Think Hope, Think Crisis

“Hope explodes, volcanically, with rage.” It just so happens that John Holloway lives next door to a volcano in Puebla, Mexico, and can contemplate the aptness of the metaphor every day. “Revolutions for me are volcanic,” he says, “the burning lava is always just beneath the surface.”

John was in Forum Stadtpark early on Saturday morning, sharing with a packed room his ideas about hope and crisis. I only have time here to share a tiny proportion of what he said, but the ideas fell like the Autumn rain outside.

John started by recalling recent expressions of popular revolution and rage, in Athens 2008, Oacaxa 2006, Istanbul 2012, Cairo 2011, Rio and Sao Paulo 2013. “Explosions of anger are at the same time explosions of hope,” he says. “People go out on the street and break windows because they actually believe things can be different. These expressions of hope are expressed, not in the long term building up of the Party, but in these volcanic expressions of rage.”

But there is a warning in the wind: Greece.

Greece has suffered the most terrible consequences of the crisis of capitalism, but at the same time it has the most militant anti-capitalist tradition in Europe. In Greece over the past few years, there has been action after action, protest after protest, against the imposition of austerity. And it hasn’t made the slightest difference to the imposition of capitalist aggression on the people.

“Greece is a clash of hope on the one hand and the reality of crisis on the other,” John says. “Crisis hits struggle on the head and knocks it down. And, if that is the case, how on earth do we think about revolution? How on earth do we think about hope? How on earth do we think about radical change?”

“We need to re-learn hope, we need to think rage into hope,” John says. “It doesn’t make any sense to say you shouldn’t be angry – of course we should be angry!” But, starting from this rage, how do we think this rage into hope? For John, the answer comes from the Zapatista concept of digna rabia, dignified rage.

John returns to the inspiration for his opening speech: Ernst Bloch and his book ‘The Principle of Hope’. Bloch says that our subjective hope has to find an echo within the world itself. In other words, the world has to respond to our hope – or, in John’s words, “We have to find the hopeability of the world.”

“Across the world, we’re getting the sense that we’re banging our heads against the wall and we’re getting no response.” For example, the millions-strong global anti-war demonstrations in 2003 drew zero response from governments, who went ahead with the invasion of Iraq. This is an enormous challenge for hope and our struggle. “When governments are so distant from society that there is no response there at all, how do we think about the hopeability of the world?” The question is open and increasingly urgent: How do we think about the possibility of change in the world?

During the rest of the workshop, John went on to discuss hope and historicity, crisis, debt and commonising – but your humble writer has not the space to share more! You’ll have to find John himself or wait for the Elevate 2014 book, where I’ll be able to explore John’s ideas in much more depth.

What the Woop Woop is Creative Response?

Antonino d’Ambrosio grew up in Philadelphia during the Reagan years; not a politically auspicious start for the son of a immigrant bricklayer, you might think. Then, all at once, Antonino discovered the mysteries of punk, rap, graffiti and the skateboard. And, as he transformed his city walls into canvasses and his sidewalks into skateparks, he realised that another world was possible.

These art forms, which grew up in the free space between public and private, permitted and prohibited, Antonino calls “creative response”.

The rest of this evening’s panel contributed their ideas of what creative response means to them as artists. For Ursula Rucker, a US spoken word artist, “creative response is everything I do. It’s why I’m sitting here, why I don’t give up.”

Ksenia Ermoshina’s creative musical response is with experimental noise. “Noise is somehow a metaphor for everyone who is marginal – for us, here,” she says with gathering excitement. “We are kind of noise for global corporations. Let’s be noisy, let’s become noisy and break into the frequencies of this culture.” On cue, the crowd breaks into applause, laughter, whooping.

“Creative response is saying aloud the things that are on your mind,” says Deanne Rodger, a British spoken word artist. “The things that frustrate me, that don’t make sense to me, make me feel small, marginalised. Creative response is an exploration of the self.”

For Austrian electronic musician IZC, creative response is not so simple. “For me, my music is not always a conscious direct response to something I read or saw – but it’s in there. It takes some detours and it takes some time, but it’s in there.”

And, of course, as Antonino says, the Elevate Fesitval itself is a creative response: electronic music and visual arts side by side with intense political discussions. Dom Im Berg, the heart of the festival, is a cave that was hollowed out by slaves and is now transformed into a place for all to come and celebrate our common struggles.

“We all have the talent to creatively respond,” Antonino says, in conclusion. “Maybe not as a painter or a novelist, but as a citizen of the world. That’s very important.”

For a fuller exploration of creative response and Antonino’s ear-popping soul-dropping film, “Let Fury Have the Hour”, you’ll just have to wait for the book of Elevate 2014!

Elevate Festival Opening Speech: John Holloway

‘My opening speech has a title. The title is: Opening Speech.’ John Holloway laughs with our laughter, stepping away from the Elevate podium and swiping at the air in front of him, as if he’s just thrown a frisbee. But the title is no whimsy.

Nor is his decision to speak in German. ‘Mainly it’s a protest against Englishification,’ he explains. ‘Not from a nationalistic point of view, but because of the social narrowness that is brought along with this Englishification.’

(Half a dozen sentences into the festival and already my spell-checker is choking on a new word. I love Elevate.)

Balancing the levity of the laughter, John justifies his carefully-chosen title: ‘A speech that opens is just what we need in this world, a world that is closing.’ He peers hopefully out at his three hundred friends in the Dom im Berg audience, out at his unknown audiences on Austrian national television, on the internet livestream and in smartphones hashtagging on international social networks. ‘Maybe this is the speech that opens the festival that opens the world.’

For John, the cause of the closure is clear. ‘A certain logic is being imposed on all aspects of life,’ he says. ‘The logic of money, the logic of profit, the logic of closure.’

‘In the countryside, this logic tells us that you can’t expect to live as your parents did, growing only the food that you need to survive. To survive under this new logic, you must farm mass production or you must make way for motorways, for dams, for mines. Or even better – why don’t you just disappear altogether? Millions of people are forced off the land, to move into the world’s slums.’

‘In the cities, the logic of money tells us that you can’t do what you want with your life. You must earn a living and that means you must do something that increases profits; that increases the power of the wealthy. And this is what is happening: an obscene concentration of wealth across the world; a huge growth in the power of the wealthy, in the power of money.’

‘If you do not want to follow the rule of money, if you want to do something else with your life, you are either mad or a criminal and should certainly be locked up. The dynamics of money are shattering the hopes and dreams of youth; dreams that are broken on the reality of unemployment. Or, often worse, the reality of employment!’ The laughter this time is not warm, it is edged with cold reality.

‘It is not just that we live in a world of closure, but the enclosure is getting tighter all the time. Money cannot stand still. The rule of capital is faster, faster, faster. And this rule means out of the way to the people who are too slow. Out of the way with the people who are holding things up. Out of the way with the people who don’t speak English. Out of the way with the protesters, into the prisons, into the mass graves. Out of the way with the forty-three students from Ayotzinapa in Mexico who disappeared a month ago.’

John pivots his speech to optimism, inspired by the words of Ernst Bloch, the author of ‘The Principle of Hope’, a book written in exile from the despair of Nazi Germany. John argues, like Bloch, that our future depends on hope – not on a silly, blind hope that things will just “turn out right” – but a hope founded and grounded in practice.

In Bloch’s day, hope was still tied to the Party, to winning control of the state. ‘But now the party is over,’ John says, waving encouragement to the flickers of laughter for his pun. The room catches and thrills with three hundred rhythmic clappings. He thanks us: ‘After the depression, this is what I needed!’ John laughs, before delivering more depression. ‘Hope lies not in building a party, not in winning control of the state, because the state is an institution integrated into capitalism and cannot be used to overcome it.’

But if we have not Bloch’s hope, what hope do we have? John essays an answer.

‘Hope lies now in the millions and millions of us who say: No, no. We will not accept, we will not accept your destruction of the world and your guns and your wars. No, not any longer. We will not accept the rule of the rich, the rule of money. Not any longer.’

‘We shall do things in a different way and connect to one another in a different way. We do not want your totality of death and we do not want any totality. We saw in the last century what happens when one totality is replaced by another and now we say no.’

‘We break away from the totality of capital death in a million different ways. We commonise. We force cracks in the system. We fight for our earth, the earth of people and other forms of life, before the capitalist system destroys it completely. We fight to open a gap between the future of capitalism, which can only be death, and the future of humanity, which can still be life.’

John takes a breath. Then adds, ‘If it is not too late already.’

‘Ernst Bloch pinned hope to the power of the “not yet”, the power of that world that does not yet exist and therefore exists “not yet”: in our refusals, in our dreams, in our pushing against capitalism. We have to learn to listen to the leaders of this world that does not yet exist and sing their songs with our full voices.’

John quotes Arundhati Roy’s beautiful expression of Bloch’s same idea: “Another world is not only possible, she’s on the way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

‘Thus, in my opening speech, I want to open this world. My wish for the festival is that it will be an Opening Festival. That it sings the songs of the world that has not been born yet, that it sings these songs as loudly and as beautifully as possible. Thank you.’

The rising of this opening audience to this opening speech for this opening festival gives me a sniff of optimism that Elevate 2014 will jam a rubber sole against the slamming doors, hurl a tonne of dynamite at the thickening walls and prise a common crowbar into the cracks of capitalism.

Let’s make it happen.

John Holloway is a Professor of Sociology at the Instituto de Ciencias Sociales y Humanidades in the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Mexico. He has published widely on Marxist theory, on the Zapatista movement and on the new forms of anti-capitalist struggle.

You can read all of my blogging from Elevate on these pages – or on the much prettier Elevate site.

Bob Dylan live at London Feis 18 June 2011

Quite simply: the best Dylan show I’ve ever heard. Okay so that’s only out of two, but it was also right up there with all the live recordings I’ve heard: The Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975, the Halloween Show in 1964, 1965 at the BBC, and even the infamous 1966 tour of England.

Honestly. Every time you hear Dylan live there’s a moment’s hesitation before you realise what the hell he’s playing and then – bear grins. He’s not content with being a Dylan jukebox on stage; he played a couple of songs straight, but most of them were twisted and refracted in ways that threw new meaning on the lyrics.

Even the ones he did straight featured extensive carnivalesque organ solos. Seriously, I’ve never seen Dylan looking so relaxed. He was having a ball up there. Compared to 2003, when I last saw him, there was so much energy, so much playful creativity, so much identity up there on stage. And the old boy’s 70!

Forget the sunshades, forget the pixie boots and the skinny jeans, forget everything; the reason Bob Dylan is an inspiration was embodied last night. He has been working professionally for about 50 years, he has published 34 studio albums, he tours constantly (102 shows last year) and yet still he is innovating every night. I mean, I don’t know if he ever actually said this, but it sums up just about the best lesson anyone can learn from the man:

I write ten songs a day and throw nine of them away.

If you can do that, then surely, whatever you do, you’ll be set up. Forget the fashion, hard work is where it’s at.

And please listen to this before it gets pulled off the internet for copyright infringement. It is a gut-twisting rendition of ‘Forgetful Heart’, from ‘Together Through Life’, only Dylan’s 33rd studio album. He still got it:


1. Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking (Bob on keyboard): Totally baffled 90% of the crowd. Gleefully mischievous.
2. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob center stage on harp)
3. Things Have Changed (Bob on guitar): I can’t remember why this was so good, but so good it was.
4. Tangled Up In Blue (Bob center stage on harp): Ballad style, stretched out, languid and missing a number of verses. No Italian poets that I noticed.
5. Summer Days (Bob on keyboard): Guitar lick twisted with a sour note that could have been ironic, given the weather up above.
6. Simple Twist Of Fate (Bob on guitar): Yes it was beautiful. Done as a straight-faced romantic ballad.
7. Cold Irons Bound (Bob center stage on harp)
8. A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Bob center stage without harp then keyboard): Slowed down to a contemplative funereal march. More sorrowful than apocalyptic vision.
9. Highway 61 Revisited (Bob on keyboard)
10. Forgetful Heart (Bob center stage on harp, Donnie on viola): Drenched in pathos. See essential-viewing video above.
11. Thunder On The Mountain (Bob on keyboard)
12. Ballad Of A Thin Man (Bob center stage on harp)

13. Like A Rolling Stone (Bob on keyboard): Bob’s sop to the singalong crowd – and how we loved it.
14. All Along The Watchtower (Bob on keyboard): Recaptured from Jimi Hendrix, thank goodness!
15. Blowin’ In The Wind (Bob on guitar, Donnie on violin): In a nursery rhyme style. All the patronising preaching gone, replaced by whimsical wisdom. Thank you and good night.

For those who like to keep an eye on these things, we had:

  • 1963 x 2
  • 1965 x 4
  • 1967
  • 1975 x 2
  • 1979
  • 1997
  • 2000
  • 2001
  • 2006
  • 2009

Which shows you what he thinks of his 80s production…

Palestinian Jokes: No Laughing Matter

There’s a Arab proverb that says: “I laugh, therefore I exist.” So here are some jokes from Palestine, proving that they do – still – exist.

The Hebronites

The Palestinians tell jokes about the Hebronites in the same way that the English tell jokes about the Welsh, or the French about the Belgians. Here’s one that is (apparently) a true story:

There’s an old man living on his own in Hebron. His only son has been arrested and is in prison in Israel. The old man desperately wants to plant some potatoes in his garden, but he doesn’t have the strength any more and, with his only son in prison, there’s no one who can do it for him.

So he writes to his son, saying, “I want to plant some potatoes in our garden, but I don’t have the strength to work the soil any more. What should I do, son?”

The son gets the letter in prison and writes back, saying: “Whatever you do, do not go anywhere near the garden – I hid weapons there!”

When the old man gets the letter, he’s shocked and doesn’t go near his garden. In the meantime, the Israeli army have found out about the letter and, the next morning, the old man wakes up to find hundreds of soldiers in his garden. They dig up every inch of the soil, searching for the weapons – but they don’t find any.

Mystified, the old man writes to his son again: “The soldiers came and dug up the garden, but they didn’t find any weapons, now what should I do?”

The son writes back: “Now you can plant your potatoes!”

Have you heard the one about the Christian Hebronite who converted to Islam? One day he met a Muslim Imam and the Hebronite said to him: “If you can show me how clever you Muslims are, I will convert to Islam!”
“Okay,” said the Imam. “Do you have any children?”
“Yes, I have one child.”
“Is it a boy?”
“No,” said the Hebronite.
“Then it must be a girl!”
At this the Hebronite bowed down, crying, “Oh Allah! You’re powers are truly great! I convert to Islam!”

There was once a Hebronite called Abd Ali who owned a shop in Ramallah. One day he got a visit from the police. They pointed at his shop sign – “Abd Ali and Associates” – and asked, “Who are your ‘associates’?”
“Oh, it is just me, it is only the name of my shop, that’s all.”
The police shouted at him: “That is dishonest!” and then beat him up.
Abd Ali was so humiliated that he left Palestine and went to Saudi Arabia, a very devout and strict nation. This time he was very careful about his shop sign. He called his shop: “Abd Ali, the One and Only.”
He was decapitated.

Political Jokes

“We’re living through a big joke!”

(This was not a joke.)

One day in the market a man loses his father… so he buries him.

A boy asks his father for two shekels for a return bus trip to a checkpoint.
“One shekel should be enough,” his father says, “you’ll be coming home in an ambulance!”

The French President, the US President and the Palestinian President all appear before God. They each approach him in turn, presenting their dearest wishes for their countries.
The American President says, “I wish for those cowardly French to commit troops to the War On Terror.”
God replies, “That will never happen in your lifetime.”
Next, the French President approaches God and says, “I wish those damned Americans would stop killing for oil!”
God answers, “That will never happen in your lifetime.”
Next, the Palestinian President approaches God, very humbly and says, “I only wish for a Palestinian state.”
God replies, “Well that will never happen in MY lifetime!”

A dentist from Gaza goes to an international conference on wisdom teeth. A French dentist comes up to him and asks: “How do you extract wisdom teeth in Gaza?”
“Well,” the Gazan dentist replies, “first we use a scalpel to make an incision into the neck, then we break the jaw and drill into the gum. Then we get some pliers and pull the tooth out from below.”
“My god!” the French dentist exclaims. “Why so complicated?”
“Because in Gaza, you’re not allowed to open your mouth!”

Just a Joke!

This was told by a giggling school-girl – naughty!

A man rushes home, quick, quick, quick.
Grabs his wife, quick, quick, quick.
Runs to the bedroom, quick, quick, quick.
Switches off the lights, quick, quick, quick.
Makes a tent in the bed, quick, quick, quick.
Says: “Look at my watch – it glows in the dark!”

I got all of these jokes from the excellent short film (No) Laughing Matter that was shown at the Palestine Film Festival in London yesterday. If you ever have a chance to see this film, then do so. You can see a teaser below.

(No) Laughing Matter – teaser