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The Asymmetry Of Revolution
John Holloway
The Movements of Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
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Table of Contents
The Movements of Movements
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition, 2016-17
Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Proem :
Shailja Patel What Moves Us
Introduction :
Jai Sen The Movements of Movements : An
Introduction and an Exploration
1.1 David McNally From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets
of Seattle : This is What Democracy Looks Like
1.2 Fouad Kalouche and Eric Mielants Antisystemic Movements
and Transformations of the World-System, 19681989
1.3 André C Drainville Beyond
: Anti-Capitalist
Dialectic of Presence
1.4 Tariq Ali Storming Heaven : Where Has The Rage Gone ?
1.5 Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel - Being Indigenous :
Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism
1.6 Andrea Smith Indigenous Feminism and the Heteropatriachal
1.7 Xochitl Leyva Solano Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Neo-
Zapatista Social Movement Networks
The Movements of Movements :
Struggles for Other Worlds
2.1 Anand Teltumbde Anti-Imperialism, Dalits, and the
Annihilation of Caste
2.2 Jeff Corntassel Rethinking Self-Determination : Lessons from
the Indigenous-Rights Discourse
2.3 Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson - The Tapestry
of Neo-Zapatismo : Origins and Development
2.4 Roma and Ashok Choudhary - Ecological Justice and Forest
Right Movements in India : State and Militancy - New
2.5 Emilie Hayes Open Space in Movement : Reading Three
Waves of Feminism
2.6 Virginia Vargas International Feminisms : New Syntheses,
New Directions
2.7 Lee Cormie Re-Creating the World : Communities of Faith in
the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds
2.8 François Houtart Mahmoud Mohamed Taha : Islamic Witness
in the Contemporary World
2.9 James Toth Local Islam Gone Global : The Roots of Religious
Militancy in Egypt and its Transnational Transformation
2.10 Roel Meijer Fighting for Another World : Yusuf Al-‘Uyairi’s
Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution
2.11 Peter Waterman The Networked Internationalism of Labour’s
2.12 Cho Hee-YeonFrom Anti-Imperialist to Anti-Empire : The
Crystallisation of the Anti-Globalisation Movement in South
2.13 Emir Sader The Weakest Link ? Neoliberalism in Latin America
2.14 Daniel Bensaïd The Return of Strategy
2.15 Peter North and David Featherstone Localisation as Radical
Praxis and the New Politics of Climate Change
2.16 Guillermo Delgado-P Refounding Bolivia : Exploring the
Possibility and Paradox of a Social Movements State
2.17 Alex Khasnabish - Forward Dreaming : Zapatismo and the
Radical Imagination
Laurence Cox ‘Learning to be Loyal to Each Other’ :
Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of
Compiled, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
Proem :
Shailja PatelOfferings
Introduction :
Jai Sen On Rethinking Our Dance : Some
Thoughts, Some Moves
Interrogating Movement, Problematising
3.1 Rodrigo Nunes Nothing Is What Democracy Looks Like :
Openness, Horizontality, and The Movement of Movements
3.2 The Free Association Worlds in Motion : Movements,
Problematics, and the Creation of New Worlds
3.3 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 1)
3.4 Anila Daulatzai - Believing in Exclusion : The Problem of
Secularism in Progressive Politics
3.5 Josephine Ho Is Global Governance Bad for East Asian Queers
3.6 Jeffrey S Juris and Geoffrey Pleyers Incorporating Youth or
Transforming Politics ? Alter-Activism as an Emerging Mode of
Praxis among Young Global Justice Activists
3.7 Tomás Mac Sheoin and Nicola Yeates The Anti-Globalisation
Movement : Coalition and Division
3.8 Stephanie Ross The Strategic Implications of Anti-Statism in
the Global Justice Movement
3.9 Michael Löwy Negativity and Utopia in the Alterglobalisation
3.10 Rodrigo Nunes The Global Moment : Seattle, Ten Years On
3.11 Ezequiel Adamovsky Autonomous Politics and its Problems :
Thinking the Passage from Social to Political
3.12 John Brown Childs Boundary as Bridge
3.13 Chris Carlsson Effective Politics or Feeling Effective ?
3.14 Massimo De Angelis PR like PRocess ! Strategy from the
Bottom Up
3.15 Matt Meyer and Oussenia Alidou The Power of Words :
Reclaiming and Re-Imagining ‘Revolution’ and ‘Nonviolence’
3.16 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 2)
Reflections on Possible Futures
4.1 Michal Osterweil “Becoming-Woman ?” : Between Theory,
Practice, and Potentiality
4.2 John Holloway The Asymmetry of Revolution
4.3 David Graeber The Shock of Victory
4.4 Kolya Abramsky Gathering Our Dignified Rage : Building New
Autonomous Global Relations of Production, Livelihood, and
4.5 Muto Ichiyo Towards the Autonomy of the People of the
World : Need for a New Movement of Movements to Animate
People’s Alliance Processes
4.6 Samir Amin Towards a Fifth International ?
4.7 Rodrigo Nunes The Lessons of 2011 : Three Theses on
4.8 François Houtart – ‘We Still Exist’
Lee Cormie - Another World Is Inevitable… But Which Other
World ?
Complied, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition
made freely available for Discussion and Debate on a Not-for-Re-Publication / Distribution basis !
The Asymmetry Of Revolution
John Holloway
It is an honour and an excitement to be here in a different world, a strange world of artists. When I
was trying to think what I could possibly say about art to artists, I remembered that a few months
ago, someone described me as the poet of the
(alter-globalisation) movement. I do not
know why he said that, but I was very flattered, even though I knew that the person who said it
intended it as an insult, or at least a disqualification. He meant it as an insult because he was saying
that revolutionary theory should not be confused with poetry. Poetry is dangerous because it has to
do with a beautiful but unreal world, whereas revolutionary theory is about the real world of hard
struggle. In this real world of struggle, poetry and art and beauty do not play an important role :
Revolutionary struggle confronts ugliness with ugliness, guns with guns, brutality with brutality. There
will be time for poetry and beauty and art after the revolution.
I do not agree with this argument. On the contrary, I want to argue that revolutionary theory
and practice must be beautiful, or else it is not revolutionary; and also that beauty must be
revolutionary in order to be beautiful. The ugliness of capitalism must be confronted with the beauty
of dignity : The struggle for another world is essentially asymmetrical.
Famously, Adorno said that after Auschwitz it was impossible to write poetry.
We do not
have to think back the sixty years to Auschwitz to understand what he meant. We have enough
horrors closer at hand, perhaps especially here in Colombia, especially here in Latin America,
especially in the world of today (Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo). In this world, to think of creating
something beautiful seems a terrible insensitivity, almost a mockery of those who, at this very
moment, are being tortured, brutalised, raped, killed. How we can write poetry or paint pictures or
give talks when we know what is happening around us ?
But then what ? Ugliness against ugliness, violence against violence, power against power, is
no revolution. Revolution, the radical transformation of the world cannot be symmetrical : If it is,
there is no transformation, simply the reproduction of the same thing with different faces. Asymmetry
is the key to revolutionary thought and practice. If we are struggling to create something different,
then our struggle too must be something different.
Asymmetry is all-important because what we are fighting against is not a group of people but
a way of doing things, a form of organising the world. Capital is a social relation, a form in which
people relate to one another. Capital is the enemy, but this means that the enemy is a certain form of
social relations, a form of social organisation based on the suppression of our determination of our
own doing, on the objectification of the subject, on exploitation. Our struggle for a different world has
to mean opposing different social relations to the ones that we are fighting against. If we struggle
symmetrically, if we accept the methods and forms of organisation of the enemy in our struggle, then
all we are doing is reproducing capital within our opposition to it. If we fight on the terrain of capital,
then we lose, even if we win.
But what is this asymmetry, this otherness, that we oppose to capital ?
In the first place, asymmetry means refusal, the refusal of capital and its forms. No, we do
not accept. No, we do not accept that the world should be driven by profit. No, we refuse to
subordinate our lives to money. No, we shall not fight on your terrain, we shall not do what you
expect us to do. No !
Our ‘No’ is a threshold. It opens to another world, to a world of other doing. No, we shall not
shape our lives according to the requirements of capital, we shall do what we consider necessary or
desirable. We shall not labour under the command of capital, we shall do something else. To one type
of activity we oppose a very different type of activity. Marx referred to the contrast between these
two types of activity as the “two-fold character of labour” and he insisted that this two-fold character
of labour is “the pivot on which a comprehension of political economy turns” and therefore of
He refers to the two sides of labour as “abstract labour” on the one hand, and “concrete
or useful labour” on the other. Abstract labour refers to the abstraction which the market imposes on
the act of creation : It is emptied of all concreteness, abstracted from its particular characteristics, so
that one labour is just the same as another. It is alienated labour, labour that is alienated or
abstracted or separated from the people who perform it. (The concept of abstract labour has nothing
to do with the material or immaterial nature of the labour.) Concrete or useful labour refers to the
creative activity that exists in a particular social context in an unalienated way, free from alien
determination. To make the distinction a bit more clear, we shall speak of abstract labour on the one
hand, and useful-creative doing on the other.
Our ‘No’ opens the door to a world of useful-creative doing, a world based on use value not
on value (or its visible manifestation, money), a world of a doing that pushes towards self-
determination. Where is this world ? Orthodox Marxist theory tells us that it exists in the future, after
the revolution, but this is not true. It exists here and now, but it exists in the cracks, in the shadows,
on the edge of impossibility. Its core is useful-creative doing, the push towards self-determination
which exists in, against, and beyond abstract labour. It exists
abstract labour in the daily activity of
all of us who sell our labour power in order to survive;
in the constant revolt against abstract
labour both from within employment and in the refusal to enter into employment; and it exists
abstract labour in the attempts of millions and millions of people all over the world to
dedicate their lives, individually or collectively, to what they consider necessary or desirable.
All Cracked Up
If capitalism is understood as a system of command, then these attempts, these doings that go
against and beyond abstract labour, can be understood as cracks in the system. It is people saying,
individually, collectively, sometimes massively : No, we shall not do what money commands. We, in
this place, at this moment, shall do what we consider to be necessary or desirable, and we shall
create the social relations that we want to have.
These cracks may be so small that nobody sees them (the decision of a painter, say, to
devote her life to painting, whatever the consequences) or they may be bigger (the creation of an
alternative school, or this conference, for example) or they may be huge (the revolt of the Zapatistas
in Mexico, or the
in Argentina, or of the indigenous in Bolivia). These cracks are always
contradictory (they can never be pure non-capitalist spaces in a capitalist world), and they always
exist on the brink of impossibility, because they are standing out against the dominant flow of the
world. As artists know perhaps better than anybody, it is difficult to exist on passion alone. And yet
that is what many artists do : In spite of the difficulties, they put their creative doing before abstract
labour, they put use value before value, they refuse to accept the logic of money and try to live. Not
all, but many.
Despite the fact that they stand against the logic of the world, these cracks exist all over the
place, and the more we focus on them, the more we see that the world is full of cracks, full of people
refusing to conform, refusing to subordinate their lives. To speak of cracks has nothing to do with
marginality : There is nothing more common than being anti-capitalist. Revolution is quite simply the
recognition, creation, expansion, and multiplication of these cracks.
I speak of cracks rather than autonomies to emphasise three points : First, that they are
ruptures which are rooted in negation, that they go against the dominant flow; second, that they are
ruptures in movement cracks run, they expand, or are filled; and third, that a world of cracks is a
fragmented world, a world of particularities in which the cracks tend to join up, but do not necessarily
tend towards unity.
Our vision of the world changes as we enter into another world, a world based not on
abstract labour but on useful-creative doing, not on value but on use value. This is the world of
communism, but it is not (or not only) in the future, but a world that already exists here and now, in
the cracks, as movement.
The world of capitalism appears to be one-dimensional, but it is not. There
is never a total flattening of alternatives. There is always another dimension, a dimension of
resistance, of otherness the world of communism that exists in the cracks, in the shadows, a
subterranean world.
This half-invisible world is a world of pain, but not of suffering. It is a world of pain because
the other world, the world of abstract labour, sits on top of it, suppresses and represses it. The world
of abstract labour is a world of money, of things, of fetishised social relations, of the objectification of
human subjects, objectification to the point of murder, rape, and torture. Pain is at the centre of our
world, but not suffering. Suffering implies the acceptance of objectification. But our world is the world
of the subject struggling against her objectification, of the creator struggling against the negation of
her creativity. Our pain is not the pain of suffering, but the pain of an anguished scream, the pain of
hurt and rage, the pain that moves us to act.
Our pain is the pain of dignity.
In our heart there was so much pain, so much death and hurt, that it no longer fitted,
brothers, in this world that our grandparents gave us to carry on living and struggling. So great
was the pain and the hurt that it no longer fitted in the heart of a few people and it overflowed
and filled other hearts with pain and hurt, and the hearts of the oldest and wisest of our
peoples were filled, and the hearts of the young men and women, all of them brave, were
filled, and the hearts of the children, even the smallest, were filled, and the hearts of the
animals and plants were filled with hurt and pain, and the heart of the stones, and all our
world was filled with hurt and pain, and the wind and the sun felt the hurt and the pain, and
the earth was in hurt and pain. All was hurt and pain, all was silence.
Then that suffering that united us made us speak, and we recognised that in our words there
was truth, we knew that not only pain and suffering lived in our tongue, we recognised that
there is hope still in our hearts. We spoke with ourselves, we looked inside ourselves and we
looked at our history : we saw our most ancient fathers suffering and struggling, we saw our
grandfathers struggling, we saw our fathers with fury in their hands, we saw that not
everything had been taken away from us, that we had the most valuable, that which made us
live, that which made our step rise above plants and animals, that which made the stone be
beneath our feet, and we saw, brothers, that all that we had was DIGNITY, and we saw that
great was the shame of having forgotten it, and we saw that DIGNITY was good for men to be
men again, and dignity returned to live in our hearts, and we were new again, and the dead,
our dead, saw that we were new again and they called us again, to dignity, to struggle.
Our world is not just a world of pain, but of dignity. Dignity is the refusal inside us, the refusal to
submit, the refusal to be an object, and therefore it is more than mere refusal. If I refuse to be an
object, then I assert that, in spite of everything that reduces me to the level of an object, I am still a
subject and I create, I create differently. Dignity is the affirmation of useful-creative doing against the
abstraction of labour, here and now, not in the future. Dignity is the refusal to be like them, the
refusal to fall into the logic of capital. Dignity is asymmetrical struggle. Whereas in a war one army is
much the same as another, in the struggle for a different world it is essential that we do not act like
them, organise like them, speak like them.
Dignity is the affirmation that we are not victims. We are exploited, humiliated, repressed,
tortured : But we are not victims. Why ? Because in spite of everything, we still have that “which
made our step rise above plants and animals”
: We still have something that goes beyond,
something that overflows our humiliation, our objectification. There is a world of difference between a
politics of dignity and a politics of the poor victim. Victims are the downtrodden masses, they need
leaders, hierarchical structures. The world of victims is a world of power, a world that dovetails neatly
with the structures of the state, the world of the party, the world of the monologue. But if we start
from dignity, if we start from the subject that exists against and beyond her objectification, this takes
us to a very different politics, a politics of dialogue not of monologue, of listening not of talking, a
politics not of parties and hierarchical structures but of assemblies or councils, forms of organisation
that seek to articulate equally all the voices of dignity in revolt, a politics that seeks not to win the
power-over symbolised by the state, but to strengthen the power-to-do that comes from below.
politics, too, of doing, not complaining. Victims complain, dignity does.
Dignity means not only refusal and useful-creative doing, but also the recognition that we are
self-divided, each and all of us. Dignity is a self-antagonism within us, a self-antagonism inseparable
from living in a self-antagonistic society, a turning not only against capitalism but also against
ourselves. We submit, but we do not. We allow ourselves to be treated as objects, but then raise our
heads and say no, we are creative subjects. Breaking capital, we break ourselves.
Dignity is an ec-stasy within us, ecstasy in the literal sense of ‘standing out’, a standing out
against and beyond. We would be victims if we did not have this ec-static dignity within us that keeps
the stones beneath our feet. The stones are beneath our feet because they have no dignity. If we
tread upon them, they remain trodden upon. Stones are identities : They are. Our ec-static dignity is
our non-identity, or, better, our anti-identity, our refusal to simply be. Capital imposes an identity,
tells us that we are. Our dignity replies that no, we are not : We are not, because we do, we create
and, in doing so, we negate and create ourselves. We overflow all identities, all the roles and
personifications and character-masks that capital imposes upon us. We overflow all classifications.
Capital imposes classifications upon us, divides us into classes. Our struggle is a class struggle, not to
strengthen our class identity but to break it, to dissolve classes, to free us from all classification. This
is important because, among other things, it makes sectarianism impossible. Sectarianism is based
upon identitarian thought : It labels, conceives of people as fitting neatly within a classification. When
our starting point is dignity, it signifies the acceptance that we and others are contradictory, self-
antagonistic, overflowing, unclassifiable.
Overflowing identity, we overflow time itself, identitarian time, clock time. Our world of pain
and dignity, our shadowy world of doing against-and-beyond abstract labour is a world of the dead-
not-dead, of the born-not-yet-born. Our dead are not dead, they are waiting. As both the Zapatistas
and Walter Benjamin make clear, the dead are awaiting their redemption.
We saw our fathers with
fury in their hands and now it is up to us to redeem them. The world of dignity that our ancestors
fought for is a world that does not yet exist, but that means that it exists not yet, as Ernst Bloch tells
If the struggles of the past exist in the present of our world, so too does the future possible. It
really exists not yet, in the cracks, in our dreams, in our struggles, in our breaks from the dominant
world, in our creations that prefigure another world, in the always-fragile existence of the possible
future in the present.
Fragile, shadowy, half-invisible, teetering on the brink of impossibility : That is the world in
which we live, poor mad rebels who have no certainties but one - our scream of ‘No’ against
capitalism, against this world that is destroying us and destroying all humanity. Sometimes it all
seems hopeless. Our dignity is there all the time, but sometimes it seems to sleep, drugged by
money, labour, or fear. Our ec-stasy is always there, but sometimes it seems crushed under the
weight of routine. Our non-identity is there, but sometimes it seems totally imprisoned within the iron
cage of identity. The not-yet is there, but sometimes it seems tightly bound to the hands of the clock
that go tick-tock, no-hope, no-hope.
How does our dignity wake ? How does it touch other dignities ? How do our dignities speak
to one other ? We are the
sin voz
” (the “without voice”), as the Zapatistas put it. This is not just
because we have no access to the radio and television, but also for a deeper reason. Our struggle,
being anti-identitarian in the sense that it goes against and beyond identities, is also anti-conceptual
in the same sense, a struggle that breaks through and beyond concepts, that pushes beyond the
language of conceptuality. The concept identifies, encloses, and therefore is unable to capture that
which breaks beyond identity. The language of dignity must be conceptual (to understand and to
criticise what we are doing), but also it must go beyond the conceptual, must explore other forms of
expression. Revolutionary theory, then, must be both rigorous and poetic.
Our world is a world in search of a language, not just now but constantly, in part because the
other world, that of abstract labour, steals our language all the time, but also because we are always
inventing new doings and new forms of struggle. Social theory, art, and poetry are all part of this
constant search.
It is probably the Zapatistas who have understood this search and the unity of aesthetics and
revolution better than any other group. I refer not only to the language of the communiqués but to
their profound sense of theatre and symbolism. When they rose up on the first of January 1994, they
not only expressed their own dignity, but brought our dignities to life. “As more and more rebel
communiqués were issued, we realised that in reality the revolt came from the depths of ourselves,”
Antonio García de León has commented.
The dignity of the Zapatistas in Chiapas resonated with our
slumbering dignities and awoke them.
A politics of dignity is a politics of resonance. We recognise the dignity in the people around
us, in the seat next to us, in the street, in the supermarket, and try to find a way to resonate with it.
It is not a question of educating the masses or bringing consciousness to them, it is a question of
recognising the rebelliousness that is inseparable from oppression, the rebelliousness that is inside all
of us, and of trying to find its wavelength, of trying to engage it in a meeting of dignities. It is not
necessarily a question of convincing whole peoples but of touching something within them. This is
surely the question that should be behind all anti-capitalist political action : How do we resonate with
the dignities around us ? This question easily gets lost when we adopt closed, identitarian
conceptions of our struggle.
How do we resonate with the dignities that surround us ?
We need a sharp sensitivity to recognise the many forms of rebelliousness against
oppression, and thence the rejection of all dogmatism. We have to hear the inaudible, see the
A world of dignity cannot be a world of ‘I know, you don’t know’. It is a world of shared not-
knowing. What unites us is that we know that we must change the world, but we do not know how to
do it. This means a politics of asking-listening, but it also means constant experimentation. We do not
know how to touch the dignities that surround us, so let’s experiment.
Let’s experiment, but bearing in mind that the only art that makes sense, and the only social
theory that makes sense, is an art (or social theory) that understands itself as part of the struggle to
break capitalism, to overcome present society. This means understanding what we are doing as a
revolt, an insubordination, a subversion, a crack in capitalist domination. And always with the central
principle of asymmetry. We do not want to be them, we do not want to be like them.
Asking we walk.
John Holloway is a Professor at the Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades ‘Alfonso Vélez
Pliego’ in Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Puebla, Mexico. He has published on Marxist
theory, on the Zapatista movement (especially Zapatista, edited with Eloína Peláez, Pluto Press,
London, 1998), and on the new forms of anti-capitalist struggle. His most important books are
Change the World Without Taking Power : The Meaning of Revolution Today
(Pluto Press, London,
2002; revised and expanded edition 2005), and Crack Capitalism (Pluto, London, 2010).
Content Editor : Vipul Rikhi
References :
Theodor W Adorno, 1990 - Negative Dialectics. London : Routledge
Walter Benjamin, 1969 Illuminations. New York : Schocken Books
Ernst Bloch, 1986 The Principle of Hope (3 vols). Oxford : Blackwell
EZLN, 1994a
La Palabra de los armados de verdad y fuego
[‘The Word of Those Who are Armed
with Truth and Fire’, in Spanish]. Mexico City : Editorial Fuenteovejuna
EZLN, 1994b -
Documentos y Comunicados : 1º de enero / 8 de agosto de 1994
[‘Documents and
Communiqués : 1 January / 8 August 1994’, in Spanish]. Mexico City : Ediciones Era
John Holloway, 2002 - Change the World Without Taking Power. London : Pluto
John Holloway, 2010 Crack Capitalism. London : Pluto
Karl Marx, 1965 - Capital, Vol 1. Moscow : Progress
Notes :
Talk given in the Primera Cátedra Latinoamericana de Historia y Teoría del Arte Alberto Urdaneta [‘Alberto
Urdaneta First Latin American Chair of History and Theory of Art’, in Spanish], Museo de Arte Universidad
Nacional, Bogotá, Colombia, September 17 2007. Ed : I warmly thank the author for making available the
manuscript to us for publication in this book.
A comment that he later qualified; see Adorno 1990, p 363.
Marx 1965, p 41.
For a development of the argument that communism is the emancipation of useful-creative doing from abstract
labour, see my book, Crack Capitalism (London : Pluto, 2010).
Letter from the Clandestine Revolutionary Insurgent Committee of the EZLN (EZLN 1994a).
As in endnote 5, EZLN 1994a.
On the concept of power-to-do, see Holloway 2002.
See Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ in Benjamin 1969, pp 253ff.
See Bloch 1986.
Antonio García de León in his prologue to an edition of the Zapatista communiqués (EZLN 1994b, p 14).