Wealth-in-against-and-beyond Value: introduction to a talk by Prof John Holloway: 15th June, 2017


Lincoln June2017

Ana Dinerstein, John Holloway and me.


These are remarks I made to introduce John Holloway before he gave his paper:

I am delighted to welcome John Holloway to the University of Lincoln to present his paper: ‘Wealth-in-Against-and-Beyond Value’. Thank you to John for coming and for all of you who are here to be a part of this event. I would like to mention someone who cannot be here, Prof Joyce Canaan, who is very unwell. I know how much she wanted to be here and how much she would have contributed to our discussions. I am so grateful to Stuart Platt who is recording John’s talk on video film  so that she and others not present will be able to  see what has gone on here today.

This event is hosted jointly by the School of Social and Political Sciences at Lincoln and the Marx Research Seminar Series organised by a group of PhD students. They do a great job of keeping Marxist scholarship alive at Lincoln.



‘In the beginning is the scream. We scream’ (Holloway 2002). John Holloway has been articulating the language of resistance and lessons learnt from  struggles against capitalism and colonialism for more than 40 years. John taught Politics at the University of   Edinburgh  before moving to Mexico in the early  1990s, since when he has been teaching at the Autonomous University of Puebla. As a founder member of the journals Capital and Class in 1976 and  Common Sense: a journal of a wholly new type in Scotland in  1987 he has breathed life into a sometimes moribund interpretation of Marxist social theory. He has consolidated these contributions with a series of books and papers, most notably theorising the capitalist  state, In and Against the State 1979, as well as Global Capital, the National State and the Politics of Money ( 1995); State and Capital: A Marxist Debate, with Sol Picciotto (1979) and Post Fordism and Social Form with Werner Bonefeld (1991), as well as many other publications.

John Holloway was a member of the group, including Richard Gunn, Werner Bonefeld and Kosmas Psychopedis, that launched Open Marxism, initially as a three volume co-edited book series in the 1990s. The essential focus of Open Marxism, building on from previous work, is the significance of class struggle, not as a sociological category but as ‘a contradictory and antagonistic social relation’ (Holloway et al 1992 xiii) , or determinate abstraction, like labour, which in capitalist society ‘exists in the mode of being denied’ (Gunn 1992 23).

While in Mexico John made a strong connection with Zapatismo, a movement inspired by the uprising of the Zapatistas against brutal repression of the Mexican government in 1994. He published two books integrating Open Marxism and Zapatismo during this period: Change the World Without taking Power: the meaning of revolution today in 2002 and Crack Capitalism in 2010. In Change the World  John takes on the most resolute of bourgeois concepts, fetishism,  identity and classification, turning them on their heads and inside out while inventing new concepts, like ‘doing’ against the labour that produces capital,  and ‘anti-power’, which means not to take control of the state, but to dissolve or detonate the social relations of production out of which the state is derived. In  Crack Capitalism revolution is presented  as a multiplicity of interstitial movements against a  paranoid capitalist  totality. John’s point is that Marx’s writings are not a theory of capitalism but a social theory against capitalism, not a theory of domination but a theory for emancipation. Capital is a  cracked actor, revolution is having the craic, Capital is a cracked language – like a stammer. John’s work is not only about cracking capitalism, but, as Dinerstein argues, has been to make  ‘a crack in Marxist thought’ (forthcoming  ‘John Holloway: A theory of interstitial revolution’ 2018). 

[I will post the video recording of John’s talk here when it becomes available].



How do revolutionary teachers teach? vs critical pedagogy

I gave a keynote lecture recently to the Marx and Philosophy Society Annual Conference. The title of my talk was Critical Theory as a Critique of Labour, ft. academic work; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? One of the questions asked was what is the difference between my version of revolutionary teaching and critical pedagogy. It was a good question. My answer was a bit garbled. Having had time to consider the question I have set out a more organised answer below.


Critical pedagogy in the way of Henry Giroux or Paulo Freire promotes a collaborative relationship between the teacher and student so that each have much to learn from each other. The teacher maintains a leadership role to guide the student to an awareness of how the world can be transformed for the benefit of humanity.

The real secret of revolutionary teaching lies in not teaching (Vygotsky 1927 339). For revolutionary teaching there is no teacher and student; rather, revolutionary teaching establishes an event, or better an institutional form, out of which critical practical knowledge can emerge, as a type of anti-positivist science (Gunn 1989).

In an event with no teacher there is no personal authority. The authority  is the knowledge produced by the group which participants can draw on for inspiration and energy. This knowledge becomes the basis for a new institutional form, or ‘living knowledge’ as Gigi Roggero describes it.

There is no sense of equivalence in the event, contra Ranciere’s assumption  that people are equally intelligent; rather equality is understood as a capitalist concept derived from market relations. Each participant contributes to the event through what they have to offer. The result might be intellectual emancipation not of the individual but of what Marx called ‘the general intellect’ (Dyer-Witheford).

For revolutionary teaching democracy is the essence of this arrangement as democracy is the essence of science and knowledge, after John Dewey’s notion of Producerism (Westbrook 2015). Revolutionary teaching is politics not pedagogy.

The Marxist version of critical pedagogy is based on a mainstream version of Marxism as well as  western Marxism and cultural Marxism. For critical pedagogy based on these versions of Marxist theory workers struggle to appropriate the means of production so that wealth can be distributed more equally (Hill). This is underpinned by a focus on the relationship between knowledge and power (Apple).  These versions of Marx imply a privileged position for critical thinkers somehow  outside the realms of perverted class consciousness, yet unable to  ‘account for its own existence and must present itself in the form of tragic stance or avant-garde pedagogy’ (Postone 1993 38-39).

Revolutionary teaching recognises students and teachers in the capitalist university as academic workers whose labour power is exploited for the production of capitalist surplus value. Revolutionary teaching is grounded in a reappraisal of  Marx’s value theory of labour: a critique of labour in capitalism, or a value-form analysis (Postone), which seeks to overcome capitalist relations of production for a post-capitalist society in which work is no longer the organising principle of society, and where money has ceased to be the supreme form of social power (Clarke). Communism is not only ‘the ruthless critique of the existing order’ (Marx), but a society of abundance based on the reconciliation of the needs and capacities of humanity in nature (Kay and Mott).

Critical pedagogy is based on praxis, or immediate action in response to capitalist repression as a form of unmediated violence. In that sense it mirrors the instrumentality of capitalist logic: to read the world in order to transform it. Revolutionary teaching avoids praxisism through an awareness of the ways in which immediate activity is mediated by the value-form. This does not mean do nothing. Revolutionary teaching is grounded in action based on an awareness of the contradictoriness of the world. Paula Allman’s reading of Marx as a value theory of labour, which she describes as revolutionary critical pedagogy,  and Glenn Rikowski’s analysis of the value form with regard to education, are very helpful in this regard. The world cannot be read, rather it has to be translated, to use an idea developed by Ana Dinerstein, which compares the mediation of language with the mediation of the value-form. Translation includes non-capitalist indigenous knowledge, not as a counter worldly wisdom (Kahn) , but as a contribution to critical practical social knowing, i.e. revolutionary teaching.

Critical pedagogy is  based on an affirmative understanding of humanity or creativity as a natural capacity which has been suppressed.  Revolutionary teaching is based on a negative critique of humanity, in which, following Adorno’s maxim ‘the negative can never be negative enough’. The most developed version of revolutionary critical pedagogy is by Peter McLaren. I have written a response to his approach in an article, The Pedagogy of Hate.

The logic of revolutionary teaching points to a co-operative university (Winn) as a democratic institution based on the principle of solidarity (Hall) ran for the benefit not only of its members but the society out of which it has emerged. This form of knowledge at the level of society suggests an extended form of political settlement, beyond the idea of a political party or even the national state (Virno ; Grubacic and O’Hearn ).

We might  think of this political settlement as a co-operative federation, like Rojova  , an autonomous region in North Syria since 2014 that operates a co-operative based economy, providing social cohesion for a no-state democracy.   Any such  federation must retain the capacity to challenge its own foundational  principles, like  democratic confederalism (Ocalan), through a practical reflexive critique based on the practice and principles of revolutionary teaching.




Student as Producer: how do revolutionary teachers teach? – redrafted book abstract


I am continuing to work on my book Student as Producer: How Do Revolutionary Teachers Teach?  The content is being brought up to date to include the participation of students and young people in the 2017 UK election, and research undertaken at the University of Mondragon, a co-operative university in the Basque country in Spain, informed by the work of Andrej Grubacic on ‘non-state spaces’.



Student as Producer is a manifesto for revolutionary teaching that emerged from inside an English university at the start of the 21st century. Grounded in a pedagogy derived from Marxist social theory (Postone 1993, Clarke 1991, Dinerstein 2015, Holloway 2002), Student as Producer provides a practical and critical response to the ongoing assault on higher education by the social power of Money and regulations of the capitalist State, with a focus on Police (Neocleous 2000). The book is set within the period marked by  the student protests that erupted in England at the end of 2010 against the massive rise in fees, which appeared as a defeat of the student movement,  and the powerful democratic expression of students and young people in the 2017 UK General Election in support for a no-fee higher education and other progressive social polices, that looks like an important part of a new socialistic political project. This book explores the intellectual origins of Student as Producer (Benjamin 1934, Debord 1977, Weil 1952), as well as  a critical engagement with the work of  major writers on radical and revolutionary education (Freire 1970, Allman 2010, Ranciere 1991). Student as Producer’s revolutionary curriculum is  framed around unlearning the law of labour as a critique of capitalist work and the institutions through which the law of labour is enforced, including the capitalist university (Neary and Winn 2009, Neary and Winn 2017, Winn 2015, Hall 2014, University of Utopia n.d.). The answer to the question how do revolutionary teachers teach lies not in  critical pedagogy:  the ‘deceptive immediacy’ (Adorno 1968) of classroom teaching ( Neary 2017), but by remaking the knowledge economy as knowledge production at the level of society. This means reconfiguring the space occupied by higher education, through the dissolution of the power of Money and the State, to create a Co-operative University as the foundational principle for a non-state, non-party political settlement  (Grubacic and O’Hearne 2016) .


Adorno, T. (1968) Late Capitalism or Industrial Society. Address to 16th German Sociological Conference: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/adorno/1968/late-capitalism.htm

Allman, P. (2010) Critical Education Against Global Capitalism: Karl Marx and Revolutionary Critical Education, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam

Benjamin, W. (1973)  The Author as Producer. Understanding Brecht,  New Left Book, London [1934]

Clarke, S. (1991) Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology: From Adam Smith to Max Weber, Palgrave Macmillan, London and New York

Debord, G. (1977) The Society of the Spectacle, Black and Red, Detroit

Dinerstein, A. (2015) The Politics of Autonomy in Latin America: The Art of Organising Hope, Palgrave Macmillan, London and New York

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Penguin, London

Grubacic, A. and O’Hearne D. ( 2016) Living at the Edge of Capitalism: Adventures in Exile and Mutual Aid. University of California Press.

Hall, R. (2014) ‘On the Abolition of Academic Labour: The Relationship Between Intellectual Work and Mass Intellectuality’, Triple C: Communication, Capitalism and Critique, Journal for a Global, Sustainable Information Society, Vol 12 (2) http://www.triple-c.at/index.php/tripleC/article/view/597/638

Holloway, J. (2002) Change the World Without Taking Power, Pluto Press, London

Neary, M. (2015) Educative Power: the Myth of Dronic Violence in a Period of Civil War. Culture Machine. https://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/download/586/591

Neary, M. (2017) Pedagogy of Hate. Policy Futures in Education. http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/26793/

Neary, M. and Saunders, G. (2016) Student as Producer and the Politics of Abolition: Making a New Form of Dissident Institution. Critical Education. http://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/criticaled/article/view/186127

Neary, M. and Winn, J (2017) Beyond Public and Private: A Model for Co-operative Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities. [pre-publication version http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/23051/%5D

Neary, M. and Winn, J. ( 2009) Student as Producer: Reinventing the Undergraduate Student Experience of Higher Eduction. In Howard Stevenson, Les Bell and Mike Neary (ends). The Future of Higher Education, Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience. New York and London: Continuum, 192 – 210.

Neocleous, M. (2000) The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power, Pluto, London

Postone, M. (1993) Time, Labour and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Social Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Ranciere, J. (1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford University Press, Stanford

University of Utopia ( n.d.) On Sharing: Anti-curricula – a course of action http://www.universityofutopia.org/

Weil, S. (1952) The Need for Roots, Routledge, London.

Winn, J. (2015) ‘The Co-operative University: Labour, Property and Pedagogy’, Power and Education 7 39-55 http://josswinn.org/2015/04/the-co-operative-university-labour-property-and-pedagogy-2/


Sustainability and the Politics of Abolition


I was asked to be part of a panel at the University of Gloucestershire looking at the future of higher education, with a focus on sustainability. Each of the panel members had to make a five minute presentation on their position with regard to sustainability and higher education. Please see my contribution below.


I am arguing for abolitionism not sustainability. I am an abolitionist; part of a dissenting tradition with roots in the anti-slavery movement (Davis 2003), with a history of organising opposition to capital punishment (Linebaugh 2006), as a project to tear down the prison-industrial complex (Mathiesen 1994) and a campaign to ban nuclear weapons (Nuttall 1970). What I want to abolish is a society where no-thing is sustainable (Harney and Moten 2013 42), where everything about humanity-in-nature that we consider worth preserving is at risk (Moore 2016), where modernity itself is defined as a ‘risk society’ (Beck 1992).

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, writing in the Communist Manifesto (1848) had it that ‘all that is solid melts into air’, describing a capitalist civilisation where the mode of production reduces everything to heat and dust, in ways now recognised as environmental destruction and global warming. But the Manifesto points to another aspect of unsustainability: capitalism itself is at risk, haunted by the spectre of resistance and refusal which Marx and Engels refer to as communism.

Following the financial crisis of 2008 it is clear that capitalism’s capacity to reproduce itself as a market-based system of social development has been discredited. Neoliberalism is finished. The progressive aspects of capitalist society, distributing wealth in the form of expanding wages and welfare was the bankrupting logic for the 1970s global economic crisis (Cleaver 2017). Keynesianism is dead. Paul Mason argues we are already living in a post-capitalist world (2015). So what comes next: barbarism, socialism, communism, fascism?  The militarisation of police and the brutality of state power becomes ever more intense as capital struggles to find renewed techniques for productive expansion (Graham 2010, Neary 2015).

A model of sustainability that avoids the logic of the Capitalocene (Moore 2016) is unlikely to achieve its development goals; reduced to a sterile debate between science-deniers, with their heads buried in the profits to be fracked from tar sands and other despoilisations of nature, and science-survivors, for whom the future depends on humanity’s resilience and adaptability and sustainability.

How can we avoid becoming apologists for a system that we claim to be against? We can recognise capitalism’s motive power as the exploitation of human energy and ‘cheap nature’, where value is calculated in measures of labour time and sold as commodities in exchange for money (Moore 2016). The accumulation of money rather than the satisfaction of human needs is the logic of capitalist expansion. In this life-world money becomes the supreme social power, as an impersonal form of social domination, relying for its continuing expansion on the imposition of poverty, debt and negative consequences beyond the human imagination.

My work focuses on the problem of labour, creating human associations in ways that undermine the logic of capitalist relations of production (Neary 2015, 2017). In the short term this means building cooperative institutions, which reconfigure the meaning of work (Neary and Winn 2017, Neary and Saunders 2016). I am now collaborating with others to create a new cooperative university where the contribution of students to the production of knowledge and performance of teaching and learning events: Student as Producer, is recognised, along with the centrality of workplace democracy as the basis for experimental science; where the natural and social sciences are combined to form “One Science’ (Marx 1844). In the longer term this means not resilience or adaptability or sustainability, not creating jobs or promoting employability, but to transform, revolutionise and abolish capitalist work so that a new society can be created not on the back of human and animal labour but on the principle of life-enhancing-life.


Beck, Ulrich (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London and New York: Sage Books.

Clarke, Simon (1988) Keynesianism, Monetarism and the Crisis of the State. Aldershot: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Cleaver, Harry (2017) Rupturing the Dialectic: the Struggle against Work, Money and Financialisation. AK Press.

Davis, Angela (2003) Are Prisons Obsolete. Seven Stories Press: New York.

Graham, Stephen Graham (2010) Cities Under Siege: the New Military Urbanism. London and New York: Verso.

Harney, Stefano and Moten, Fred (2013) The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions. http://www.minorcompositions.info/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/undercommons-web.pdf

Linebaugh, Peter (2006) The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century. London and New York: Verso.

Marx, Karl (2000) Early Writings. London and New York: Penguin Classics.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels (2002) Communist Manifesto. London: Penguin Classic.

Mason Paul (2015) Post-Capitalism: A Guide to the Future.  Allen Lane:London.

Moore, Jason (2015) Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecology and the Accumulation of Capital. London and New York: Verso.

Mathiesen Thomas (1974) The Politics of Abolition. Wiley.

Neary, Mike (2015) Educative Power: the Myth of Dronic Violence in a Period of Civil War. Culture Machine. https://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/download/586/591

Neary, Mike (2017) Pedagogy of Hate. Policy Futures in Education. http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/26793/

Neary, Mike and Saunders, Gary (2016) Student as Producer and the Politics of Abolition: Making a New Form of Dissident Institution. Critical Education. http://ices.library.ubc.ca/index.php/criticaled/article/view/186127

Neary Mike and Winn Joss (2017) Beyond Public and Private: A Model for Co-operative Higher Education. Open Library of Humanities. [pre-publication version http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/23051/%5D

Nuttall, Jeff (1970) Bomb Culture. Paladin: London.






Stammering is Dada

I was asked to contribute to a forthcoming publication called ‘Dangerous Words’. The purpose of the book is to uncover the ways in which language works as a form of repression but retains the capacity for critical liberation. I chose to write about the word ‘stammer’. Below is a first draft of my contribution.


‘Words are torture in my mouth. Words are weapons when we shout ‘Ya basta!’ (Ecoversity un-conference, August 2016)[1]

What words will make revolution speak? How can we articulate the poetry of the future? (Marx 2016). Not by over-elaboration where ‘the phrase surpasses the substance’, but speaking so ‘the substance surpasses the phrase’ (Marx, 2016 4).  In other words, ‘Language has nothing to say about the future. The future cannot be said…. Its content is exorbitant to its phrasing’ (Taylor 2012). This is saying more than actions speak louder than words, or that meaning is lost in translation; rather, there is a disarticulation between the revolutionary world we are creating and how that world is spoken, as language and lyrics and poetry and prose. We can describe this disarticulation as social stammering.

Social stammering is enraptured by the word ‘Dada’: a staccato speech sound on the verge of exploding into a meaningful gush of rounded breath. Dada struggles to free itself from the language of anti-art and the slang of kitsch metropolitanism. Dada was made to disarm the rat-tat-rattle of the automatic weapons of the First Machine War (1914-1918) and the killing capitalist labour process out of which they were produced. Dada remade readymade art, against patented forms of capitalist death, as montage and performance, including sound poems made up of verses without words.

Adorno picked up on the relationship between Dada and stammering’s revolutionary vibe, sounding it out it as the basis for substantive thought:  ‘the whole of philosophy is actually nothing else than an infinitely extended and elevated stammer [Stammeln]; it is actually always, just like stammering, Dada, the attempt to say what one actually cannot say’ (Adorno quoted in Foster 2008 55).  Not as an exemplary method of speech therapy but as the phrasing for a negative dialectics.

Holloway knows what we are talking about. He reports that revolution starts with a howl of protest: ‘In the beginning is the scream. We Scream’ (2005 1), but understands the need for learning ‘a new language for a new struggle’ (2010 10). This new way of speaking is formed when we ‘stutter and mumble incoherently’ as a way of participating in the abolition of a cracked capitalism (2010 12).

We might think of capitalist language as ‘order-words’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1996), where ‘Language is not made to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience’(75). This order of order-words can be challenged by ‘creative stammering’ (Deleuze and Guattari (98), a writerly technique where authors carve out ‘a non-preexistent foreign language within…[their] own language …[making]…the language itself scream, stutter, stammer or murmur’ (Deleuze 1997 109-110). And so, in this way, ‘makes stuttering the poetic or linguistic power par excellence’ (111). Writing becomes something ‘that explodes like a scream’ (112); what might be taken as ‘inarticulate words, blocks of a single breath’ (112), is actually where a ‘deviant syntax…reaches the destination of its own tensions in these breaths or pure intensities that mark a limit of language’ (112).  So writing is poised ‘at the very edge of the seeable and the sayable, situated between sense and non-sense‘ (O’Sullivan and Zepke 2008 9), as a new common-sense.

Ranciere speaks of ‘the speaking being who is without qualification and political capacity’ (22) and, therefore, without a voice ‘doomed to ‘the night of silence or the animal noise of voices expressing pleasure or pain’ (22). This is not a demand to be heard, but what comes before recognition as ‘speaking beings’. Ranciere has many words to define this condition: ‘subjectification’: ‘a series of actions of a body and capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable within a given field of experience, whose identification is thus part of the reconfiguration of the field of experience’ (35); ‘disidentification’ (36): ‘ a multiplicity of fractured speech events’ from people without a voice (37), and the ‘part of the no-part (Ranciere 2001) a surplus population that goes unaccounted for and is unrecognised. Ranciere says it is in this space of not-speaking that politics occurs (26); or, speaking in my tongue, this is the site of social stammering.

Marx wants to bring us down to earth. He asks the question: how would it be if inanimate objects could speak in a world dominated by capitalist commodity production? He does not let his commodities speak but, like a ventriloquist, speaks for them, as if they are responding to his prompt:

Could commodities themselves speak, they would say: Our use value may be a thing that interests men. It is no part of us as objects. What, however, does belong to us as objects, is our value. Our natural intercourse as commodities proves it. In the eyes of each other we are nothing but exchange values’ (Marx 1990 176-177).

Marx is trying to articulate the way in which the intrinsic nature of things is overwhelmed by the domineering logic of capitalist exchange value, so much so that exchange value itself appears to be part of our ‘natural intercourse’. There is nothing natural about the social world; rather, the social world is abstracted from the process of capitalist production to appear in the form of real abstractions, which, in the world of capitalist intercourse, are dominated by money and language. Capitalist language is recognised only to the extent that it validates a society based on the logic of exchange. In capitalist civilisation money really does talk; it is the only language that everybody is forced to understand.

But we may be guilty of over-elaboration. How can we express this condition in a more visceral, animalist voice, as a precondition of our speaking being? Hugo Ball (1997), author of the Dada Manifesto, put it like this, as a sound poem intoned at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1916:


jolifanto bambla o falli bambla

großiga m’pfa habla horem
egiga goramen
higo bloiko russula huju
hollaka hollala
anlogo bung
blago bung blago bung
bosso fataka
ü üü ü
schampa wulla wussa olobo
hej tatta gorem
eschige zunbada
wulubu ssubudu uluwu ssubudu
kusa gauma

Stammering is Dada.

Antonin Artaud, dramatist, poet and actor, looks for a response beyond ‘mere stammerings’ (Artaud 1992 218), in The Theatre and Its Double (1931 – 1936) to include not only human voices but the whole mise en scene: ‘everything that occupies the stage’ (231). As Pantomime (233) and Pandemonium. The affect is to overcome the ‘impotences of Speech’ (230), by including ‘everything that defies expression in speech’ 231 and ‘everything that is not contained in dialogue’ (231)   in the form of ‘a new physical language based on signs rather than words’ (215). Artaud’s theatre of sound must have ‘the evocative power of a rhythm… [and]… the musical quality of physical movement’ (216) as ‘a poetry of the senses’ (231) as much as ‘a poetry of language’ (231). For Artaud, there is no poetry of the future, only ‘a revolt against poetry’ (Artaud 1944).  The performance must recover the sense of danger that comes with the idea that ‘the present state of society is unjust and should be destroyed’ (235).

Stripped bare the starting point is not speaking or even screaming, but breathing. Artaud says ‘for every feeling, every movement of the mind, every leap of emotion, there is a breath that is attached to it’ (260). These ‘rhythms of breath’ (260) merge with the plastic and physical theatrical event to create a ‘fluid materiality’ (261). This concept of fluid materiality is a double for Marx’s real abstractions, which Artaud calls ‘metaphysics in action’ (237) or the ‘real metaphysical’ (243).  If the substance of Marx’s real abstraction is capitalist value: as the supreme form of social power, Artaud’s abstractions are filled up by a ‘universal magnetism’ (271) which he calls the soul (261): ‘unleashing an unpredictable flow of searing energy’ (Sontag xxiv 1988). Artaud’s abstractions are  something that must be confronted in order ‘to transgress the ordinary limits of art and speech, in order to realize actively…, in real terms, a total creation in which man[sic] can only resume his place between dream and events’ (245).

That is enough. For now.  We are almost out of breath, struggling for ecstatic transcendence (Holloway 2010 99). The moment of danger, recovered, beyond the danger of words.

Let us take a deep breath. Breathing. Slowly. In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.


Artaud, Antonin (1992) ‘The Theatre and Its Double’. Susan Sontag (ed) (1992) Antonin Artaud; Selected Writings. Introduction. University of California Press. Pp..

Ball, Hugo (1997) Blago Bung Blago Bung Bosso Fataka – First Texts of German Dada, Atlas Press.

Deleuze, Giles and Guattari, Felix (1996) One Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Athlone Press.

Deleuze, Gilles (1997) ‘He Stuttered’. Giles Deleuze: Essays Critical and Clinical. London and New York. Verso. Pp 107-114

Foster, Roger (2008) Adorno – The Recovery of Experience. SUNY

Holloway, John (2005) Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today. London and New York:Pluto Press

Holloway, John (2010) Crack Capitalism. London and New York: Verso.

Marx, Karl (2016) The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Create Space Independent Publishing Platform.

Marx, Karl. (1990) Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1. London and New York: Penguin Classics.

O’Sullivan, Simon and Zepke, Stephen (2008) Deleuze and Guattari and the Production of the New. London and New York: Continuum.

Ranciere, Jacques (2004) Disagreements: Politics and Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press.

Ranciere, Jacques (2001) Ten Theses on Politics. http://www.colorado.edu/humanities/ferris/Courses/1968/Ranciere/Ten%20Theses/Ranciere_Ten%20Theses%20on%20Politics_Theory%20and%20Event5.3_2001.pdf

Sontag, Susan (ed.) (1992) Antonin Artaud; Selected Writings. Introduction. University of California Press. Pp xvii- lviii.

Taylor, Chris (2012) Stuttering Towards the Future: http://clrjames.blogspot.co.uk/2012/01/stuttering-toward-future.html1588 words

[1] https://nearymike.wordpress.com/2015/08/28/the-power-of-abundant-friendship/

Political Violence: Capitalist Value, British Values and Academic Freedom

I was recently invited to give a keynote presentation about Student as Producer to a conference at a college in England. A condition of the invitation was that I sign a document agreeing with the proposition that the principles of democracy, liberty and religious tolerance are based on fundamental British values. The document forms part of the British government’s Prevent policy, which seeks to prevent people carrying out acts of terrorism. It is a  requirement of public institutions that they follow a set of protocols to deny the promotion of ‘extremist’ ideas on which terrorist activity might be based. I did not sign the document but set out my views about the relationship between British values and the principles of liberal democracy in an email that I sent to the organisers of the conference.  The organisers accepted my views on the matter so that I was cleared to accept the invitation and present my keynote. It is part of the Prevent protocols that colleges balance their legal duty to ensure freedom of speech and academic freedom with the requirement to challenge what the Prevent policy defines as  extremist views and ideologies. I have set out below an extended account of what I consider to be some of the main areas of contention with the Prevent policy.


The British Government’s policy to prevent people being ‘drawn into terrorism’ (Prevent Policy 2015) is deeply flawed, not least because of its claim to equate the principles of liberal political society with British values, but also for its refusal to acknowledge that political violence is an organising principle for all nation-states, including the British state, as well as the global system of international relations.

As a Professor of Sociology, who teaches and writes about political theory in an English University, I do not accept that the ideals set out on the document to be signed by visiting speakers: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance of religious faiths, are based on British values. The values are, in fact, the key characteristics of a particular political ideology known as liberal democracy or liberalism. This refusal to accept the provenance of these ideals as British values is not based on my personal opinion but is a reasoned and informed position grounded in understanding and insights gained from my study of social science, critical political economy and international history. The core aspects of liberal democracy: a free market and free labour regulated by a strong state are the essential aspects of capitalist society in general.

Capitalism did first appear in Britain in the 15th century but was not the result of  British values, rather it emerged out of the discovery of the way in which surplus value could be produced through the exploitation of labour rather than the exploitation of land (feudalism), and later how machines and technology could be used to intensify the exploitation of labour. The emergence of capitalism in Britain led to the development of a political and economic system along with associated cultures and behaviours that we now understand to be the basis of modern British society. The current legal system of order is based on the maintenance of capitalist freedoms of the market: the capacity to buy and sell commodities, and the freedom of labour as the basis of individual liberty, both of which are imposed by the state and enforced by the police.

This form of society was replicated elsewhere as other countries adopted these capitalist methods so that a liberal democratic political system is now the basis of many developed capitalist countries. As we now know capitalism has positive aspects along with some very negative consequences, including unemployment, poverty, environmental destruction and global warming. These negative consequences lead to popular forms of resistance which have been contained by extending the franchise through parliamentary democracy, legalising trade unions, along with other employment and human rights, as well as the provision of welfare and charity. A key feature of  liberal democracy is that any alternative form of political system that seeks to ameliorate the negative consequences of capitalism, e.g, through the redistribution of resources, promoting a less hierarchical society or the support for  internationalism: not the nationalism explicit in the concept of British values, is presented as chaos and confusion. Resistance to capitalism can be criminalised if it is counter to the rule of law and order on which capitalism is based.

It is important to be able to vote and to protest and to strike so that the politicians can be held to account, the system as a whole reviewed, with the possibility always open for reform as well as transformation.

A central aspect of capitalism and what distinguishes it from the pre-capitalist feudal period is that the religious principle of the divine right of kings was replaced by the rule of money and private property. As religion is no longer predominant it is possible to be indifferent to and tolerate religions as religion has ceased to become the dominant form of social authority. Discrimination is prevalent in British society, often based on behaviours carried over from pre-capitalist societies based on patriarchy, slavery, colonialism and hierarchical customs as well as other oppressive traditions. These practices are not central to the functioning of the rule of money and private property and so can be contained and eradicated through policy and political administration.

Liberal democracy can be contrasted to social democracy, which places more emphasis on collective organisation rather than individual liberty. Social democracy is also imposed by a strong centralised state as a way of ameliorating class based politics, for example, through comprehensive education and collective bargaining over employment rights and wages. Under our current parliamentary political system liberal democracy is the basis of right wing politics and social democracy is the basis of left wing politics.

The Prevent strategy to stop people engaging in terrorist activities is based on a refusal to acknowledge that political violence is an organising principle for all nation-states, including the British state, and the global system of competition among nation-states and their regional alliances. The imposition of international law is based on the condition that when national wills collide force decides. This global system of international political violence is evidenced by the history of imperialism and on-going regional and global wars as nation-states seek access to resources to continue the production of surplus value and maintain a competitive advantage. The epitome of this globalised system of mortal violence is the atomic nuclear bomb with the power to destroy all planetary life. This endemic nature of political violence is not only between nation-states but within nation-states. All nation-states and their political systems were formed through acts of mortal violence, a killing mentality denied to other groups that wish to challenge the authority of the nation-state system. This liberal framework of political violence is used extensively to justify acts of murder, sometimes under the guise of humanitarianism. To regard terrorist attacks as a form of political violence does in no way condone these atrocious acts.

In higher education it is very important that there is no dogmatic assertion of any political ideology, and that students are taught to understand how ideologies are constructed so as to be able to make their own decisions about their own place in the world. Student as Producer, which I was invited to speak about, is based a critical view of capitalist education derived from understanding and insights gained from the social sciences, critical political economy and international history.

To be asked to sign a document affirming the status of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and respect and tolerance of religious faiths as British values, while, at the same time, avoiding the violent nature of liberal political society, is not only against what I understand to be the basis of these ideals and the history of violent nationalisms, but  is contrary to the principle of academic freedom on which my professional integrity is based.

I have suggested some readings below that further elaborate on the points that I have made.

Benjamin, Walter (1921) Critique of Violence. Reflections. Shocken Books: New York, pp. 277 – 300.

Freedman, Des ( 2017) The Terror News Cycle. LRB Blogs. 24th May: https://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2017/05/24/des-freedman/the-terror-news-cycle/

Kay, Geoff and Mott, James (1982) Political Order and the Law of Labour. Macmillan: London.

Meiksins-Wood, Ellen (2017) The Origins of Capitalism. Verso: London.

Mieville, China (2006) Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law. London and New York; Verso.

Nabulsi, Karma ( 2017) Don’t go to the Doctors. London Review of Books.  18th May. Volume 39 no.10, pp. 27-28.

Neary, Mike (2016) Educative Power: the Myth of Dronic Violence in a Period of Civil War. Culture Machine, 16. pp. 1-28. https://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/download/586/591

Perelman, Michael (2000) The Invention of Capitalism. Duke University Press: North Carolina.

Seymour, Richard (2008) The Liberal Defence of Murder. London: Verso.

Thompson, Edward (2013) The Making of the English Working Class. Penguin Modern Classics: London and New York.

John Holloway: Reading Capital

John Holloway will be  presenting his latest work ‘Reading Capital: wealth in-against-and-beyond value’ at the University of Lincoln, England, on 16th of June, 1 – 4pm in Room MB1012.

John’s reading and writings on Marxist social theory are highly influential as a way of rethinking Marx in terms of ‘Change the World without Taking Power’ (2005)  and abolishing the social relations of capitalist production through acts of resistance, as ways to ‘Crack Capitalism’ (2010).

In this new work, ‘Reading Capital’, John points out that Capital does not start with the commodity, as Marx and probably all commentators since Marx have claimed. It actually starts with wealth: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’ …” Seeing wealth and not the commodity as the starting point has enormous consequences, both theoretically and politically.

To start with the commodity leads into the analysis of capitalism as a system of domination, into an attempt to understand how capitalism works, its laws of motion. Class struggle remains external to this analysis. Capital is understood as explaining the structural framework within which struggle takes place. The analysis, in this view, shows the necessity for revolution, but does not indicate how it might take place. Essentially capitalism is understood as a closed system that can be broken only by an external force (the Party, what Party?) in the future.

To start with wealth takes us in a very different direction. The relation between wealth and commodity is not one of identity. Wealth “appears as” commodities, but, in order for us to say that, there must be a remainder: it must also be true that wealth does not appear as commodities. In other words, wealth exists in-against-and-beyond the commodity form. The starting point, the relation between wealth and the commodity, is an antagonism, a non-containment, and overflowing. Class struggle, far from being external to Capital, is posed in the opening words of the book. What follows is not the analysis of a closed system but the development of an antagonism between wealth and commodity, use value and value and, crucially, concrete and abstract labour.

To say that Capital starts not with the commodity but with wealth is both revolutionary and self-evident. The challenge is to trace this antagonism through the three volumes of Capital. This is the theme of the talk.