Can we stop imagining something?

John Holloway: Stop Making Capitalism [i]


In Mary Shelley's famous story, Dr. Frankenstein becomes a creature and the creature then attains an independent existence, a permanent existence in which it is supported by the creative activity of Dr. Frankenstein is no longer dependent. In another story, a story by Jorge Luis Borges, "Las Ruinas Circulares" [ii], a person creates another person, but not in a laboratory, but dreaming. The created human has all the manifestations of a normal human with an independent, lasting existence, but in reality it is only kept alive by the constant creative activity of the first human, dreaming. Its existence is not an illusion, but its persistence [iii] is: from one moment to the next its existence depends on the creative activity of the dreamer.

The Frankenstein story is often used as a metaphor for capitalism. We have created a society that is not controlled by us and that threatens to destroy us: we can only survive if we destroy this society. But perhaps we should think of society more in terms of Borges' story: we have created a society that appears to be completely beyond our control, but which in reality depends on our act of constant re-creation. The problem is not to destroy society, but to stop creating it. Capitalism exists today not because we created it two hundred or one hundred years ago, but because we created it today. If we don't create it tomorrow, it won't exist.

Every day we create a world of atrocity, misery and violence and injustice. We are actively involved in establishing the rule that oppresses us, creating the profanity that repels us. We produce added value, we respect money, we accept unjustified authority and enforce it, we live by the clock, we close our eyes to the starving. We make capitalism. And now we have to stop doing it.

What does it mean to think of the revolution not as the destruction of capitalism but as the termination of the creation of capitalism?

We don't solve the problem of revolution by changing the question, it doesn't mean we know how to do it, but maybe it can make us rethink the categories of revolutionary thought. Perhaps it will open up a new grammar, a different logic of revolutionary thinking, a different way of thinking about revolutionary politics. Maybe it opens up a new hope. I would like to investigate this question.


The idea that revolution means the destruction of capitalism is based on a concept of duration, that is, capitalism is now and will continue to be until we destroy it. The problem is that revolutionaries undermine the basis of their own call for revolution when they assume the permanence of capitalism.

Every system of rule is based on permanence, on the assumption that just because something exists in one moment will continue to exist in the next. The Lord assumes that he will continue to rule tomorrow because he ruled yesterday. The slave dreams of another morning, but she often locates it beyond death, in heaven. In this case, she assumes that there is nothing she can do to do can to change the situation. The power of doing is subordinate to what is.

This subordination of doing to being is a subordination of the subject to the object. Permanence is therefore a characteristic of a society in which the subject is subordinate to the object, a society in which it is assumed that active subjectivity is incapable of changing objective reality. Objective reality or society as it is stands above and against us: the subject is separated from the object and subordinated to it. And verbs (the active form of speaking) are separated from and subordinated to nouns (which negate movement).

In capitalism, the separation of subject and object, and with it permanence, attains a peculiar rigidity. This lies in the material separation of subject and object in the production process. The commodity that we produce stands opposite and above us as something external, as an object that negates any relationship with the work of the subject who produced it. It acquires a seemingly completely separate existence from the work that produced it. The separation between subject and object, doing and done, verb and noun is so fundamental to the way we subjects relate to one another in capitalism that it permeates every aspect of our social existence. In every aspect of our lives there is a separation of the subject from the object, of doing from being, of subordination of the subject to the object, of doing to being. Duration prevails. This is clearly expressed by the time of day, when one minute is exactly as long as the next and the next and the next, and the only revolution imaginable is the one that turns and turns on itself. [Iv]

In order to imagine the change in society, we have to regain the centrality of human activity, we have to save the buried subject. In other words, we have to criticize - whereby by criticism we mean historical criticism [v], criticism ad hominem, trying to understand phenomena in terms of the doing that creates them. The Marxian labor theory of value is such a criticism: at its core, the labor theory of value says: “The commodity negates our doing, but we have done it.” This brings the subject (our doing) back into focus. The object claims to be independent of the subject, but in reality it depends on the subject. Being depends on doing. This is what opens up the possibility that we can change the world.

Any criticism (understood in this sense) is an attack on permanence. As soon as subjectivity is brought back to the center of society, permanence is broken. One minute can no longer be assumed to be the same as the next. It can no longer be assumed that tomorrow will be the same as today, because we can do it differently. Criticism opens a world of wonder. If Marx at the beginning of the Capital says that the commodity is outside of us, alien to us, but the secret is that we made it (labor theory), then we react both horrified and hopeful. We are amazed that we spend our lives making objects that negate our existence, that are alien to us and that rule us, but at the same time we see hope because the existence of these objects is entirely dependent on us: what we do is central of everything, what we do is the hidden sun around which everything revolves.

The object that rules the subject depends on the subject that creates it. The capital that rules us depends on the labor that creates it. The master who rules the slave depends on the slave. There is a relationship of domination and dependence in which the movement of domination is a constant flight from dependence, a constant struggle of the master to escape dependence on his slave - of course there is no way he can win this fight because if he wins, he would stop being master. But what interests us about this relationship between domination and dependency is not so much the moment of domination (the traditional terrain of the left discourse), but the moment of dependence, because this is where hope is to be found.

So all social phenomena exist because they were made by people: money or the state are just as human products as the automobile. But even more: all social phenomena only exist because they were made and are constantly being made anew. A car only exists as a car because we are constantly recreating it by using it as a car; a state only exists as a state because we are constantly recreating it by accepting its authority and its forms. Money only exists because we are constantly reproducing it in our relationships with others. If we stopped reproducing money in our social relationships, then money and coins would continue to exist, but it would no longer be money. These phenomena are not like Frankenstein's creature, but like the creature created by Borges ’dreamer. Their existence depends on us from one minute to another.

The existence of capitalism is not an illusion. The separation of its existence from its constitution, in other words its permanence, is, however, an illusion.

Of course, durability is not only imaginary: it is created in the real social separation of subject and object in the work process, so that durability can only be destroyed by a complete transformation of the social organization of work (of doing). But the attack on permanence is central to the attack on capitalist work organization.

By attacking persistence, it is demystified, it is shown to be an illusion. Demystification means shaking the unreality of an enchanted world and showing that the world really revolves around human activity. However, it seems to be exactly the other way around. We have always lived in the "enchanted, upside-down and upside-down world" [vi] of capitalism, the world of objects, permanence, the time. As a result, the world that criticism introduces us to feels like a dream world, a wonderland world, a world of impossible intensity, a world in which everything is infinitely fragile as it depends on being constantly recreated. Communism (as a movement, as a form of doing and thinking) is like being in love.

In this wonderland world, in this communist-moving, nouns are dissolved into verbs, into actions. Nouns fetishize the product of doing, they snatch the result of that doing from doing and cancel it in a permanent existence that negates the fact that it depends on being constantly recreated. Marx criticized value to show that its core is human activity, labor, but his critical method of regaining the centrality of human activity can be extended to all nouns (but in the world of permanence we live in, with its permanence Talk, it's hard to write without nouns - so critical thinking really calls for a new way of speaking, what Vaneigem calls the poetry of the revolution).

Communism is therefore not the highest stage in history, but the breaking open of the historical continuum (Benjamin) [vii], the dissolution of the continuity of nouns into the complete fragility of human activity. A self-determined society is a society in which it is obvious that only what is being done at that moment exists, a world of verbs. The notion of a highest level of history implies a positive moment, a moment of accumulation of struggle, a moment of expansion. The bursting of the historical continuum implies a negative movement, not an accumulation of struggles but the creation of new intensities that are incompatible with the dead identifications of capitalism. Perhaps we should consider totality, the term that criticizes the fragmentary nature of bourgeois thinking, not as a movement of expansion, but rather as a movement that strives for the totalization of social existence in the intensity of every single moment: the search for an absolutely intense present time [viii] , or Nunc Stans in which time stops and capitalism explodes, or maybe implodes. Communism would be a self-determining society, that is, a society without permanence, without nouns: a frightening, intoxicating thought.


We want a moment of terrible social intensity that shatters the continuum of history, a moment so intense that the time of day will be broken forever. There are moments like this: Revolutions are like that. Everything holds, social relationships are turned upside down when people take to the streets and everything is focused on the only act of saying NO.

But we cannot wait for the Great Revolutionary Moment. We cannot go on producing capitalism, we have to break the continuum of history now. Individually and collectively, we now have to turn to capital and say “Come on, go now, go out the door, just turn around, because you are no longer welcome. We will survive ”[ix]. Go away, capital! ¡Que se vayan todos! [X] All politicians and capitalists. You are no longer welcome. We will survive.

To say goodbye to capital means to end a relationship, to start over, to create a tabula rasa, to create the world anew. To break open the continuum of history is to break the continuum of an oppressive relationship in everyday life. While we're in the relationship, it seems impossible, unthinkable that we could ever break out of it, but it isn't. Capital beats us, kills thousands of us every day, but ¡ya basta! [Xi] Those who want to build a party and take power would be more likely to drag us to marriage counselors and divorce courts before breaking off the relationship. But no, we can't wait. There is no intermediate step. Just bye-bye, ciao.

Is it really that simple? No of course not. But maybe it's not as impossible as we usually think.

Capital exists because we create it. It completely depends on us. This is crucial: if there is no work, then there is no capital. We create capital, and only when we really accept our own responsibility can we understand our own strengths. Only when we understand that we are creating capital with all its horrors can we understand that we have the power to stop making it. State-oriented (and hegemony-centered and discourse-centered) approaches lose sight of this crucial axis of dependency: they turn their gaze away from the Achilles heel of capitalism, from the crucial point of its vulnerability.

How do we make the capital? By producing added value and also by creating the conditions on which the production of added value is based. (We at universities, for example, do not produce surplus value, but we create the conditions necessary for the production of surplus value. We play an active role in the fetishization of social relationships, in the transformation of relationships between people into relationships between things.) Im In general, we can say that we create capitalism by working, by allowing what we do to be turned into alienated and alienating work.

A worldwide mass strike would destroy capital, but the conditions do not currently exist for it. It's hard to see how every person in the world could be persuaded to simultaneously refuse to work for capital.

At least at the moment, the revolution can only be imagined as a series of cracks, crevices, holes, hairline cracks that spread through the social fabric. There are already millions of such holes, spaces in which people, whether individually or collectively, say, "NO, capital does not rule here, we will not direct our lives here according to the dictates of capital". These holes are disobedience, insubordination, dignity. In some cases (the EZLN in Chiapas, the MST in Brazil, the uprising in Bolivia, the piqueteros and neighborhood assemblies in Argentina, and so on) these rebellions, these holes in the fabric of capital, are already very large. The only way we can imagine the revolution is as the expansion and multiplication of these disobedience, these hairline cracks in capitalist command. There are some who say that these disobedience, these cracks in world capitalism only get real meaning when they are institutionalized in the form of disobedient and revolutionary states, and that the whole movement of disobedience must steer towards this goal.But there is no reason why disobedience should be institutionalized in the form of government, and there are many reasons why they should not.

But how do we, starting from these many hairline cracks, these diverse dignities, stop making capitalism?

By refusing to work: not just by staying in bed, but by refusing to turn what we do into work, that is, to do what we consider important, necessary, or enjoyable, but refusing to go under Command of capital to work.

This implies a struggle of doing against labor, of content against its capitalist form. It is assumed that even in modern capitalism, in which the subordination of doing to capital in the form of labor is a very real subordination (or subsumption), there is always a remnant of dignity, from the insubordination of content to form gives. To be human means to fight for the insubordination of doing against work, for the emancipation of doing from work. The worst architect always fights against being turned into the best bee. [Xii] Herein lies the importance of dignity.

The struggle of doing against being, that is, the struggle for the emancipation of doing, is an everyday practice. It is normal for people to work (or do) in-and-against-capital [xiii], and despite the capitalist form of organization, to try to do what they do well, for use-value and against-value fight. Obviously there are also very many jobs where it is difficult to see any room for revolt of doing against work. In such cases the struggle of-and-for-dignity can only be understood as a struggle of total negation (sabotage and other forms of refusal to work).

But there are undoubtedly many examples going beyond that of people occupying factories or schools or clinics and trying to organize them on a different basis, creating bakeries, workshops or gardens for the community, setting up free radios and such further. All of these projects and revolts are limited, inadequate and contradicting (as they must be in a capitalist context), but it is difficult to see how we can create an emancipated act other than in the form of these spaces, through a process of interweaving different forms of the struggle of doing against labor, of linking the various activities in-and-against-and-beyond [xv] of capital.

The emancipation of doing means self-determination of doing. This implies some form of council organization, some form in which people come together to determine what to do and how to do it. The tradition of councils (or soviets) has a long history in the communist movement and appears in various forms in all rebellions. Its central point is the insistence on collective self-determination of doing. This means the rejection of rule from outside, the acceptance that the people here and now, with all their problems and weaknesses and neuroses, with all the behaviors shaped by centuries of rule, should determine their own actions.

In these many experiments (whether or not they are imposed by the need to survive) the central theme is not survival, but the emancipation of doing, the creation of doing that is not subject to profit but to the desires of the doers.

Any revolution that does not focus on the emancipation of doing is doomed to failure (because it is not a revolution). The emancipation of doing leads us to a different time, a different grammar, a different intensity of life. The emancipation of doing is the movement of anti-fetishization, the regaining of creativity. Only in this way can the hairline cracks become poles of attraction instead of ghettos, and only when they become poles of attraction can they expand and multiply. The revolutions in Russia and Cuba were initially poles of attraction for many who dreamed of a different way of life: the fact that there was no real emancipation of doing in these societies led them to gradually lose this attraction (although in the case of Cuba, support and solidarity persist). And the same is true of many alternative projects today: if the only result of these projects is that those involved are poor and isolated and bored, then these projects will not be poles of attraction. If rebellions aren't attractive, they won't spread. In other words, stop making capitalism has to be thought of as a realistic project, but if realism is not magical realism [xvi] then it stops being realistic.

The struggle of doing against work is a struggle to create another human wealth: a wealth that is shaped by social needs and not by capitalist appropriation, a wealth that is not appropriated by capital. Today people produce tremendous wealth every day, but almost all of it is appropriated by capital, so the only form in which we can have access to that wealth is by bending, bowing to capital's command. Refusing to work for capital is easy, but how can we survive without submitting to capital?

Any attempt to gain access to the riches of human activity comes up against “property”. But property is not a thing, but a verb, a process of appropriating the product of our actions that is repeated every day. The process of appropriation (which is constantly being expanded to include new areas of activity) is based on violence, but largely depends on the fetishization of the process, on the transformation of the verb “appropriate” into the noun “property”. Resistance to the process of appropriation is part of the process of creating another act, an act that both de-fetishes and creates a different sociality at the same time.


There are many problems and there is no applicable model solution. It is clear that we must now stop making capitalism, that we must stop creating the misery, oppression and violence that surround us. ¡Ya basta! ¡Que se vayan todos! The slogans of the last few years make it clear that many people are fed up with capitalism.

Of course there are many problems. After we say, "Come on, go now, go out the door," there are still many forces that pull us back into this relationship. But our thinking must not move on the axis of continuity, but must follow the discontinuity, the break, the rupture. We have to stop doing capitalism now. Perhaps the problem of the theorists is that we spend our time untying (or even tying) Gordian knots while we are actually on the energy of the 19th and 20th centuries. December 2001, from the uprising in October 2003 in Bolivia, of January 1, 1994 [xvii]. Not domination, but rupture is the focus of our thinking.

Break does not mean that capitalism is disappearing. The hairline cracks do not mean that capitalism is disappearing. But instead of thinking of the revolution as an event that happens in the future (who knows when) and is relatively brief, it seems better to think of it as a process that has already started and will take some time, precisely because of that because the revolution cannot be separated from the creation of an alternate world.

We see where we want to go. It shimmers in the morning haze like an island on the other side of the sea. But we cannot get there by laying stepping stones and jumping from one stone to another, building the party, gaining control of the state, pushing through social reforms. That won't work because the island we see shimmering in the haze is not in the sea, but in the sky and the only way to get there is by flying. It seems impossible until we realize we are already flying.

e-mail: John johnholloway / at /

[i] This is the written version of a lecture given in November 2003 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA).

[ii] First published in Spanish in 1941, in German: "The circular ruins", in: Borges, Jorge Luis (1992) fictions, stories 1939-1944, translated by v. N.A. Horst, W. Luchting, G. Haefs, (Works in 20 volumes, Vol. 5), Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, pp. 46-52.

[iii] J.H. introduces the term “duration”, which is central to this text, which is translated as “continuation”, “duration”, “permanence” depending on the context.

[iv] Untranslatable play on words: "revolution" also means revolution in English. So what is meant is the “stationary revolution” of the clock hand, which turns in a circle.

[v] The term "genetic criticism" means not only the historical understanding of the breakup of subject and object, but an understanding of the genesis of this process as the development of the process of doing, as human genesis.

[vi] Marx, Karl ([1894] 1983) The capital, Vol. 3 (Berlin / GDR: Dietz), p. 838.

[vii] Walter Benjamin speaks in his theses “On the Concept of History” of the “breaking up of the historical continuum” (thesis XV), in: Benjamin, Walter ([1942] 1978) Collected Writings, Vol. I, 2, (Frankfurt / M .: Suhrkamp), p. 701.

[viii] German in the original. Term used by Benjamin in thesis XIV of the historical theses against “homogeneous and empty time”, see footnote 5.

[ix] Translation of the chorus of the song "I will survive" by Gloria Gaynor.

[x] "Get rid of them all!": The slogan of the Argentine uprising of December 19-20, 2001 directed against politicians and business representatives of all stripes.

[xi] It's enough: call of the Zapatista uprising.

[xii] "What distinguishes the worst builder from the best bee from the start is that he built the cell in his head before building it in wax", in: Marx, Karl ([1890] 1984) The capital, Vol. 1 (Berlin / GDR: Dietz), p. 193.

[xiii] In the original: "in-and-against capital". With such formulations, J.H. to express the dialectical relationship in which human activity finds itself.

[xiv] In the original: "of-and-for". See footnote 8.

[xv] In the original: "in-and-against-and-beyond". See footnote 8.

[xvi] "Magical realism" is the style of Latin American literature that is primarily linked to the work of García Márquez ’and which essentially reflects the" 1. Boom ”of the sixties with certain. Among other things, it goes back to the artistic awakening following the First (Surrealism) and Second World War (Neorealism). In this context the “magic” is directed against the “realpolitik” of conventional socialist / communist movements.

[xvii] On 19./20. December 2001 there was an uprising against the IMF-friendly government policy in Argentina, which swept away several heads of government in quick succession. The main protagonists were neighborhood assemblies and the movement of the unemployed. In October 2003 there was an indigenous peasant uprising against the government's neoliberal policies in Bolivia. On January 1, 1994, at the same time as the NAFTA free trade agreement between the USA and Mexico came into force, in the Mexican state of Chiapas there was an uprising of peasant indigenous guerrillas against the neoliberal policies of the Mexican government, which continues to this day.