force that mediates our relations with other people,’ (153)
Of course, Holloway must urge for ‘putting the abolition of money at the centre of the search for solutions’ (156). He accepts that this is not – and cannot be – a narrow target; there will be ‘a multitude of movements that fight against the different heads of the hydra: against sexism, racism, police violence, destruction of the natural environment, against the violence or incompetence of particular governments’ (251–2). Once we recognize that we support and hold up the rule(rs) of capital, their assumed power can be reappropriated as ours. Hope is about staying present and opening ourselves up to action. ‘Hope’ writes Holloway, ‘is the determination to ensure that capitalism comes to an end before it leads to the extinction of humanity.’ (125)
Activist scholar Anitra Nelson is Honorary Principal Fellow at Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne (Australia), author of “Beyond Money, A Post-Capitalist Strategy”, co-author of Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide (2020), co-editor of Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies (2011) and author of Small is Necessary: Shared Living on a Shared Planet (2018) and Marx’s Concept of Money: The God of Commodities (1999/2014, Routledge). Site: https://anitranelson.info/beyond-money/
 Quotes in this paragraph, and much of the content and discussion in the following paragraph, are derived from John Holloway, 2015, ‘Read Capital: The First Sentence Or Capital starts with Wealth, not with the Commodity’, Historical Materialism 23(3).
 ‘Has world population changed over time?’ and ‘Trade and Globalization’ pages at Our World in Data site – https://ourworldindata.org/trade-and-globalization and https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth respectively.
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