Creating Common Wealth and Cracking Capitalism. A Cross-Reading

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Autor(es): Hardt, Michael , Holloway, John

                                            (versión en español)

 

Michael Hardt and John Holloway
 
July 2010
 
Dear John,
One of the things I love about Crack Capitalism, which it shares with Change the World Without Taking Power, is that its argument traces the genealogy of revolt. In other words, you start with the indignation, rage, and anger that people feel but you don't stop there. Your argument leads revolt toward both creative practice and theoretical investigation.
On the one hand, although refusal is essential, perhaps even primary in your argument, especially the break with or exodus from capitalist social forms, every destructive force has to be accompanied by a creative one, every effort to tear down the world around us has to be aimed also toward the creation of a new one. And moreover these two processes, the destructive and the constructive, are not separable but completely embedded or entwined with each other. That is why, as you say, it makes no sense to defer creating a new society until after the complete collapse or demolition of capitalist society. Instead we must struggle now to create a new society in the shell of the old or, rather, in its cracks, its interstices. 
On the other hand, you demonstrate how revolt must lead not only to practical but also theoretical innovation. Although your book starts with an affective state and instances of practical resistance, the central argument involves a conceptual investigation, most importantly, it seems to me, about the role and potential of our productive capacities in capitalist society. I don't mean to pose a separation here between practice and theory. In fact, your argument requires that they too are completely embedded or entwined. In order to change the world we need not only to act differently but also to think differently, which requires that we work on concepts and sometimes invent new concepts.

 

                                            (versión en español)

 

Michael Hardt and John Holloway
 
July 2010
 
Dear John,
One of the things I love about Crack Capitalism, which it shares with Change the World Without Taking Power, is that its argument traces the genealogy of revolt. In other words, you start with the indignation, rage, and anger that people feel but you don't stop there. Your argument leads revolt toward both creative practice and theoretical investigation.
On the one hand, although refusal is essential, perhaps even primary in your argument, especially the break with or exodus from capitalist social forms, every destructive force has to be accompanied by a creative one, every effort to tear down the world around us has to be aimed also toward the creation of a new one. And moreover these two processes, the destructive and the constructive, are not separable but completely embedded or entwined with each other. That is why, as you say, it makes no sense to defer creating a new society until after the complete collapse or demolition of capitalist society. Instead we must struggle now to create a new society in the shell of the old or, rather, in its cracks, its interstices. 
On the other hand, you demonstrate how revolt must lead not only to practical but also theoretical innovation. Although your book starts with an affective state and instances of practical resistance, the central argument involves a conceptual investigation, most importantly, it seems to me, about the role and potential of our productive capacities in capitalist society. I don't mean to pose a separation here between practice and theory. In fact, your argument requires that they too are completely embedded or entwined. In order to change the world we need not only to act differently but also to think differently, which requires that we work on concepts and sometimes invent new concepts.

 

 

The core argument of the book, which distinguishes doing from labor and identifies abstraction as a primary power of capitalist domination, seems to me profoundly Marxist. It might seem paradoxical to say that because you carefully contrast your argument to orthodox Marxist traditions, situating your point instead in relation to Marx's own writings, sometimes elucidating what he actually says and demonstrating how it goes against the orthodox Marxist tradition and at other times going beyond Marx. Although your argument stands indeed against the orthodox Marxist tradition, reading Marx against Marxism in this way and going beyond Marx puts you solidly in line (or, perhaps better, in dialogue) with a strong current of what was once called heterodox Marxist traditions that have been active since the 1960s. This is clearly apparent, for instance, in the claim, central to your argument in this book, that the course of our project for freedom lies in not the liberation of work, as is championed by Marxist orthodoxies and Soviet ideology, but the liberation from work. I see this as an essential slogan or principle of this heterodox tradition. 
One thing that occurs to me is that whereas in the 1970s orthodox Marxism was indeed dominant, bolstered by the ideologues of various official communist parties, today that line of interpretation is virtually completely discredited. Instead Marxist theory today is primary characterized, in my view, by what used to be the heterodox line, which you helped develop together with your colleagues in the Conference of Socialist Economists and in collaboration with similar tendencies in Italy, Germany, and France. That's a good thing and makes Marxist theory today more interesting and relevant.
I don't mean by this to rein you back in within Marxism. Like you, I care little about whether my work is called Marxist or not. I often find that Marxists accuse me of being not Marxist enough and non-Marxists fault me for being too Marxist. None of that matters to me. What is important, though, is how useful I find it to read Marx's work and it strikes me how useful it is too for you in this book. 
One profound and important resonance your argument in this book shares with Marx's writings resides in the identification of labor (or human productive capacity) as the site of both our exploitation and our power. You designate this duality by distinguishing labor (which you identify as production within a regime of capitalist abstraction) from doing (which strikes me as very similar to Marx's notion of "living labor"). On the one hand, capital needs our productive capacities and could not exist and reproduce without them. Capital, in other words, does not just oppress or dominate us but exploits us, meaning that it must constantly seek to domesticate and command our productive powers within the limited frame of its social system. In your argument this is accomplished primarily by processes of abstraction. On the other hand, our productive capacities always exceed and are potentially autonomous from capital. That dissymmetry is crucial: whereas capital cannot survive without our labor, our productive capacities can potentially exist and thrive without capitalist organization. Indeed, as you demonstrate, there are always already innumerable instances of our productive autonomy that exist within the cracks or interstices of capitalist society. These are extremely important but not enough. Your project is to create alternative social networks of autonomous productive cooperation that can, as I said earlier, build a society of freedom from within capitalist society.
As I read Crack Capitalism, then, it seems to me that, whereas Change the World adopted and extended the project for the abolition of the state, even its abolition within our own minds and practices, this book works through the project of the refusal of work -- with the understanding that every rebellion against the capitalist labor regime is also, necessary, a development of our own autonomous capacities for doing, that the destruction of the work society is coupled with the creation of a new society based on an alternative notion of production and productivity. 
That brings me to a first, initial question. We know that the capitalist labor regime has extraordinarily well developed systems of social organization and cooperation, which function through discipline and control. You analyze these primarily through the lens of abstraction. The mainstream workers movements and, primarily the industrial trade unions, have also developed forms of organization and discipline into a sort of counter-power, but, according to your analysis, this too, like the capitalist regime, is dedicated to the organization of abstract labor. I think I understand this critique and agree with it in large part, with the caveat, as you say, citing the excellent book by Karl Heinz Roth published in the 1970s, that there has always also been an "other" workers movement. My question, then, how can our autonomous productive practices, our doing, be organized and sustained as alternative social forms? I think you would agree that the schemes of cooperation and coordination among our practices of doing are not spontaneous but need to be organized. I would add that we need to create institutions of social cooperation, and you might agree with this too as long as I explain that by institution here I do not mean a bureaucratic structure but rather, as anthropologists use the term, a repeated social practice, a habit, that structures social relations. What institutions do we already have that fulfill this role and what kinds can we develop? And, more specifically, what relation can this have to the syndicalist traditions? The point here, of course, is not to reject entirely the traditional organizations of workers movements but, in some respects, extend and transform them. Here I would want to explore the innovations within contemporary labor organizing that point in the direction of your argument. Can we imagine instead of a traditional labor movement an association or syndicate of doers or, better, a social institution of doing? What would be its mechanisms of social cooperation and structures of organization? I'm not sure you have the answers to these questions, and I don't pretend to myself, but I think you have some ways of thinking about how we can develop the structures and institutions of a society of doing and that is where I would first like to direct our exchange.
 
best, Michael
 
 
December 2010
Dear Michael,
 
            Thank you very much for your comments and for their tone which seems to me just right: a strong sense of shared concern and direction and a desire to move forward through exploring our differences. This reflects very much what I felt while I was reading Commonwealth: a sense of the very close touching of your preoccupations with mine, a feeling of walking arm in arm, at times too close, at times tugging in different directions, producing a sequence of bumps of admiration, enthusiasm and exasperation.
 
            The question you raise at the end of your letter is exactly right because it hits directly on one of my main concerns while reading Commonwealth: the issue of institutions, which you and Toni emphasise a lot and which you develop especially in the last part of the book.
 
            Our preoccupation, I think, is the same, but the answer we give is rather different. Our shared concern is: how do we go on after the explosions of rage, the jacqueries as you call them? The argentinazo of almost ten years ago, when the people in the streets of Argentina toppled one president after another to the resounding cry of que se vayan todos (out with the lot of them); the alterglobalisation movement and the great anti-summit protests in Seattle, Cancún, Genoa, Gleneagles, Rostock and so on; the explosions of rage in the last year in Greece, France, Italy, Britain, Ireland and now, as I write, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria. Great. We applaud, jump up and down with excitement. But then what? How do we go on? We both agree that rage is not enough, that there must be a positive moment. We both agree that the answer is not to build the party and win the next election or seize control of the state. But, if not that, then what? The answer you offer is “Insititutionalise. Create institutions to give duration to the achievements of the surge of revolt”. And I want to say “no, no, no, that is not the way to go, that is a dangerous proposal”.
 
            Certainly I do not want to caricature what you are saying, for there is a great deal of care and subtlety in your argument. In your letter you say “I would add that we need to create institutions of social cooperation, and you might agree with this too as long as I explain that by institution here I do not mean a bureaucratic structure but rather, as anthropologists use the term, a repeated social practice, a habit, that structures social relations.” But no, I do not agree with that, even taking into account your broad understanding of institutions. 
 
            Why do I not agree? Firstly, because although you argue for an extended understanding of institutionalisation, you open a door in which the distinction between the two meanings will become blurred. The repeated social practice slips easily into a bureaucratic structure and unless you create a very sharp distinction between the two (by using different words, for example), there is a danger that you legitimate this slippage. In the book, the distinction is clear at times, but at times it seems to evaporate, as in the surprising and perplexing suggestion on p. 380 that UN agencies might provide a global guaranteed income (the mind boggles). Institutionalisation leads easily into a state-centred politics – how else could you even imagine achieving such a UN guarantee?
 
            Secondly, I disagree because institutionalisation always means projecting the present on the future. Even in the soft sense of a repeated social practice, it creates an expectation that the young should behave as their parents (or older sisters and brothers) did. But no, they should not. “That’s not the way to do it, this is what you should do”, said the veterans of 1968 to the students in the great UNAM strike in 2000, but fortunately (or not) the students paid no attention. Institutionalisation is always a consecration of tradition, is it not? And what did Toni write years ago about tradition being the enemy of class struggle? I don’t remember exactly what or where, but I do remember thinking it was wonderful.
 
            Thirdly, institutionalisation does not work, or not in the way that it is intended to. There is a flow of struggle, a social flow of rebellion (as my friend Sergio Tischler puts it) that cannot be controlled and that repeatedly sweeps aside institutions devised to channel it in a certain direction. My feeling is that you give too much weight to institutions in your understanding of society. Can love be institutionalised? I agree completely with your daring understanding of the revolutionary force of love, but then you must ask, can love be institutionalised? Surely not. Even if we say that we are not talking of a contract of marriage, but simply “a repeated social practice, a habit”, then probably the experience of all of us is that love constantly clashes with habit. Love may well survive in a context of repeated social practice, but only if it moves constantly in-against-and-beyond it.
 
            Think of the World Social Forum, the prime institution to have emerged from the alterglobalisation movement. I am not particularly opposed to it and I think it can provide a useful and enjoyable meeting place, but, contrary to the intentions of most participants, it tends to promote a bureaucratization of the movement and it certainly is not the key to revolution.
 
            Institutionalisation (broad or narrow) means trying to set life on railway tracks or highways, whereas rebellion is the constant attempt to break from that, to invent new ways of doing things. The proposal to create institutions, as I see it, says that the old roads to revolution no longer work and we must create new roads for those who follow us to walk along. But surely not: revolution is always a process of making our own paths. Se hace el camino al andar is an integral part of the revolutionary process. I see the very idea of institutionalisation as an aspect of the organisation of human activity as abstract labour, just what we are fighting against.
 
            “Too easy”, you may say and of course you would be right. Does there not have to be some form of social organization? Certainly, but our forms of organisation, the forms of organisation that point towards a different society, cannot be thought of as being fixed. We have ideas and principles and experiences and directions that are more or less common to the movements against capitalism, but given that we ourselves, our practices and ideas are so marked by the society we are struggling against, the forms of organisation can only be experimental, a process of moving by trial and error and reflection.
 
But does there not have to be a coming together of the cracks? Yes, and I think this is an issue that is not sufficiently explored in my book. I would like to develop further at some point the question of the confluence of the cracks, both in terms of the inspirational lighting of prairie fires and the practical organisation of cooperation. But two things. I feel that institutional thinking is probably an obstacle to seeing the practice and potential of such confluence. And secondly it is important to think of the confluence as an always experimental moving from the particular, not a charting of the future that moves from the totality, as I think is the tendency in your book. We are in the cracks and pushing from there. Our problem is to break and move beyond, not to erect an alternative system of governance. We can try to follow the practices of existing movements, criticise them and see how the confluence is or is not being achieved, but we cannot establish a model for the future.
 
Dignity is a fleet-footed dance, I suggest in the book. But the doubt that arises is that perhaps we are not capable of such agility. Perhaps we are capable only of moving more slowly. Maybe we need institutions as crutches, so that we can consolidate each step we make. Conceivably so, but even then learning to walk is a throwing away of the crutches. We betray ourselves if we do not couple subversion with institutionalisation. If we must institutionalise, then we should subvert our own institutions in the same breath. This is akin to the question of identification. In Change the World, I accept that it may sometimes be important to affirm our identity, but only if we subvert it or go beyond it in the same breath, and what you and Toni say in your discussion of identity is similar. Institutionalise-and-subvert, then, is a formulation that I would find more attractive, but even then I do not like it. Institutionalisation may be inevitable at times, but in the tension between institutionalisation and subversion we have already taken sides. Thought is subversion. To think is to move beyond, as Ernst Bloch says – Ernst Bloch, whom you cite several times in the book, but whom Toni elsewhere unforgivably, unforgivenly characterises as a bourgeois philosopher (Antonio Negri, Time for Revolution, Continuum London-New York, 2003, p. 109).
 
Publication, of course, is a form of institutionalisation and I do participate actively in this. In publishing my arguments, I give them a fixity. But perhaps this interchange of letters is an attempt by both of us to subvert that institutionality: the purpose is not to defend positions taken but to provoke each other to move beyond what we have already written.
 
And then an unavoidable theme if we are talking of institutions: what can I say of the title of your last chapter – “Governing the Revolution”? A horrifying oxymoron? A fiercely audacious provocation? Or is it a serious suggestion? To the extent that it seems to be a serious suggestion, it certainly provokes and horrifies me. What upsets me is that the phrase suggests a separation between governing and revolution whereas for me revolution is the abolition of this separation. Governing the revolution immediately makes me ask who, who is going to govern it? Just as your statement on p.377 that “humans are trainable” also scares me, for who is to do the training? Who would govern your revolution, who would train the humans? If you say we are talking of self-governance, then fine, but why not talk then of the organisational forms of self-determination, understanding that self-determination means a process of self-education, self-transformation? But if we rephrase the question like that, then we immediately have to say that the organisational forms of self-determination are self-determining and therefore cannot be institutionalised.
 
Let me open a second front of concern. Democracy. You centre the discussion of revolution on the struggle for democracy. The abolition of capitalism takes a back seat, as it were, and that confuses me. You formulate the argument in chapter 5.3 in terms of a programme to save capital and then say that it is not that you are abandoning the idea of revolution, but just working with a different notion of transition. I am not clear what you mean by this different notion of transition. It sounds almost like a programme of transitional demands, a concept of achieving anti-capitalist revolution by fighting for a democracy that we know (but do not say openly) is incompatible with capitalism. The danger is that the more you talk about democracy and the less about capitalism, the more the whole question of revolution fades into the background. It seems to me much simpler to start the other way around, by saying: capitalism is a catastrophe, how do we get rid of it?
 
            This letter is unreasonably long. Your fault, of course, for writing such a stimulating book. I look forward to your replies.
 
            Best wishes,
 
            John
           
 
 
June 2011
Dear John,
I think you’re right that walking so closely together can sometime make us trip and stumble when reading each other. A kind of irritation arises when, after having agreed so much with the other’s argument, we come across a point or argument that sticks out and that we can’t accept. Part of our task here is to clear up the seeming conflicts that are merely due to misunderstandings or terminological differences (no small task) and clarify the important points on which we disagree.
I appreciate how much the term institution sits poorly with you and thus I am grateful that you work through it so tenaciously in your letter until you finally arrive on a formulation where we do, in fact, agree. You can accept a mandate to institutionalize if that is always accompanied with a simultaneous process of subversion. Yes, institutionalize and subvert – a good motto we can share. 
But, of course, our views of this do differ so let me return to them a bit more. As you note, Toni and I come to the discussion of institution from our preoccupation with the need for organization. Revolt comes first but spontaneity is not enough. Rebellion must be organized in a revolutionary process. On these basic points I think we differ little. The contrast comes, as you say, in where the accent falls and, in particular, the extent to which the stability of organization is emphasized.
On the molecular level I’m not convinced that our difference in emphasis is very significant. I understand that notions of habit, custom, and repeated practices seem restrictive to you and you fear they can blunt innovation. I insist, however, that forms-of-life only exist through structures of repetition. Our lives and bonds to each other are supported by innumerable habits and repeated practices, many of which we are not aware. This is not only a matter of the time we have dinner each night and when we go for a walk on Sundays, but also how we relate to each other and maintain both intimate and social bonds. (Marcel Proust’s novel seems to me the classic investigation of how a life is constituted by complex webs of habits and repeated practices.) Such institutions do, as you suggest, link the present to the future but not necessarily in the way you fear. You worry that social habits restrict us to repeating the social and organizational forms of previous generations. I am more oriented toward what Spinoza calls prudence: regarding the future as if it were present and acting on that basis. This is not only how we act today against the industries and practices that will create by 2050 catastrophic CO2 levels but also the way we constantly create a perspective of duration in our relations with each other. This is also true with regard to love. Love is not only an event of rupture, shattering, and transformation but also a bond. I continually return to those I love. That does not mean that love is a static, fixed relationship. Love is innovation, you rightly say, going beyond. Yes, but there is also a ritual to love, returning to the beloved and repeating our shared practices. In the context of those rituals the innovations of love emerge. Institutionalize and subvert, as you say, or repetition with difference. In any case, at this molecular level I understand that you and I approach the question of institution from different perspectives but I don’t see great consequence to our differences.
At the molar level, in contrast, I think our differences are more significant. Toni and I put the emphasis on institution or, really, on creating new institutional forms in order to develop an alternative governance. I think you can accept and even be comfortable with some version of this project. Some of the greatest successes of the EZLN in Chiapas, for example, have been their creation of institutions of an alternative governance. Caracoles, Juntos de buen gobierno, and the myriad norms and procedures that govern Zapatista communities are excellent examples of the kind of experimentation with new, democratic institutional forms that we are advocating. My sense is that you are generally supportive of this level of Zapatista institutional practice. Here too the slogan institutionalize and subvert works well: all practices should be submitted to a constant force of critique, walk forward questioning.
Our differences come out more clearly with regard to established institutions of which we are critical. Like you, Toni and I are critical of the official trade unions and their traditions but for us that does not position us in complete opposition to the entire union movement. Small segments of the union movement continually try to move out of the tradition and in a new directions: for periods (sometimes brief) portions (often small minorities) of the FIOM in Italy, SUD in France, and the SEIU in the United States, for example, have sought to chart new directions. Our inclination is to enter into dialogue with these syndicalist elements while at the same time subverting their traditional logics, both inside and outside their institutional structures. Does institutionalize and subvert make sense to you also in this context? Or, rather, here is another way of approaching the same question in terms of your book: can and should “doing” be organized and, if so, what relation would these organizations bear to the history of organized labor? How would you characterize the syndicalist practices of doing? I’m attracted to the idea of constructing “soviets of doing” but I fear that idea would horrify you.
Our differences are probably most pronounced with regard to the so-called progressive governments in power today, especially those in Latin America. As you know, Toni and I, like you, are critical of all of these Leftist parties and governments, from Argentina and Brazil to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. And like for you too our hopes and inspirations are linked primarily not to the governments but the powerful social movements that created the possibility of their electoral victories. But we do not regard these governments solely as antagonists. Here too I like the dual stance of your slogan, institutionalize and subvert. I would say, in other words, that the advent of these governments creates a new (and in some respects better) terrain of struggle in which the movements need to continue the struggles against neoliberal practices, economic paradigms based on extraction (including reliance on oil, gas, soy monoculture, and the like), racial hierarchies, and many others. I sense that the kind of critical engagement with which Toni and I feel comfortable seems alien and even dangerous to you. This is probably a real difference between us and I’m not sure there is much to say about it.
(One small clarification: You are perplexed by a passage in our book in which Toni and I seem to be proposing that the UN institute a global guaranteed income. Your instincts are right that we are not proposing this. The passage comes in a paradoxical section of our book in which we attempt a thought experiment about how capital would reform if it were able to act rationally in its self-interest. We try to follow through the logic of capitalist reform, we say, all the while knowing that such reforms are impossible and the logic will eventually collapse.)
This might be the right time to bring up another question I had reading Crack Capitalism, which is probably related to the issue of institutions but in different frame. A primary antagonist in your argument is abstract labor and, if I understand correctly, the conceptual processes of abstraction more generally. I don’t think I share your opposition to abstraction. Let’s start with abstract labor in Marx by way of exchange value. In my reading of the opening pages of Capital in which Marx details how the exchange value of a commodity obscures and takes precedence over its use value, just as abstract labor takes precedence over concrete labor, this does not imply a symmetrical anti-capitalist project pointing in the opposite direction. In other words, a political project to affirm use value over exchange value sounds to me like a nostalgic effort to recapture a precapitalist social order. Marx’s project instead, as I see it, pushes through capitalist society to come out the other side. In the same way I don’t see abstract labor as the antagonist. It’s a simplification (but an important one, I think) to say that without abstract labor there would be no proletariat. If the labor of the bricklayer, the joiner, the weaver, the agricultural worker, and the autoworker were each to remain concrete and incommensurable, we would have no concept of labor in general (labor without regard to its form of expenditure, as Marx says), which potentially links them together as a class. I know this must sound to you like I’m turning around and affirming the tradition of working class organizations now, but I’m not or, at least, not uncritically. In fact, abstraction is necessary for us to argue against the corporatist structures that have plagued that tradition. Such abstraction too is what made possible the domestic labor debates in social feminist circles in the US and the UK in the 1970s and 80s, recognizing as work the unwaged domestic activities and practices of care that continue to characterize the sexual division of labor. Abstract labor, then, as I understand it, is not a thing but an analytic, a way of grasping the continuities across the worlds of labor.
In part I think what I just wrote might obscure the issue because you and I are using the terms differently. My guess is that you are using abstraction (and abstract labor) to name the processes and structures of exploitation by which capital measures and expropriates the value produced by our labor and exerts command over our lives. And, in contrast, “doing” serves for you as the self-organized, autonomous labor that we could create a space for in the cracks of the capitalist order. Ok, that can work for me. In fact, your argument in this regard correspond well with and complements our argument in Chapter 3 of Commonwealth about what we call the crisis of capitalist biopolitical production, the emerging composition of labor, and the new possibilities for autonomy from capital. 
But, I suppose that even though I was trying to move away from the question of institution it sneaks back in here again. Yes, I want to appreciate each doing in its singularity but I also want to grasp what is common to the myriad doings across society. (Is this a logic of abstract doing?) I want organization. Try to wash out of your mouth the bad taste of my proposition earlier for creating soviets of doing. How are doings organized and what is the form of their organization? 
It’s not so easy to move away from the question of organization and institution. It keeps coming back. I guess that’s an area where we still have work to do to understand our differences.
Best, Michael
 
 
October 2011
Dear Michael,
 
            Lots and lots of stimulus here, agreement and disagreement, lovely.
 
Let me go straight to a sentence that slips unobtrusively into your argument but that I suspect is an important key to our differences. You say, in the context of the discussion of abstract labour: “Marx’s project instead, as I see it, pushes through capitalist society to come out the other side”. But I do not want to push through capitalism to come out the other side: I want us to get out now, while there is still time, if there is still time. There must be some kind of way out of here (as Bob Dylan/ Jimi Hendrix put it) – though of course there may not.
 
This is Benjamin’s emergency brake. We are on a train heading for disaster, rushing toward the total annihilation of humanity. It no longer makes sense, if it ever did, to think of coming out the other side. We need to pull the emergency brake, stop the train. (Or, jumping metaphors, capitalism is an over-ripe, rotting apple, or a zombie, already dead but marching on, destroying all.) Not progress, then, but rupture. Here, now.
 
I suspect that much of your argument in your and Toni’s trilogy rests on the view that pushing through capitalist society will take us to the other side. Certainly you say that capital is on a path of destruction (306), but that is not quite the same as saying that capital is a path to destruction, as I would. Your formulation suggests that its course can be altered, whereas my feeling is that breaking with capital is a necessary precondition for stopping the rush to destruction. You follow your statement about capital being on the path of destruction by proposing a reformist programme for capital as a way of moving towards a transition to a different society, whereas I see capitalism as being already in an advanced stage of decomposition, with all sorts of projects for alternative societies overflowing its banks, and suggest that we should throw all our energies into those overflowings or cracks.
 
This helps to situate our differences on institutionalisation. We meet happily on the ground of institutionalise-and-subvert, but I feel that within this tension we lean in different directions. You put your emphasis on the importance of institutionalisation, whereas I want us to throw our weight on the side of subversion, of constantly moving against-and-beyond. Institutionalise-and-subvert is not, for me, “repetition with difference”, as you suggest, but a repeated process of rupture, of breaking, negating. 
 
Of course it is not just a question of breaking. Revolt is not enough – that is the shared starting point of our exploration. What then? Communise. This is the word that I am drawn to more and more. Break and weave social relations on a different basis. Obviously it comes close to your Common Wealth, but I feel it’s important to think in terms of verbs rather than nouns, in terms of our doings. The problem, as always, is the material production of life. If we scream against capital but are not able to live in a way that breaks with capital, then we won’t get very far with our revolt. In order to break capitalist social relations we need the support of new productive forces, not in the old orthodox-Marxist sense of technology but rather in the sense of a new weaving of human activity. So absolutely YES to your soviets of doing, which you think will horrify me. Doing-against-labour means for me a collective or communising movement of self-determination which has at its centre a self-determination of our own activity – our own productive force. Perhaps the movement creates new institutions, but only as the water in a stream rests for a moment in pools and then flows on. I think that would be my answer to your final question, “How are doings organized and what is the form of their organization?” If we think of doing as a movement of communizing self-determination, then we can hardly lay down what form it should take. At best, we can look at past and present experiences and draw suggestions from them.
 
We differ on the issue of abstract labour. I understand abstract labour as the substance of the social bond that is money. In other words, the fact that we exchange our products as commodities abstracts from us, takes away from us, control over our own activities. Abstract labour (and therefore money) is the core of the negation of social self-determination, and therefore any struggle for social self-determination must be a struggle against abstract labour (and money). To say, as you do, that there would be no proletariat without abstract labour is true, but who needs a proletariat? I imagine you agree that the proletariat’s existence is the struggle against its own existence as proletariat. To say that “a political project to affirm use value over exchange value sounds to me like a nostalgic effort to recapture a precapitalist social order” seems to me completely wrong. It could well be so, but for me it is the essence of the struggle to create a communist or anti-capitalist society. If you do not see the struggle as being to create a different sort of creative activity (a doing liberated from abstract labour) and therefore a different sort of product (a use value liberated from value), does this not bring you very close to Leninism, which, of course, was blind to the distinction between abstract and concrete labour, with disastrous results?
 
There’s much more to be said. On the progressive governments, for example: it is not that I regard them solely as antagonists. It is rather that the organizational form which they have adopted (the state) integrates them into the generality of capitalist social relations and turns them, tendentially at least, against movements that are directed against capitalism. Look at Bolivia in the last couple of months.
 
But rather than go on and on, I want to end with a quandary. A dilemma perhaps for both of us, but I suspect we lean different ways. You say near the beginning of your letter “Revolt comes first but spontaneity is not enough. Rebellion must be organized in a revolutionary process.” I’m fine with the first sentence, it’s the second that makes me pause, wonder, feel shocked, wonder again. Rebellion for me is a massive and explosive confluence of discontents and other-doings, the dramatic coming together of so many puncturings of capitalist social relations. In order to avoid being swamped by a re-surging of capital, there must be a communizing (or a confluence of cracks) so strong that the social nexus of money is shattered or rendered irrelevant. If you like, the rebellion must organise itself in such a way as to gather sufficient momentum to break capitalism completely. Organisation is crucial, but not an organisation: it has to be an organising that comes from below, a communising. Is that what you mean when you say “Rebellion must be organized in a revolutionary process”? I wonder.
 
A pleasure.
 
            John
 
 
October 2011
 
Dear John,
Some misunderstandings persist. It’s clear, for example, that we understand abstraction and abstract labor in very different ways. And the paradoxical passage in Commonwealth in which we conduct a thought experiment about capitalist reform to demonstrate its impossibility comes up again in this letter and leads you again to think that such reform is our programme. But really such misunderstandings are minor and I suspect that even when they loom large in our eyes they matter little to our readers.
What strikes me most strongly reading over our correspondence, though, is the common theoretical and political terrain we share. We meet happily, as you say, on the terrain of “institutionalize and subvert” – as well as “subvert and institutionalize” (since the process certainly works both ways).  But then, you add, we move in different directions or, at least, put the accent on different sides of the equation.  This difference comes out most clearly, I think, when we express apprehensions about the formulations of the other. I am often on guard against placing too much faith in spontaneous revolt because on its own it fails to create lasting alternatives, and thus I insist on constituent processes. You instead fear more the fixity of repeated practices and institutional structures, and thus you privilege rupture and movement. I found particularly interesting in this regard the apprehensions expressed our brief exchange about love. But even such differences of emphasis should not be exaggerated since we clearly share each other’s preoccupations to a large degree.
I’m happy, then, to leave off our correspondence here, with the hope that we can take it up again when the movements, and we too, have taken a few more steps forward.
 
All the best, Michael