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HOPE IN HOPELESS TIMES - Interview with John Holloway

by John Malkin
Interview with author John Holloway about his 2023 book "Hope in Hopeless Times" by John Malkin. Originally broadcast in February, 2023 on KZSC, KSQD and published in print in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
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TIME TO DANCE: “Hope in Hopeless Times” is Third in Trilogy from John Holloway

“Hope in Hopeless Times” (Pluto Press) is the latest book from political philosopher John Holloway, who was born in Ireland and has lived in Mexico for thirty years. This is the third book in a trilogy that includes “Change the World Without Taking Power” (2002) and “Crack Capitalism” (2010). The Sentinel recently spoke with John Holloway about revolutionary hope, living outside of capitalism and the Zapatista’s indigenous movement for autonomy in Mexico.

Q: In “Hope in Hopeless Times” you’re raising the possibility of a world that is not based on money.

John Holloway: This book is expressing something that is both obvious and almost impossible to say. We grow up thinking, “Money and the state, labor and poverty, are permanent features of society.” We may question poverty, but we think it's permanent. And when we think of money, we often wish we had more. People may talk about the redistribution of money, but very rarely about the existence of money. Yet money shapes our lives, what we think and our whole potential.
A central concept in the book is the idea of richness. I argue that richness is the revolutionary subject, but understanding richness not as monetary wealth. Rather, richness as our potential, as what we could do. There are all kinds of richness that are part of our traditions, cultures, and hopes. And all the time this richness is perverted by the domination of money. So that what we do today, tomorrow, and next year - and so on to the end of our lives - is really contained and shaped by the need to get money to live and achieve what we want. In one way or another, we’re all aware that money is a terrible force in our lives, causing unemployment and starvation. It’s quite likely that hundreds of thousands will die of starvation in the next few years. It's not because there isn't food; it's because our relation to food is mediated through money.
If we think of money as a social relation - as the dominant way in which we relate to one another - then we know that money distorts our lives. It frustrates our potential. We’ve not only come to understand that the capitalist system is unjust and violent but we're now much more aware of it as having a dynamic of destruction that seems to be leading us towards extinction.

Q: Is there a way out?

John Holloway: Whether there is some way out of that, we don't know yet. But we know that along with this drive towards catastrophe - global warming and the destruction of biodiversity - there is a rise in the extreme right and a growing potential for nuclear war. We know that behind this drive towards catastrophe is the existence of money, the pursuit of profit. The fact that our relations are mediated through money is a disaster in our personal terms from day-to-day. But also, probably it's a disaster in terms of human development as a whole. If you think about this, it becomes clear that we have to say, "Let's get rid of money. Let's abolish money. Let's establish other forms of social relations." Not just because it would be nice, but because that is possibly the only way of avoiding the drive towards extinction.

Q: Tell me more about hope and revolution.

John Holloway: Talking about hope I'm really talking about revolutionary hope. We hope for a society that is not based on the oppression of women or people of color. Of course, we hope for that. But somehow our struggles always end up with the feeling of not enough. We make progress sometimes. But it's not enough because it's still within the context of a society ruled by money, not by people. So, we're back with the idea of revolution. How do we break this social dynamic of destruction?
In “Change the World Without Taking Power” the central argument is that you cannot bring about radical change through the state because the state as a social form is so tightly integrated into capitalism. The state promotes the accumulation of money. It's on the other side. It’s against us. Even if you get a government that comes in with Left ideas, they're still bound by the constraints of promoting the accumulation of capital.
The second book “Crack Capitalism” presents the idea that if we want to bring about social change, we have to create cracks in capitalist domination. There are all sorts of ways in which we say, "No, we don't want to fit in to this system that is destroying us. We want to walk in the opposite direction, individually, or collectively.” And the more collectively, the better. It's a question of, "How do we break the power of money?” The Zapatista movement is my favorite example where they say, "No. In our territory, we do not accept the rule of the state and of capital. Here, the people govern."
This third book “Hope in Hopeless Times” is the granddaughter and she is rebellious and says, "Okay. The first two books were fine, but we have to go perhaps in a different direction." What I'm trying to do is understand the weakness of money as a social relation. The power of money just seems to go on and on. But what I explore is the way in which our struggles lead to an undermining of the power of money, which is manifested in the huge global expansion of debt over the last forty years. We can see the fragility of money and continue creating spaces that are outside of the domination of money.

Q: You write that fear is at the center of every system of oppression.

John Holloway: Even though capital expands and becomes more and more obscene, it grows on the basis of fear. There is a fear at the center of any system of domination. Capitalism depends upon a few being able to exploit the many. And any dominator lives in fear of resistance by the dominated. We may be in hopeless times, but we have to start thinking from our hope, our richness. Money actually depends upon us. And we can see that our role in money and capitalism constitutes a fragility, a kind of chronic illness, within the system. Then the question is, "How can we make cracks in that system?”

Q: “There's a well-used quote these days and I'm not sure who originally said it; “People can imagine the end of the world, but can't imagine the end of capitalism.”

John Holloway: “I don't know where that quote comes from either, but maybe as we come closer to the end of the world, then suddenly it begins to click. And people say, "We can't accept that! We have to think of the end of capitalism." Capitalism from the beginning is a very violent form of oppression that has ruined millions of people's lives and continues to do so. And the other side is that money is very effective as a harness as it brings people’s activities together. It creates a socialization of human effort. You can see how effective money is, in terms of harnessing creativity to produce things that were unimaginable fifty years ago. But this harnessing is always shaped by the pursuit of profit. A harness is perhaps better understood as a yoke. Our richness, our potential for doing things, is yoked into a system that produces more and more value in the sense of monetary wealth. Perhaps there is a point at which people say, "We could accept this before. But now it is unacceptable."

Q: Would you say more about the Zapatistas as an example of living outside of capitalism?

John Holloway: The Zapatistas have been an amazing source of inspiration. They're an indigenous movement based in Chiapas in the southeast of Mexico. They founded the organization in 1983 but their first public appearance was on the first of January, 1994, the day Mexico became part of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Zapatistas marched down from the mountains, from their villages, and occupied six towns in the state of Chiapas. The Mexican government reacted with military confrontation, in which the Zapatistas withdrew. But there was such a reaction from the Mexican people and people throughout the world, that after twelve days a ceasefire was declared and a dialogue between the Zapatistas and the government began.
The Zapatista movement continues to be very active within their territory. They have developed their own system of education, healthcare, justice; their own system of government.
The message from the Zapatistas now is; "Life itself is in danger. And it is endangered by the power of money. Life against money; we have to take sides. We either have to take the side of life, or we have to take the side of money. There is no other option."
My ideas for the book didn't come from that, but they’re absolutely right. That's such an inspiring input. I could go on enthusing about them for ages. They're coming up now to twenty-nine years of public existence. A whole generation of young people have grown up within the Zapatista movement and they have been so consistent, so powerful, so collective and strong in the creation of their own other society, and in their understanding of what is happening in the world. The Zapatistas are a constant inspiration.

This article originally appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel in February, 2023.
by John Malkin
John Holloway - author of "Hope in Hopeless Times"
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