Question Time with John Holloway

This is the seventh in a daily series of articles taken from Elevate #10. I hope you enjoy the read – and come back tomorrow for more!


During the course of the workshop, John Holloway invited interruptions, interventions and interrogations. Once called for, they came in an abundant torrent of curiosity and enthusiasm. Here are some of the questions and comments, with elements of John’s responses.

Who is “we”?

“We” is a question in the first place. I don’t know who “we” are. The fact that you’re here, and that some of you are nodding along, makes me think we are a “we” in the first place.

“We” is also an attack on the third person. To talk in the third person is to create a barrier. I don’t know how far that “we” goes; it is an open “we”. “We” is increasingly the way anti-capitalist movements are talking about themselves. It’s not a dogmatic “we”, in the sense that “we” all agree with “me”. It’s an open “we”.

I hear a clear antagonism in your talk, but in reality it is very unclear who is working against whom.

Lenin said the question of revolution is “who” against “whom”. I think that’s completely wrong; it’s “how” against “how”. Capitalism is a “how”, it’s a way of organising. We’re all involved in it. The world we want to create is a world that moves against capitalism – and we’re all involved in that as well. The “how” against “how” cuts straight through us. Some people benefit from the “how” of capitalism, but the issue is not “who” against “whom”. The issue is “how” against “how”.

Why should we think that after the end of this capitalism there will be something different?

Maybe we shouldn’t. I think there are millions of reasons for saying there is no hope, no way out of capitalism. There are millions of reasons to say we are stupid for being here this morning. But even if there’s only a tiny chance, then my humanity depends on my exploring that possibility.

Maybe now is the time to improve conditions within capitalism, not fight against it.

The question is how do we reconcile our dreams with the reproduction of capital? And that way danger lies. We can all do amazing things within the system, but at a certain point we have to raise a red flag and get rid of the system that is destroying us.

Can we give up? I don’t think we’re capable of giving up. Lots of things can be done within capitalism. Capitalism suffers from constant inadequacy; it has to become more aggressive to survive. Even with all the possibility of reform, we’ll still face constant attack. I think we have to say that, yes, we must work for reforms, but also we have to stop the aggression.

How do you deal with the daily hypocrisies of capitalism? For example, accepting that child labour is used to sew the cheapest clothes.

Become aware of it. I think we have to give up the notion of purity. There used to be this notion of revolutionary purity. We need to think in terms not of “who” against “whom”, but “how” against “how”. That antagonism cuts through us; we are all schizophrenic, in the sense of self-divided.

Capitalism needs our labour, but capitalism also needs us as consumers.

We can fight as consumers, but that’s passive. We have to take as our basis that we are creators, doers. Doers whose doings are perverted into the form of a labour which creates capital and creates value.

What will this new society look like? Exploitation will always exist; it’s impossible to have a society that will keep everyone happy.

We don’t know what it would be like. To devise a solution that goes ahead of the movement is hypothetical. At the moment we don’t even have the possibility. A post-capitalist society would be one where we come together in some way and take decisions about what it would be, to create a society that would be self-determining.

I don’t agree that there would always be exploitation; do you exploit your friends? Who is it that you want to exploit? I don’t see that we have this built-in decision to exploit other people.

For me, we would no longer have money. Now, money is the way in which we relate to one another. It is not the only way we relate; you don’t relate with me through money. You have different forms of relationships that push against money.

What is the role of the state?

The state is, for me, so inextricably bound into the reproduction of capital that it doesn’t make sense to attempt to use it for social change.

Institutions are not the answer either. I just don’t think they help very much. I am in an institution; I like it a lot. I’m also against the state, but I receive my salary from the state. We are all in contradictory circumstances, but does it help to think in institutional terms? I think not. If the institution where I work has an energy, it’s almost in spite of the institution.

The state itself is a contradictory place. Elevate is funded largely by the local state, but is an event where we can discuss exciting things like anti-statism.

Thank you for reading – I hope you found something here that was enlightening and inspirational. Come back tomorrow from 8am for more from Elevate #10.


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David Charles is co-writer of BBC radio sitcom Foiled. He also writes for The Bike Project, Thighs of Steel, and the Elevate Festival. He blogs at

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