Antinomies of Autonomism

On Art, Instrumentality and Radical Struggle

in (31.08.2009)

The revolutionary organization has had to learn that it can no longer combat alienation by means of alienated forms of struggle.
(Debord, Society of the Spectacle)1

There is no correct living in the false.
(Adorno, Minima Moralia)2

In his call for papers for this 100th issue of Third Text, Rasheed Araeen asks for sober criticism in place of glib self-celebration. He points to 'a legacy of failures in modern history that endangers the future prospects of humanity'. This legacy includes the neutralization of the artistic avant-gardes through, among other things, their 'containment' within the myths of heroic individualism and their recuperation through the imperatives of institutional 'legitimation'.3 Araeen's brief aligns with claims that humanity today remains stuck in the predicament to which capitalist modernity had brought it by mid-twentieth century: we are late, very late, in the dialectic of culture and structural barbarism. Read radically, Araeen's questions about the utility of criticism and the specific knowledge of art entail a re-articulation of the problem of global social reorganization. To pose these questions seriously, under the sign of urgency, is to ask: what possible pathways beyond capitalism remain to us? How are we collectively to solve the impasses that have arrested processes aiming toward classless society? In short: what to do? The problems of art - questions about its use-values and critico-emancipatory potentials - are fully intelligible only within this more global and radical problematic. And in this moment of crisis and increasing social misery, of wars of enforcement and the politics of fear, and of looming climate change and other ecological calamities, urgency is indeed the word for the force with which this problematic is reasserting itself.

Reflection in these directions offers few reassurances. The main conclusions toward which critical thought leads are hardly comforting. Our permanent emergencies are evidently generated by the globally operating logics of capitalist modernity itself, by processes that unfold continuously from antagonistic social relations. If this is so, then the way to a future liberated from destructive and unsustainable logics of exploitation and domination only passes through a successful global struggle against capitalist power and the dominant nation-states that ultimately enforce it. The major problems to be solved, then, pertain to the forms and politics of struggle and are above all strategic. They involve collective decisions about ends and the means required to reach them, about praxis and the probable consequences of actions. How can the obvious common ground of shared interest in emancipation from capitalist relations be developed into agreement around a clear alternative social vision to aim for? And given the realities of repressive state terror and all the other constraints of the here and now, how can the coordinated collective agency needed to attain this aim be organized and deployed - without undoing this aim in the process? So far, we know, all organized attempts to supersede capitalism have been defeated at terrible cost. Despite this I do not share the view held by many, that such a staggeringly immoderate and emphatically humanist goal is, as such, impossible. There are no certainties to justify the conclusion that the more than 6.7 billion exploited, dominated and oppressed people who reproduce our world every day are by nature or invariable essence incapable of radically changing the social form of their activity in this way. Unhappily, however, I am led to conclude that the answers to these questions provided by a certain tendency within contemporary autonomist theory - arguably the most pronounced orientation now observable in the so-called movement of movements, or alter-globalization movement - are clearly inadequate. We need to reassess the prevailing assumptions about instrumentality and the forms of struggle.


The category of autonomy, as it has been developed in critical theory since Marx, radicalizes the ideal of enlightenment. The dignified emergence from 'self-incurred immaturity' famously called for by Kant assumes access to culture and the time needed to appropriate it - in short a privileged social position and existence.4 But exposing the social conditions by which individuals could develop and actually begin to give to themselves their own laws (nomoi) also uncovers the possibility of generalizing autonomy from a form of individual empowerment to a collective one. Linked to processes of social reorganization and direct democracy, autonomy becomes a revolutionary project because its condition of possibility is the overcoming of antagonistic relations. Once it becomes a generalized demand for self-realization, a positive freedom and dignity to be enjoyed by all and not merely by a few artists, intellectuals and leisured dilettantes, the logic of autonomy necessarily overflows the given social constraints and takes aim at the inequities, exclusions and forms of domination structured into everyday capitalist normality. Indeed, it proves to be incompatible with the conditions of exploitation and capital accumulation, that is, with the systematic reduction of free creation and productive activity into wage labour and surplus value. Radical autonomy would be nothing less than the negation and supersession of capitalism - and ultimately of hierarchy as such and the division of labour as well. Its totalizing demand implies nothing less than an absolute refusal of the whole system of existing relations and the realization of a radically different social world. It is this potential autonomy that is often invoked and asserted in social movements and struggles today. This, I take it, is the demand behind the appearance of this word on the walls of Oaxaca, Mexico, during the commune of 2006, or on those of Exarchia in Athens, during the uprising in Greece at the end of 2008.

The radicalization of the category of autonomy from its traditional inscriptions in political theory into an anti-capitalist revolutionary project is a development traceable in critical theory since 1945. It draws on traditional revolutionary theory and practice, in both its Marxian and anarchist forms, but takes its concrete impetus from the critical confrontation with Stalinism and persistence of exploitation and state terror in the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the status of bureaucratic power in the Soviet system was already posing serious problems for Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory. Trotsky's analysis of the USSR as a 'degenerated workers' state' had provided the basis for a critical but still revolutionary position. Before his assassination in 1940, Trotsky had predicted that the defeat of fascism in the new World War would precipitate proletarian revolutions in Western Europe and the overthrow of Stalinism within the USSR. In fact, Stalinism emerged from the war stronger than ever. Its apparent consolidation and expansion into the new 'People's Democracies' of Eastern Europe and similar developments in China provoked splits and theoretical breakthroughs within the Trotskyist Fourth International. The publication of State Capitalism & World Revolution by the so-called Johnson-Forest tendency (C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee) in 1950 was a decisive intervention. This text argued compellingly that under the Stalinist one-party state, the bureaucracy had simply taken over the position of capitalist owners, leaving the workers to be exploited - now in the name, not of private property, but of the new collective and the imperatives of defending a 'socialism' the 'real existence' of which was simply declared by fiat. But where there is no workers' control over production, there can be no socialism. Stalinism is a form of state capitalism enforced by terror. The text concludes boldly that the revolutionary process now must go beyond the abolition of capitalist property relations and aim to dissolve the deeper basis of bureaucratic power in the division of labour: 'The crisis of production today is the crisis of the antagonism between manual and intellectual labour.'5


Within the Fourth International, similar analyses were developed simultaneously by the tendency around Cornelius Castoriadis in France and that around Tony Cliff in Britain. Castoriadis took his tendency out of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste in late 1948, organizing, with Claude Lefort and a dozen others, the group Socialisme ou Barbarie and the journal of the same name in the following year. Active for seventeen years, this group and its journal exerted an influence on the formation of the French New Left in the decades leading to May 1968 that far exceeded its numerical marginality. In the pages of Socialisme ou Barbarie Castoriadis developed a revolutionary theory of autonomy, radicalizing the traditional Marxist attack on capitalist property into a more direct opposition to the division of labour that grounds bureaucratic exploitation:

In our time the problem of the division of society into classes appears more and more in its most direct and naked form, and stripped of all juridical cover, as the problem of the division of society into directors and executants. The proletarian revolution carries out its historical program only in so far as it tends from the very beginning to abolish this division by reabsorbing every particular managerial stratum and by collectivizing, or more exactly by completely socializing, the functions of direction. The problem of the proletariat's historical capacity to achieve a classless society is not the problem of its capacity to overthrow the exploiters who are in power (of this there is no doubt); it is, rather, the problem of how positively to organize a collective, socialized management of production and power.6

The content of socialism is autonomy - but a radical autonomy that is generalized through a revolutionary process aiming to dissolve the antagonism between those who control and direct production and those who carry out these directions through their labour. Socialism is now redefined according to the social conditions of autonomy: the collectivization not of ownership but of all the functions of direction, by means of workers' councils and other autonomous organizations controlled from the bottom up through the direct election of delegates, subject to instant recall.

Castoriadis goes on to emphasize that such autonomy could not be given from above or accomplished by others in the proletariat's name. This revolution would have to be accomplished by the conscious activity of the workers themselves:

The proletariat can carry out the socialist revolution only if it acts autonomously, ie if it finds in itself both the will and the consciousness for the necessary transformation of society. Socialism can be neither a fated result of historical development, a violation of history by a party of supermen, nor still the application of a program derived from a theory that is true in itself. Rather, it is the unleashing of the free creative activity of the oppressed masses. Such an unleashing of free creative activity is made possible by historical development, and the action of a party based on this theory can facilitate it to a tremendous degree.7

Castoriadis rejects any determinist interpretation of history. The level of productive forces will not by itself produce the revolution; there will be no automatic progress. Only the exploited themselves can become the collective agency that can transform the possibilities opened up by material conditions into a revolutionary process. The role of a revolutionary party is not to substitute itself for the proletariat by assuming the functions of direction, but to 'facilitate' the struggle, helping it to clarify and develop its own forms of autonomous self-direction. A party that guides itself by 'this theory' will not try to reconstitute itself as a permanent bureaucracy because it will have understood that the struggle is, above all, a struggle against bureaucratic relations of power.

In a follow up text published in 1957, Castoriadis summarizes these points and emphasizes the basis of autonomy in a radical transformation of work:

Socialism can be instaurated only by the autonomous action of the working class; it is nothing other than this autonomous action. Socialist society is nothing other than the self-organization of this autonomy. Socialism both presupposes this autonomy and helps to develop it.8

In the final five issues of Socialisme ou Barbarie, Castoriadis gives further and more systematic elaboration to the category of autonomy, considering its conditions and content in both its individual and collective aspects. In any serious consideration, he concludes, the individual necessarily leads directly to the collective:

The conception we have discussed shows both that one cannot want autonomy without wanting it for everyone and that its realization cannot be conceived in its full scope except as a collective enterprise.9

Once focused on the problem of bureaucratic power in and after revolutionary struggles, the Socialisme ou Barbarie group developed a sustained reflection on organizational forms, hierarchy and vanguardism - a reflection that by 1958 had produced a scission within its own membership. By the early 1960s, the group's increasingly heterodox processing of revolutionary theory was deepening into a critical rejection of classical Marxism.10 But while Castoriadis rejects any form of vanguardism that would seek to monopolize the functions of direction and permanently establish bureaucratic forms of control and exploitation, he does not reject the party-form as such. Nor, here, does he suggest that the socialist conditions of radical autonomy could be established by avoiding or by-passing state power. The argument is that autonomy is both end and means of a fluid social and political process that must permanently assimilate forms and procedures of critique and self-correction.


The critique of bureaucracy and state capitalism and the new revolutionary theory of autonomy were largely assimilated by Guy Debord and others in the Situationist International. Debord's processing of the revolutionary tradition, in the fourth part of The Society of the Spectacle (1967), integrates many of Castoriadis's conclusions. Debord, however, goes beyond the Marxist critique of the capitalist state and identifies state power as such as an essentially capitalist form of domination. Noting that the bourgeoisie was the only revolutionary class that ever won, he charges the Bolsheviks with drawing the wrong conclusion. The seizure of state power, according to him, is not a strategy that can be successfully transferred to proletarian revolution. The Bolshevik seizure of state power was, and could only have been, 'the seizure of a statist monopoly on the representation and defense of workers' power'.11 By its very organizational form and content, the Leninist vanguard party 'externalized and alienated' the proletariat's own representation, with the result that it became a party of 'absolute masters of the State, economy, expression and, soon enough, thought'.12 The conclusion Debord draws is that the revolutionary proletariat must never give up its autonomy by allowing any organization outside of itself to assume the functions of direction or representation. It must learn that alienation is not just a result of a loss of control at the level of productive labour. The separation of workers from their own creative powers continues in the forms of the unions, parties and state powers that the workers' movement invented as its weapons in struggle.13

Debord redefines the proletariat as 'the vast majority of workers who have lost all power over the use of their lives' and have become aware of it - all those, in short, who are continuously separated from their potential autonomy and now know they need to struggle to recover and realize it.14 This class, in order to become revolutionary, must become conscious of its need to oppose 'every reified externalization and every specialization of power'.15 For Debord, this means the party-form and all forms of bureaucratic relations, as well as the aim of state power, are to be rejected. The revolutionary proletariat must 'become its own power by becoming the class of consciousness' - that is, of radical autonomy.16 So far, only workers' councils, the revolutionary organizational form that directly appropriated for itself all social powers without reserve, have pointed in the right direction; other needed forms remain to be invented under the pressure of future struggles. Thus, he summarizes, the revolutionary organization must grasp that alienation cannot be overcome through alienated means of struggle.17 Radical autonomy 'requires that workers become dialecticians and inscribe their thought in practice'.18


In the wake of May 1968, many of these conclusions become consolidated as orientations and attitudes within the French New Left: suspicion of traditional politics and of power as such; hostility to parties, unions, the state and all other forms of institutionalized bureaucracy; disdain for vanguardism and the discipline of militants; enthusiasm for the new politics of identity, self-representation and expression.19 Elsewhere, similar tendencies take hold. In Italy, a militant workers' movement converged with student and cultural protest on a much broader social base, eventually producing the robust and inventive movement called 'Autonomia', active until its break-up under the wave of state repression launched in 1978.20 In the aftermath of these defeats and the phase of disillusionment and disengagement that accompanied them, autonomist theory continued to develop into a distinct stream of radical critical theory - a stream stimulated by internal divergences and lively debates.21 Arguably, the autonomist theorist who today articulates most clearly and compellingly the case for the uncompromising rejection of state power and vanguard partyism is John Holloway.

Holloway's Zapatista-inspired Change the World without Taking Power - first published in 2002 and significantly subtitled The Meaning of Revolution Today - attempts to elaborate a 'non-instrumental concept of revolution.'22 Holloway grounds his version of autonomist theory in a strong reading of Marx's critique of capitalism that impressively combines the radical humanism of the early writings with the analysis of exploitation in Capital. In passing from the critique of capitalism to the theorization of revolution, Holloway in effect uses Adorno's critique of identity from Negative Dialectics to radicalize Marx.23 The result is striking but problematic.

In Holloway's gloss on Marx, human potentials unfold collectively in free creative activity, or 'the social flow of doing'.24 This potentia he names 'power-to': 'can-ness, capacity-to-do, the ability to do things'.25 Capitalist relations deploy what Holloway calls 'power-over' (potestas) to channel and capture the active unfolding of potentials in living labour, converting it into surplus value that can be accumulated as dead labour, or capital: 'Power-over is the breaking of the social flow of doing.'26 By forcing living labour into the form of wage-labour, then, capitalism systematically fractures the social flow of concrete doing and parcels it into quantities of abstract labour and exchangeable products. These products, commodities, are dead objectifications of a social flow that is continuously arrested. The circulation of commodities and accumulation of capital now appear as the reduction of living doing to the done, to dead labour - literally the death or killing of human potential and autonomy. Now comes the Adorno. 'Identity', in Holloway's terms, is the transformation of doing into being, or 'is-ness'. 'Put differently, is-ness implies the dominance of nouns over verbs.'27 Capitalism, in this register, is the reign of identity, a social form in which the living flow of non-identity and qualitative difference is reduced to reified quantities of is-ness. In a stimulating chapter on fetishization, Holloway summarizes:

The separation of doing from done (and its subordination to the done) establishes the reign of is-ness, or identity. Identity is perhaps the most concentrated (and most challenging) expression of fetishism or reification. The breaking of the flow of doing deprives doing of its movement. Present doing is subordinate to past done. Living labour is subordinated to dead labour. Doing is frozen in mid-flight, transformed into being.28

Revolution, for Holloway, becomes the process of escaping these reductions. The given is negated in practices of remembering, recovering, and rescuing non-identity, even in ourselves. But this is difficult: 'The penetration of power-over into the core of those who are subject to that power-over is the central problem that any revolutionary theory has to deal with.'29 The reign of identity under the imperatives of capital accumulation damages us, distorting and repressing our human potentials and autonomy. 'But how,' Holloway asks, 'can we possibly change a society in which people are so dehumanized? This is the dilemma of the urgent impossibility of revolution.'30 Holloway considers three ways out of this dilemma. The first is a melancholic postmodern reduction of the revolutionary demand for autonomy to a reformist micro-politics that accepts capitalism as a permanent invariable and seeks no more than to make it more tolerable. The second, that of traditional revolutionary vanguardism, is to 'forget the subtleties' and aim to resolve the social antagonism by seizing the state and using its 'power-over' to suppress capitalist relations.31 Rejecting these options, Holloway advances a third: revolution as a form of Adornian negative dialectics, 'the "consistent sense of non-identity", of the explosive force of that which is denied'.32 Or, in other words, a 'non-instrumental' practice of struggle. On this basis, Holloway grounds his rejection of vanguardism, the party-form, and any strategy entangling itself with power-over:

The goal of the conquest of power inevitably involves an instrumentalisation of power. The struggle has an aim: to conquer political power. The struggle is a means to achieve that aim. Those elements of struggle which do not contribute to the achievement of that aim are either given a secondary importance or must be suppressed altogether: a hierarchy of struggles is established... You cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power. Once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost.33

A non-instrumental practice of struggle can only be the ceaseless refusal of power, the continuous flight from the power-over of capital and identity.34 This 'direct overcoming of power relations' in order to recover autonomous power-to is the deployment of 'anti-power'.35 The Zapatistas in Chiapas indicate the way.36


Holloway argues admirably for a tendency within autonomist theory that, as shown above, was already pronounced in Debord. However, there are insuperable practical problems with this 'non-instrumental' conception of revolution. Instrumental reason - the calculus of ends and means, costs and benefits - is, as the Frankfurt theorists have shown, essentially a capitalist form of reason. Holloway is right about this. But this doesn't mean instrumentality can be avoided. Instrumental reason comes into play whenever there are aims and goals. A non-instrumental struggle would be one that has no aims or goals, that doesn't care whether it wins or succeeds, that is glibly unconcerned about results and consequences. If it does have aims and wants to realize them, if it is concerned with results, then, necessarily, it is entangled with instrumentality. A pure struggle for struggle's sake would be no less a form of false reconciliation than l'art pour l'art - but would be far more inexcusable if it openly aims to change the world. There is no escaping this: non-instrumental struggle cannot exist. Building a revolutionary theory on such an oxymoron is a lapse into postmodern tropes of impossibility. It's anti-politics, but it's bad anti-politics.37

Holloway's 'anti-power' is suggestive, but unconvincing. The problem in the real world is that capitalist power-over is enforced by the state's repressive forces - ultimately by state terror. In the given global order, no anti-capitalist project, no emergent socialism, no non-instrumental form of collective life will be allowed to exist for more than an instant, let alone develop into a serious threat. If it cannot defend itself from state violence, it will be wiped out, full stop.38 The Zapatistas, for all their undoubted appeal, are not a counterexample here. Their existence is tolerated only insofar as they do not become a revolutionary threat.39 These being the constraints of reality, within which any revolutionary process must make its way, there is no avoiding the logic of power and instrumentality. Revolutionary movements and struggles are bound to organize the strategic counter-power required to defend themselves from the capitalist state. If they do not, whatever pathways beyond capitalism they manage to open will soon be terminal. The capitalist state cannot be by-passed. State terror has to be neutralized, and this means, necessarily, strategic and instrumental struggle and an adequate and effective counter-power. Unhappily, results matter.

The problem is that the escape from instrumentality could only be actualized by a successful global passage to non-antagonistic society. Autonomism is impatient; it wants the fruits of struggle before the struggle has been won.40 It therefore leaps over all the mediations imposed by the constraints of history and slips the obligation to wage effective strategic struggle. Accepting that obligation, on the other hand, means accepting that the desire to keep one's hands clean, in an immaculate state of 'non-instrumental' purity, must remain an unattainable ideal. In this regard, Holloway's reading of Adorno is less rigorous than his reading of Marx. Yes, Adorno exposes the genocidal tendencies within the logic of identity and points to its operations in the late capitalist tendencies he called 'integration' and 'administration.' And he shows how all conceptual thinking is entangled with the suppression of non-identity. ('To think is to identify.'41) But he never suggests that we can therefore avoid using concepts or can slip the obligations of conceptual thinking. In fact, he condemns this as regression.42 Negative dialectics is critical spirit's way of remembering this unavoidable conceptual violence by ceaselessly exposing it. Conceptual thinking and instrumental reason go on, as they must, but, accompanied relentlessly by the critical moments of negative dialectics, thinking is able at the same time to think against itself, to humble itself with self-critique, and to constrain its genocidal tendencies. Adorno was not a theorist of revolution, and he conceded candidly that as far as he could see, there was no revolutionary horizon in sight, no viable strategic pathway beyond capitalism that he could recognize. In this he was a pessimist. Even so, he refused to rule out the possibility that others would solve these strategic impasses. He held open and never conceded the possibility that humanity could find a way to make its leap to the realm of freedom. And only there, in the resolution of the social antagonism through the passage to classless society, would non-identity and difference be liberated for the very first time.43 Only then, to use Holloway's terms, could power-to be entirely freed from contaminations by power-over. In the meantime, in our here and now, the social whole remains 'untruth': 'There is no correct living in the false.'

There are risks in Adorno's position as well, of course. As a revolutionary demand, radical autonomy has to pass between the dialectical moments formulated by Adorno on the one hand and Debord on the other. Debord's 'no combating alienation through alienated means of struggle' captures the impatience and intransigence of autonomism, and can stand here as a summary statement of the impulse behind Holloway's 'non-instrumental' revolution. Adorno's 'no correct living in the false' is the corrective. Both formulations are true, but only if they are not absolutized. As a guide to practice, each requires the correcting critical pressure of the other. Only the tension between them creates an adequate negative dialectic. Debord's proposition is true as a critique of the tendencies within the revolutionary tradition that, unchecked, led to Stalinist state capitalism and bureaucratic terror. Absolutized, however, it becomes false-reconciliation and programmatic impotence. Adorno's proposition corrects the tendency in autonomism to precipitously misrecognize dreams for reality. But absolutized, it recoils into permission for resignation, despair and quietism. This difficult balance is the burden of strategy, the tightrope that practice must walk. Precisely because the outcome of revolutionary struggle matters and will express a judgment of history, 'non-instrumental revolution' cannot be a valid expression of Adorno's 'identity of the non-identical'.

Radical autonomy is without doubt a revolutionary category. Probably, it is the best one we have. Its ideal of self-realization in free socialized creation is substantially the same content that the young Marx elaborated luminously as 'true communism': that real education of our socialized senses and human potentials that releases development in all directions and produces people who are not painters but 'sometimes engage in painting among other activities'.44 Such a vision would be conditioned on a revolutionary process, but one that so far has not appeared in an adequate form anywhere in history. For, according to this theory, the revolutionary process that resolves the social antagonism and supersedes class relations would be the same one that dissolves the division of labor and makes the state wither away. The political practice that would prove this true has yet to be found. But if it were, the problems of art as a specialized activity would resolve themselves. In the meantime the struggle continues. It is not likely to go far, however, unless anti-capitalists organize themselves as a real material force - as the counter-power of coordinated collective agency and strategic (self-)direction.

This is a pre-print version of a text forthcoming in Third Text, 100, vol. 23, issue 5 (2009). I thank Henrik Lebuhn and Anna Papaeti for their helpful responses to early drafts of this article.

1 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, Ken Knabb, trans, Rebel Press, London, no date given, § 122, p 70
2 Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, Edmund Jephcott, trans, Verso, London, 1974, p 39, translation modified
3 Rasheed Araeen, 'Art: A Vision of the Future', Call For Papers disseminated by email, received 21 November 2008
4 Immanuel Kant, 'An Answer to the Question: "What Is Enlightenment?"', in Political Writings, H. Reiss, ed, and H.B. Nisbet, trans, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, p. 54-55
5 C.L.R. James, with Raya Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee, State Capitalism & World Revolution, Kerr, Chicago, 1986, p 114. The text was originally an intervention prepared for the 1950 convention of the Socialist Workers Party. The theory of state capitalism had been developing within divergent streams of critical theory, as well as the splinter groups of the Fourth International. Friedrich Pollack's version of 1941, published in the journal of the Frankfurt Institut für Sozialforschung in exile, distinguished between 'democratic' and 'totalitarian' forms of state capitalism, the first comprising the late capitalist liberal welfare state and the second including both Stalinism and forms of fascism. Rolling Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union into a single analytic category of course reproduces all the risks and right-wing tendencies inherent in the notion of 'totalitarianism,' as its transformation into a Cold War catchword a few years later would confirm. More alert to these kinds of dangers, Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment, begun at the same time and dedicated to Pollock, clearly located the social problem in the division of labour itself, and in the tendencies within late capitalist modernity they named 'administration' and 'integration.' In this regard there is a certain convergence between Frankfurt critical theory and the critique of bureaucracy developed by dissidents within the Trotskyist parties. See Frederick Pollack, 'State Capitalism', Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, vol 9, no 2, 1941, pp 200-22; and Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, Gunnzelin Schmid Noerr, ed, and Edmund Jephcott, trans, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2002.
6 Cornelius Castoriadis, 'On the Content of Socialism (1955-1957): Excerpts', in The Castoriadis Reader, David Ames Curtis, ed and trans, Blackwell, Oxford, 1997, p 47. Significantly, the introductory section of the text from which the cited passage comes bears the heading 'From the Critique of Bureaucracy to the Idea of the Proletariat's Autonomy'.
7 Ibid, p 48
8 Ibid, p 59
9 Castoriadis, 'Marxism and Revolutionary Theory (1964-1965): Excerpts', in Castoriadis Reader, p 183
10 'Starting from revolutionary Marxism', Castoriadis provocatively wrote in 1964, 'we have arrived at the point where we have to choose between remaining Marxist and remaining revolutionaries.' Ibid, p 145
11 Debord, Society of the Spectacle, § 102, p 55. Knabb's 'new authorized translation' generally, but not always, renders Debord's words and syntax more literally than does Donald Nicholson-Smith's elegant English; the latter probably captures better the rhetorical effects of Debord's style. But is little is gained by playing one off against the other. By whatever criteria, every translator makes decisions that over-determine the possible interpretations of a text's key moments. In the collective process of reading and thinking about a work as influential as this one has been, my preference is for the most literal and accurate rendering possible, since this returns to the reader more of the work of interpretation and may even send her back to the French original. In this and all following quotations, I have modified the translation as I have seen fit, but include the section numbers for easy reference and comparison across editions. Debord's original is in print as La Société du Spectacle, Gallimard, Paris, 1992; Nicholson-Smith's translation is The Society of Spectacle, Zone, New York, 1995
12 Ibid, § 103, p 56
13 Ibid, § 114, p 67
14 Ibid, § 114, p 66
15 Ibid, § 114, p 67
16 Ibid, § 88, p 45
17 Ibid, § 122, p 70
18 Ibid, § 123, pp 70-71
19 Two contemporary accounts corroborating the centrality of autonomist themes in the French New Left are Richard Gombin, The Origins of Modern Leftism, Michael J. Perl, trans, Penguin, Middlesex, 1975; and Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, Arnold Pomerans, trans, AK Press, Edinburgh, 2000
20 On the Italian context, see the newly reissued Autonomia: Post-Political Politics, Sylvere Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, eds, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2007; and Steve Wright, Storming Heaven: Class Composition and Struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism, Pluto, London, 2002
21 The most important divergences have to do with the analysis of contemporary capitalism, the status of Marxist categories and dialectics, and the forms of struggle. One important point of contention is over the continuing validity of Marx's labour theory of value and the proletariat as a class category. Antonio Negri, Michael Hardt, Paolo Virno and other so-called post-operaists have argued that both the labour theory of value and the class of manual workers have only limited relevance to revolutionary possibilities under contemporary post-Fordist modes of exploitation and the global governance of biopower. George Caffentzis of Midnight Notes Collective and John Holloway, among others, hold to a more operaist or workerist position and reaffirm the global operations of the law of value. See Caffentzis, 'The End of Work or the Renaissance of Slavery? A Critique of Rifkin and Negri' [1998], available online at Hardt and Negri respond to this line of criticism in Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, Penguin, New York, 2004, pp 103-58, among other places.
22 John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today, New Edition, Pluto, London, 2005, p 214
23 Holloway confirms this in his contributions to Negativity and Revolution: Adorno and Political Activism, John Holloway, Fernando Matamoros and Sergio Tischler, eds, Pluto, London, 2009
24 Holloway, Change the World, pp 28 and 36. Compare this with Castoriadis's very similar formulations: 'The historical world is the world of human making/doing [faire]... We call praxis that making/doing in which the other or others are intended as autonomous beings and considered as the essential agents of the development of their own autonomy.' Castoriadis, 'Marxism and Revolutionary Theory (1964-1965): Excerpts', in Castoriadis Reader, pp 147 and 150
25 Holloway, Change the World, pp 28 and 36
26 Ibid, p 29
27 Ibid, p 58
28 Ibid, p 57
29 Ibid, p 74
30 Ibid
31 Ibid, pp 74-76
32 Ibid, p 76
33 Ibid, pp 16-17
34 'The relation between capital and labour is thus one of mutual flight and dependence, but it is not symmetrical: labour can escape, capital cannot. Capital is dependent on labour in a way in which labour is not dependent upon capital. Capital, without labour, ceases to exist: labour, without capital, becomes practical creativity, creative practice, humanity.' Ibid, p 182. The proximity of Holloway's argument here to Negri's and Virno's theorizations of 'exodus' is clear, although Holloway's reading of Marx looks to Adorno where Negri's and Virno's look to Spinoza, Deleuze-Guattari, and Foucault.
35 Ibid, pp 20-21, 36-37
36 The Zapatistas are invoked repeatedly throughout Change the World. These arguments for the exemplary status of Zapatismo were already developed more fully in Zapatista! Reinventing Revolution in Mexico, John Holloway and Eloína Peláez, eds, Pluto, London, 1998
37 G.M. Tamás makes much the same point in his sharp observations of the anti-capitalist protest movement in Europe: 'These movements are profoundly a-political or anti-political. They are addressing "problems", not attacking state-forms. They are attempting to ignore studiously the state as such which they recognize implicitly since they are more or less expecting their demands and proposals to be made into government... policy but not trying at the same time to create a new state-form more amenable to prosecute such policies.' G.M. Tamás, 'Counter-Revolution Against Counter-Revolution', Left Curve 33 (2009), p 67. See also the similar arguments of Alonzo Alcanzar, 'On Radical-Leftist Strategy: Propositions for Discussion', in Ibid, pp 4-15.
38 In the 'Epilogue' to the new edition of Change the World, Holloway engages with some of his critics. One hypothetical critic is made to voice an objection that converges with my argument at this point: 'We can develop all the self-determining projects or revolts we like, but once they become annoying (not even threatening) for the ruling class, they send in the police and the army and that's the end. That is why we need to control the state, so that we can stop police or army repression. That's the way things are in the real world. So what's your answer to that, Professor?' To which, Holloway replies: 'I hem and I haw and I have no answer, but suggest three points.' These 'points', in sum, are: 1) 'Control of the state guarantees nothing.' 2) 'Organizing as a revolutionary army which aims to overthrow capitalism in military confrontation makes little sense.' And, 3) 'There still remains the problem of how we protect ourselves from state violence.' Readers can judge for themselves, but as answers to a major, if obvious, objection, I find these 'points', even amplified by Holloway's further elaborations, very unconvincing. Holloway, Change the World, pp 237-38
39 Without dismissing or failing to appreciate what the EZLN has accomplished in Chiapas under very difficult conditions, a sober assessment does not justify advancing this struggle as a model of non-instrumental revolution. Cursorily: the Zapatista struggle has not been free of entanglements with instrumental calculations, nor could it be, for the reasons given. Nor has their struggle been revolutionary, because they have not organized a counter-power capable of attempting and defending a radical reorganization of Mexican society. To the degree to which the EZLN has successfully defended their own communal autonomy in Chiapas from state repression, they were able to do so because they did in fact organize the counter-power required to attain that limited aim, including both a local military force and organized international support. Yes, they have done things differently, and waged their struggle with much wit, poetry and charm. But this does not amount to a non-instrumental revolution, and clarity about this would be a condition of learning what the Zapatistas do have to teach us. The most thorough and cogent analysis of the EZLN in context that I know of is José Salvador Guerrero-Chiprés, Insurgencies and National Security in Mexico (1993-2003): Political Frontiers, Myth and Hegemony, the Role of the EZLN, PhD Thesis, Department of Government, University of Essex, 2004. See also Mihalis Mentinis, Zapatistas: The Chiapas Revolt and What It Means for Radical Politics, Pluto, London, 2006, which draws on Guerrero-Chiprés.
40 Debord's gesture toward the need for patience - out of place in the section on culture (part VIII), rather than that on revolution (part IV), where it belongs - is easily the most realistic passage in his famous book. However, these sentences clearly run against the grain of the rest of the book: 'This [critical theory of the spectacle] expects no miracles from the working class. It envisages the new formulation and realization of proletarian demands as a task of long duration.' Debord, Society of the Spectacle, § 203, p 112
41 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, E.B. Ashton, trans, Continuum, New York, 1995, p 5
42 In this regard, Adorno would not have missed the unintended irony of Holloway's phrase: 'non-instrumental concept of revolution'.
43 'Reconciliation would set free the non-identical, would rid it even of spiritualized coercion and would really open up the multiplicity of difference, over which the dialectic would have no more power.' Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p 6, translation modified
44 Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, C.J. Wishart, ed, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1965, p 430. On 'true communism', see Marx, 'Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts' [1844], in Early Writings, Rodney Livingstone and Gregor Benton, trans, Vintage, New York, 1975, pp 345-358