Autonomism according to John Holloway

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The world is there and it is a nightmare. But it doesn't necessarily have to be the worst that capitalism has to offer us, death

Democracy offers little in advanced capitalism – when the fetish for consuming takes hold, too much is always too little. It follows that the majority of the population distinguishes between those who are voracious and those who will do anything to be voracious. The entire right has their votes. The more consumer society advances, the more voters vote, therefore, it is no surprise that the right is at its peak and its extremism stands out.

But Hannah Arendt (The totalitarian system) discovered something that weighed on him until his grave: the “rabble”,[I] Those who live outside, in the ghettos, are so desperate that they believe in the fat death fallacies of their tormentors, and help them to grow up believing that one day they too will leave the restrained group to participate in the banquet of the voracious.

Neoliberal bourgeois democracy is at the stage of simple deception: only power interests the voracious and the measuredly deceived, and so it is the most extremist right-wing ideologies that are successful. Alexis de Tocqueville (Democracy in America) predicted that the more consumer societies grew, the more the policy would be deprecated. Politics, in this case, is pragmatic and loses interest as the voracious devour everything, including the brains of the moderate in the ghettos (cf. the Greek myth of Erysichthon, cited by Anselm Jappe in the autophagic society).

The end of ideologies does not exist, what exists is the occupation of space by the ideological hegemony of minorities, as Hannah Arendt said. And the rest accept it voraciously. As for the ability to think about this, it disappears in the litany that power is for few or that we should move away from it (cf. the popular saying “those who can command, obey those who have sense”). What Theodor Adorno draws attention to is the need to use rationality to convince oneself that what is positive already has an owner; the denial of what bourgeois liberal democracy poses is the denial of deception – it is enough, after all, to be pragmatic with the reality that surrounds us (negative dialectic).

But of course: either we fight to leave the ghettos, better than we entered, or we leave the “rabble” at any cost, deluded by the fetishized voracity of the market. The “more tuned-in” left does not fight for power, it fights for freedom; it does not fight for the State, laws, rights, it fights for another society, for a world where power is common and shared.

We want the power to transform society and participate in it with justice and dignity. Power here is the autonomy of being present in politics as a free association of all free common men. Current democracy is suffocating with the final stages of the advancement of market societies. The humanity of know-how and power-do advances (John Holloway: Change the world without taking power). There is a lot of ideology and power in that!

Our actions cause rifts and change the world. Choosing the right only worsens the problems, but accelerates other proposals: yes, there are ideologies, because another society is possible. In John Holloway there are some reasons for us to stand before the persistence of capitalism: the market as the dominant social relationship, the culture of capitalist doing in ourselves, the widespread insistence of instances of value and life guided by money[ii] (John Holloway: Fissure capitalism). From them it can be observed, however, that there is no immobility or quietism, but action in revolutionary praxis, but in unorthodox terms for the classical left, which here is didactically summarized in six ideas that seem fundamental to me:

(i) We cannot say that the Welfare state it no longer exists, at least when it comes to consumer fetishes and money. Saying that democracy is exhausted in the bourgeois liberal model in terms of politics (general social relationship) does not mean that it is not working for consumption and the reifications of consumption (specific social relationship).

This observation is important because we have to think about these bipolarities of capitalism, as it is in them that a significant part of actions that cause cracks are made dialectically viable, e.g. e.g.: “entrepreneurship” is both an attempt by capital to enable its mercantile reproduction, and the symptom and demonstration of the exhaustion of mass factory work, capturing a contingent of unemployed and precarious people away from abstract work.

(ii) While “value” expands, presupposing the directives of abstract work or the demands of the generality of commodity production, in any case we still operate cognitively in tune with its aphorisms, narratives and monetary apparatuses (buy, pay, finance, save, value, accumulate, sell [at a profit], securitize, reinvest).

And it will still be so for a long time even after our life becomes communal and our political organization becomes autonomist, until, for generations, we fulfill our punishment of capitalist inheritance. Alongside the objective and immediate struggles, despite these immediately possible transformations splitting capitalism, not only in its most sensitive contradictions, the struggle for ethics and dignity, cognitive, therefore, will be the last and hardest struggle of socialism in terms of formation of collective man (even beyond legal [criminal law] and philosophical-religious [mystifying] forms).

“Value” encompasses everything and everyone; We have to fight against all this from within ourselves. This is why all “cracks” are essential. To the extent that “value” encompasses the totality of social relations, capitalist sociability must be combated in all spheres of the social totality, or within all its reproductive forms, from production to Culture, from exchanges to the arts, in politics as well as philosophy, law and religion. This has less to do, therefore, with an interpretation of the struggle of “taking positions”, which is attributed to Gramsci, than with the intrinsic position of our dialectical materialism.

(iii) At the level of philosophy, one must separate “rights from the human condition”[iii] of “human rights” – these were formalized in a bourgeois way and now these flags are largely adjustable to the dynamics of capital. This is not pacifism, nor quietism in the sense of political inoperability: “pacifist inoperability” is what the bourgeois State operates after all, as a mere formalism of rights, since the legal norm only holds the property of humanism on the basis of the reproduction of capital .

In fact, community power quickly discovers that the “human” cannot be transacted, that there is no freedom and dignity when subjected to a “contract”, and that in the scope of “value”, what is presupposed is inequality (not the equality [formal legal]) and the “particular just” (never the “total just”), defended by Aristotle (Nicomachean ethics).

(iv) We are heirs to the class and partisan struggle, the struggle for power, but it does not need to be just the seizure of State power, or, at least, not exactly as in dialectical historical materialism for Western Marxist thought. We must return to the “autonomist association” (not individualist – the commune is a reality between human groups). The fight for State power, to then make changes, is still the way that capital wants and knows how to deal – this fight for “revolution” is fundamental, but it is not enough (after all, that is what we have always done, we have to recognize, successfully in some cases, in others deplorably).

But, fundamentally, the greatest danger comes not from the external enemy, but from the friend sitting next to us: I remember Marx saying that: “We cannot associate with people who openly say that the workers are too ignorant to free themselves and must be released from above.” (Criticism of the Gotha program). Much later it was said that in fact those who directly and immediately suffer the oppression of capitalism were better prepared to understand certain theoretical explanations of Marxism (and The capital).[iv]

(v) Autonomism in Marxist theory – within “mutual support” (Piotr Kropotkin) –, which goes back a long way, to John Holloway’s “cognitive operaismo” (there are others), is not against workers’ struggles, and excluded from bourgeois “democracy”, against its apparatus of power, but states that at the moment we can make a difference in our ways of organizing daily practices, denying the “denial of life” that exists there: against the work that gives us explores, against abstract work, against specializations and fragmentation, for ecology, against war, for cooperativism and free association of workers, precarious, unemployed and excluded in general.

It is not true that the mass – or the “crowd” in the case of Hardt and Negri[v] – have no face; That's not the real question, the question is what we do, what we can do, how by doing we can confront capitalism and stop submitting our will to the power-to-do over our doing. In our cry, who is who matters less than the dignity of the purpose!

(vi) And then, yes, we combat all the “garbage” that the extremist right – allied with the owners of capital and the voracious people who orbit around them – uses, narratives fake, denialists and fascists. One should not wait for the “revolution” that derives from “more power”, or wait a “consciousness” of the masses: the dismantlements of autophagic capitalism are operating at such a magnitude of destruction (Jerôme Baschet: Goodbye to capitalism), that individuals are taking upon themselves the power to organize themselves autonomously, associating themselves to work with self-management.

From the salaryman who stops working overtime to get home early and play with his children, or when associations are created in the city to promote family gardens, or take care of neighborhood squares, to strike movements for better wages or working conditions. work, or when workers come together to take care of the bankrupt factory that has been deactivated, we cause fissures and cracks that challenge and profoundly oppose capitalism.

The world is there and it is a nightmare. But it doesn't necessarily have to be the worst thing capitalism has to offer us, death. Everywhere we can change and cause cracks in capitalism by intensifying its contradictions or radically speculating about the destructive forms it imposes on our existence. Of course, we abolish all doxas. In the Zapatista movement it is said that, in the process, “the path is made by walking”.

*José Manuel de Sacadura Rocha He has a PhD in Education, Art and Cultural History from Mackenzie University. Author, among other books, of Legal sociology: foundations and borders (GEN/Forensics).


[I] The expression “rabble” appears emphatically in Hannah Arendt: The totalitarian system: chaps. on pages. 163, 209 and 417; Dom Quixote Publications, Lisbon, 1978. [Origins of totalitarianism (Cia. De Bolso, 2013)].

[ii] “Money” is explained exhaustively in the third book of a trilogy by John Holloway: Hope in hopeless times (Hope in hopeless times: Pluto Press, 2022). The other two books are, in order: Mchange the world without taking power (Viramundo, 2003) and Fissure capitalism (Publisher Brasil, 2013).

[iii] The “rights of the human condition” or natural, separate and autonomous law was defended by pre-Enlightenment authors, such as Hugo Grócio (1583-1645), followed by Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694), or more incisively, by Jean Domat (1625 -1696). Later we found the idea of ​​“innate rights” in natural law, mainly among contractualists, such as John Locke (1632-1704), Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) or Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). In fact, based on the contractualism of the Enlightenment philosophers, the rights of the person, therefore innate, irrevocable, universal and non-negotiable, were systematically incorporated into positive law, and later enshrined in the booklet of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), on December 10, 1948. As such, juspositivism, as the master philosophy of bourgeois liberal law, believes that normative formalization (legal form) is sufficient to enshrine the rights of the human person, when this is a de facto impossibility in the of capitalist production, which effects its subsumption, in essence, through the unequal hiring of labor force, through the dynamism of abstract, inhuman and exploitative work, necessary for the production of “value”, or, put another way, the extortion of surplus- value in the process of production of goods where capital is produced. See Rocha, José Manuel de Sacadura: Fundamentals of Philosophy of Law, Salvador: Editora Juspodivm, 2020; Schioppa, Antonio Padoa: History of Law in Europe, São Paulo: Editora WMF Martins Fontes, 2014.

[iv] See Louis Althusser: To read Capital. In Marx, Karl. The capital. v.1. São Paulo: Editora Boitempo, 2013.

[v] Hardt, Michael & Negri, Antonio. Empire. 11 ed. São Paulo: Record publisher, 2001.

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