Center for a Stateless Society
A Left Market Anarchist Think Tank & Media Center
John Holloway — Other Non-Capitalist Techno-Utopianisms

Download a PDF copy of Kevin Carson’s full C4SS Study: Center for a Stateless Society Paper No. 20 (Spring 2016)

Techno-Utopianism, Counterfeit and Real (With Special Regard to Paul Mason’sPost-Capitalism)

I. Capitalist Techno-Utopianism from Daniel Bell On
II. Categories of Leftist Techno-Utopianism
III. Other Non-Capitalist Techno-Utopianisms

John Holloway
Michel Bauwens
Accelerationism

IV. Analysis: Comparison of the Two Strands of Techno-Utopianism

Areas of commonality

V. Paul Mason
VI. Left-Wing Critiques of Mason

Stephanie McMillan
Kate Aronoff

Conclusion

A good contemporary specimen of the type is John Holloway’s approach of “changing the world without taking power.” That means

to create, within the very society that is being rejected, spaces, moments, or areas of activity in which a different world is prefigured. Rebellions in motion. From this perspective, the idea of organization is no longer equivalent to that of the party, but rather entails the question of how the different cracks that unravel the fabric of capitalism can recognize each other and connect. …

…In the last twenty or thirty years we find a great many movements that claim something else: it is possible to emancipate human activity from alienated labor by opening up cracks where one is able to do things differently, to do something that seems useful, necessary, and worthwhile to us; an activity that is not subordinated to the logic of profit.

These cracks can be spatial (places where other social relations are generated), temporal (“Here, in this event, for the time that we are together, we are going to do things differently. We are going to open windows onto another world.”), or related to particular activities or resources (for example, cooperatives or activities that pursue a non-market logic with regard to water, software, education, etc.). The world, and each one of us, is full of these cracks. …

If we’re not going to accept the annihilation of humanity, which, to me, seems to be on capitalism’s agenda as a real possibility, then the only alternative is to think that our movements are the birth of another world. We have to keep building cracks and finding ways of recognizing them, strengthening them, expanding them, connecting them; seeking the confluence or, preferably, the commoning of the cracks.

…[L]et’s bear in mind that a precondition for the French Revolution was that, at a certain point, the social network of bourgeois relations no longer needed the aristocracy in order to exist. Likewise, we must work to reach a point where we can say “we don’t care if global capital isn’t investing in Spain, because we’ve built a mutual support network that’s strong enough to enable us to live with dignity.” [60]

Holloway sees socialist models based on taking state power as reproducing rather than abolishing the capital-labor relationship in many ways. It takes for granted the existence of alienated wage labor under capitalism, set over against institutional structures like corporate management and the state which are separate from and above labor. The traditional Left aims at capturing these structures and using them for the benefit of labor:

…a movement that struggles to improve the living standards of workers (considered as victims and objects) immediately refers to the state. Why? Because the state, due to its very separation from society, is the ideal institution if one seeks to achieve benefits for people. This is the traditional thinking of the labor movement and that of the left governments that currently exist in Latin America. [61]

The state option, including the seizure of state power by movements like Syriza and Podemos,

entails channeling aspirations and struggles into institutional conduits that, by necessity, force one to seek a conciliation between the anger that these movements express and the reproduction of capital. Because the existence of any government involves promoting the reproduction of capital (by attracting foreign investment, or through some other means), there is no way around it. This inevitably means taking part in the aggression that is capital. It’s what has already happened in Bolivia and Venezuela, and it will also be the problem in Greece or Spain. [62]

The new networked, horizontalist movements take just the opposite approach:

The rejection of alienated and alienating labor entails, at the same time, a critique of the institutional and organizational structures, and the mindset that springs from it. This is how we can explain the rejection of trade unions, parties, and the state that we observe in so many contemporary movements, from the Zapatistas to the Greek or Spanish indignados. [63]

Nicos Poulantzas’s structuralism is relevant here. Under capitalism, the state is forced by structural imperatives to serve the needs of capital regardless of the personnel who compose it or their political ideology. And regardless of the domestic balance of power between capital and the state, the same analysis applies — as Immanuel Wallerstein has shown — to the relationship between the domestic socialist state and the forces of global capital when a country is part of the larger division of labor in a capitalist world-system.

Compare Holloway’s views on state socialism to Negri and Hardt’s comment on the Social Democratic agenda as being “to reintegrate the working class within capital.”

It would mean, on the one hand, re-creating the mechanisms by which capital can engage, manage, and organize productive forces and, on the other, resurrecting the welfare structures and social mechanisms necessary for capital to guarantee the social reproduction of the working class. [64]

To work, social democracy would have to first use the state to forcibly integrate production under the control of capital even when capital was technically obsolete, either by outlawing competition from more efficient forms of production or giving legacy capitalist interests a “property” right in the ability to put the new forms of production to work. It’s an essentially Hamiltonian approach of propping up the worth of large concentrations of capital by artificially maintaining a need for them.

This also entails a Schumpeterian approach (explained in our discussion of Romer above) which views size and capital-intensiveness as inherently “progressive,” which adds yet another reason for hostility to new production technology.

The verticalist approach is obsolete in another sense. If the new horizontalist Left depicts the boundaries between production process and society as blurred by the dissolution of the production process into the workers’ social relationships in society at large, Old Left workerism did the reverse, blurring the boundaries between factory and society. Verticalism is characterized by the Old Left’s lionization of the industrial proletariat, and a model of society built around the workplace as its central institution. Guy Standing used the term “labourism” to describe this tendency on the Old Left (including Leninist Communism, Social Democracy and CIO-style industrial unionism). Unlike earlier socialist and anarchist models that looked forward to increasing leisure and autonomy and a shrinkage of both the cash nexus and the wage system, social democracy and industrial unionism presupposed universal full-time employment at wage labor as the norm. They aimed at “full employment” with good wages, benefits and job security, with the understanding that management would be allowed to manage and labor would stay out of matters regarded as “management prerogatives” in return for these things. The “full employment” agenda meant

all men in full-time jobs. Besides being sexist, this neglected all forms of work that were not labour (including reproductive work in the home, caring for others, work in the community, and other self-chosen activities). It also erased a vision of freedom from labour that had figured powerfully in radical thinking in previous ages. [65]

But since then — especially in the past two decades — the conventional full-time wage employment model has become increasingly irrelevant. The size of the full time wage labor force has steadily shrunk as a portion of the total economy; both the permanently unemployed and the precariat (the underemployed, part-time workers, temporary workers, and guest workers) have grown as a share of the economy. For these workers the old model of a workplace-based social safety net does not exist, and it has been radically scaled back even for remaining full-time workers. Further, the precariat for the most part do not identify with the workplace or wage employment as their parents and grandparents, and often have value systems more in common with earlier socialists who saw their economic identity in terms of social or guild relations outside the workplace.

Put bluntly, the proletariat’s representatives demand decent labour, lots of it; the precariat wishes to escape from labour, materially and psychologically, because its labour is instrumental, not self-defining. Many in the precariat do not even aspire to secure labour. They saw their parents trapped in long-term jobs, too frightened to leave, partly because they would have lost modest enterprise benefits that depended on ‘years of service’. But in any event, those jobs are no longer on offer to the precariat. Twentieth-century spheres of labour protection — labour law, labour regulations, collective bargaining, labourist social security — were constructed around the image of the firm, fixed workplaces, and fixed working days and work-weeks that apply only to a minority in today’s tertiary online society. While proletarian consciousness is linked to long-term security in a firm, mine, factory or office, the precariat’s consciousness is linked to a search for security outside the workplace.

The precariat is not a ‘proto-proletariat’, that is, becoming like the proletariat. But the centralization of unstable labour to global capitalism is also why it is not an underclass, as some would have it. According to Marx, the proletariat wanted to abolish itself. The same could be said of the precariat. But the proletariat wanted thereby to universalize stable labour. And whereas it had a material interest in economic growth and the fiction of full employment, the precariat has an interest in recapturing a progressive vision of ‘freedom of labour’, so establishing a meaningful right to work. [66]

All this suggests we need a new model for struggle and for the post-capitalist transition.

Notes:

60. Amador Fernández-Savater, “John Holloway: cracking capitalism vs. the state option,” ROAR Magazine, September 29, 2015 <https://roarmag.org/essays/john-holloway-cracking-capitalism-vs-the-state-option/>.
61. Ibid.
62. Ibid.
63. Ibid.
64 Negri and Hardt, Commonwealt, p. 294.
65 Guy Standing, A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens (London, New Delhi, New York, Sydney: Bloomsbury,
2014), p. 16.
66 Ibid. pp. 17-18

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