John Holloway (sociologist)

sociologist (born 1947)

John Holloway (born 26 July 1947) is a lawyer, Marxist-oriented sociologist and philosopher, whose work is closely associated with the Zapatista movement in Mexico, his home since 1991.

John Holloway (2011)
'Why so negative?' says the spider to the fly. 'Be objective, forget your prejudices'.


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  • When we write or when we read, it is easy to forget that the beginnings is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO. The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition negativity, struggle.
    • Chapter I, "The Scream"
  • The stock market rises every time there is an increase in unemployment. Students are imprisoned for struggling for free education while those who are actively responsible for the misery of millions are heaped with honours and given titles of distinction: General, Secretary of Defense, President. The list goes on and on. It is impossible to read a newspaper without feeling rage, without feeling pain You can think of your own examples. Our anger changes each day, as outrage piles upon outrage.
    • Chapter I, "The Scream"
  • Our anger is directed not just against particular happenings but against a more general wrongness, a feeling that the world is askew, that the world is in some way untrue... We know that it is true, but feel that it is the truth of an untrue world.
    • Chapter I, "The Scream"
  • The horrors of the world continue. That is why it is necessary to do what is considered scientifically taboo: to scream like a child, to life the scream from all its structural explanations, to say 'We don't care what the psychiatrist says, we don't care if our subjectivity is a social construct: this is our scream, this is our pain, these are our tears. We will not let our rage be diluted into reality: it is reality that must yield to our scream. Call us childish or adolescent if you like, but this is our starting point: we scream.
    • 1.2
  • The world cannot be changed through the state. Both theoretical reflection and a whole century of bad experience tell us so.
  • Chapter Three, "Beyond Power"
  • ...Millions throughout the world have given up the dream of a radically different type of society. There is no doubt that the fall of the Soviet Union and the failure of national liberation movements throughout the world have brought disillusionment to millions of people. The notion of revolution was so strongly identified with gaining control of the state that the failure of those attempts to change the world through gaining control of the state has led very many people to the conclusion that revolution is impossible.
    There is a toning down of expectations. For many, hope has evaporated from their lives, giving way to bitter, cynical reconciliation with reality. It will not be possible to create the free and just society we hoped for, but we can always vote for centre or left-of-centre party, knowing quite well that way we will have some sort of outlet for our frustrations.
    • 3.1
  • It is easy to forget that the beginning is not the word, but the scream. Faced with the mutilation of human lives by capitalism, a scream of sadness, a scream of horror, a scream of anger, a scream of refusal: NO. The starting point of theoretical reflection is opposition, negativity, struggle. It is from rage that thought is born, not from the pose of reason.
  • Feeling that the world is wrong does not necessarily mean that we have a picture of a utopia to put in its place. Nor does is necessarily mean a romantic, some-day-my-prince-will-come idea that, although things are wrong now, one day we shall come to a true world, a promised land, a happy ending. We need no promise of a happy ending to justify our rejection of a world we feel to be wrong.
  • There is no room for the scream in academic discourse. More than that: academic study provides us with a language and a way of thinking that makes it very difficult for us to express our scream. The scream, if it appears at all, appears as something to be explained, not as something to be articulated. The scream, from being the subject of our questions about society, becomes the object of analysis.
  • 'Why so negative?' says the spider to the fly. 'Be objective, forget your prejudices'. But there is no way the fly can be objective, however much she may want to be: 'to look at the web objectively, from the outside - what a dream', muses the fly, 'what an empty, deceptive dream'. ... Any study of the web that does not start from the fly's entrapment in it is quite simply untrue.
  • We who scream exist ecstatically. We stand out beyond ourselves, we exist in two dimensions. The scream implies a tension between that which exists and that which might conceivably exist, between the indicative (that which is) and the subjunctive (that which might be).
  • The most sensible thing seems to be to forget our negativity, to discard it as a fantasy of youth. And yet the world gets worse, the inequalities become more strident, the self-destruction of humanity seems to come closer. So perhaps we should not abandon our negativity but, on the contrary, try to theorise the world from the perspective of the scream.
  • In order to protect our jobs, our visas, our profits, our chances of receiving good grades, our sanity, we pretend not to see, we sanitise our own perception, filtering out the pain, pretending that it is not here but out there, far away, in Africa, in Russia, a hundred years ago, in an otherness that, by being alien, cleanses our own experience of all negativity.
  • The struggle is lost ... once the logic of power becomes the logic of the revolutionary process, once the negative of refusal is converted into the positive of power-building. ... If we revolt against capitalism, it is not because we want a different system of power, it is because we want a society in which power relations are dissolved. 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.
  • Power, for those without the means of commanding others, is frustration. The existence of power-to as power-over means that the vast majority of doers are converted into the done-to, their activity transformed into passivity, their subjectivity into objectivity.
  • If domination is always a process of armed robbery, the peculiarity of capitalism is that the person with the arms stands apart from the person doing the robbery, merely supervising that the robbery conforms with the law.
  • The collectivity is divided into two classes of people: those who, by virtue of their ownership of the means of doing, command others to do, and those who, by virtue of the fact that they are deprived of access to the means of doing, do what the others tell them to do.
  • Capital acquires a dynamic of its own and the leading members of society are quite simply its most loyal servants, its most servile courtiers.
  • Under capitalism, subjectivity can only exist antagonistically, in opposition to its own objectification. To treat the subject as already emancipated, as most mainstream theory does, is to endorse the present objectification of the subject as subjectivity, as freedom.
  • Capitalist power … is like one of those horrific modern bullets which do not simply pierce the flesh of the victim but explode inside her into a thousand different fragments. … The concept of fetishism is concerned with the explosion of power inside us, not as something that is distinct from the separation of doing and done (as in the concepts of 'ideology' and 'hegemony'), but as something that is integral to that separation. That separation does not just divide capitalists from workers, but explodes inside us, shaping every aspect of what we do and what we think, transforming every breath of our lives into a moment of class struggle.
  • Struggle against capitalism must be also struggle against the 'we' who are not only against but also in capitalism. To criticise is to recognise that we are a divided self. To criticise society is to criticise our own complicity in the reproduction of that society.
  • Class struggle does not take place within the constituted forms of capitalist social relations: rather the constitution of those forms is itself class struggle.
  • We do not struggle as working class, we struggle against being working class, against being classified.
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