Twenty-five years ago, late Subcommander Insurgent Marcos from the EZLN, described globalisation as a ‘war against humanity’. His “Seven Loose Pieces of the Global Jigsaw Puzzle” (1997) pictured several dimensions of this war including the omnipresence and omnipotence of money. Today the war against humanity has reached a point of no return. Crises are inherent to the fabric of capitalism. Through crises, capital renews itself to continue self-expanding. The problem that we face is not the 1% of greedy capitalists standing against the 99% of the world. Rather, this ill-conceived idea of the Occupy Wall Street movement prevents us from understanding that the problem we have to confront is that capitalism is an (im)possible project, i.e. a system that has colonised human and non-human life to the point of self-destruction.
Recently, USA based best-seller authors, such as Rutger Bregman in “Utopia for Realists” and Peter Frase in “Four Futures”, proposed that the project for the left should be based on a massive redistribution of money (cash transfers/ universal basic income), together with full automation. What a big mistake! Let us be clear: money, as means of exchange, existed before capitalism. But it is only in capitalism that money becomes a form of existence of human practice. To get rid of money as means of exchange will not do either. As the old mole demonstrated a century and a half ago, the most important feature of (colonial, patriarchal) capitalism is not to put people to work and exploit them in the workplace (although this is essential), but to secure the subordination of the human and non-human life to money, sustained by the separation between the producers and the means of production as the precondition for its existence (Dinerstein and Pitts). Money is not a simple mediation in market transactions: it is the most abstract expression of capitalist property and hence the supreme social power through which human social reproduction is subordinated to the power of capital (Clarke).
My question to those who want to distribute money is: How is this going to solve the problem of the central role of money in the subordination of life to the power of capital, and the violence, cruelty and misery it creates?
Today’s crisis is a crisis of the social reproduction of human and no-human life, with its ecological, political, financial, economic, energy, food and environmental forms of expression. The solution to the crisis is in the hands of those who are struggling in rural communities, in the city, in the harbour, in the jungle: they constitute the seventh piece of the jigsaw puzzle in Marcos’ analysis: the pockets of resistance against ‘the empire of financial pockets.’ Grassroots organising is expanding and has a chief role in the creation of alternative forms of social life to the patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist one.
The process of creation of alternatives brought back the depreciated idea of utopia in a new light without becoming ‘utopianist’. Grassroot movements, collectives, and communities have freed utopia from the heavy ideological prison and party politics burden and embrace, instead, a concrete utopia based on a praxis-oriented activity. Concrete utopias have left behind the abstract project of a dreamed society by the political Avant guard to be realised in the future. Instead, they are opening spaces (pockets) from where to enunciate and articulate new concrete realities in the present. They are utopian because their praxis denaturalise capitalist society by operating within the dimension of the not yet reality that awaits in the interstices of the present reality to be anticipated. This process is driven by hope as political praxis and resistance, rather than wish, passive expectation, religion, or fantasy.
Alternatives engage with possibility. To speak the language of possibility is not naïve: the world is open, unclosed, wrote Ernst Bloch, and possibility is not a mental creation but exists in the material texture of the world. Possibility is not the same as Probability. Most of the things we dream of are not probable because there is no objective evidence or established conditions for them to emerge. But can we dare to say that to eliminate hunger in the world is impossible? Clearly not. All we can say is that it is not probable right now, but it could be possible. We cannot rule things a priori because we have not imagined them yet. It was unimaginable and improbable that the indigenous communities of Chiapas would have produced a global revolution. The Zapatista uprising demonstrated that it was possible. The Zapatistas revolutionary movement that represents the voice of indigenous people of Chiapas, Southeast Mexico. They came to light on January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) occupied several counties of Chiapas, an economic strategic area where abundant natural resources (biodiversity, oil, waterfalls) coexist with extreme poverty and social exclusion. The entrance of the Mexican state to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) demanded a reform of Article 27 of the National Constitution – which would facilitate the opening up of indigenous lands (ejidos) to large agrobusiness. On January 1, 1994, the first day of NAFTA, the Chiapas peasants, represented by the EZLN ski-masked leaders, exclaimed “Enough is enough!” (Ya basta!), declaring war on the Mexican state and characterizing globalization as “a war against humanity.”
The idea of the alternative must be problematised rather than romanticised. The alternative is not simply ‘the enactment of an ideal society’ but a complex process of struggle towards dignified life. They begin with an -implicit or explicit – NO, like the Zapatistas’ ¡Ya Basta! To say NO is a very important step but it is not enough. Every no, writes Bloch, contains at the same time a ‘dangerous and battle-worthy Yes.’ (Bloch).
The process of communising, inventing, exploring, creating and contradicting collectively is affirmative in the sense that it shields life in a non-religious and non-transcendental manner. We are here to live, and to live with dignity. As critical affirmations, alternatives are not positive or optimistic. Rather, they constitute an advanced form of negation that has progressed from saying NO to the enunciation of a new reality. But critical affirmations are always at risk of being obliterated. Hope is not safe, secured, says Bloch. It entails risk and danger. This risk is created by multiple contradictions that emerge in the process, internal and external, individual, organisational, collective cultural and political. The art of organising hope emerges from within capitalism and stands with, against, and beyond the state, the law, money, etc. As the political form of capital, the state is genetically designed to create order; its managers endeavour to subordinate resistance to a historically specific form of order by either obliterating it by force or by translating our struggles into something else that befits the grammar of the state order, via policy, money, and legislation. In the process, the radical anticipatory and prefigurative elements of the alternative, usually are lost in translation, although legislation passed as a response to a process of mobilisation can create a better situation (e.g. the recent achievement of legal abortion in Argentina), and therefore enable us to be in a better position to continue the struggle beyond capitalism.
But this is not the end of it. As we navigate contradictions collectively, we produce a surplus possibility that we must cherish, nourish and expand. The idea of ‘defeat’ prevents us from capturing this incredible dimension of the art of organising hope. We must find another way to process disappointment and identify the content of surplus possibilities (‘excess’). Then, we will stop worrying about what the state will do; we already know the answer to this, and shift focus onto the untranslatable possibilities that we are creating: the signs, ideas, experiences, horizons, practices and projects that are beyond the state reality, that exist in a ‘beyond zone’ of an alternative praxis and therefore cannot be recuperated and integrated by the state.
This means that we will produce a different way of measuring ‘success’, considering how alternatives challenge the systems, ways of doing, classifying and naming, thinking, etc. As Icaza and Vazquez put it clearly, these struggles are ‘epistemic struggles’, so they ‘cannot be adequately understood through the rationality that underlies the processes they want to break’ and therefore, we must ‘read social struggles as open questions to the dominant ways of thinking and ordering the real.’
Bloch, E. (1959/1986). The Principle of Hope Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Clarke, S. (1988). Keynesianism, Monetarism and the Crisis of the state, Aldershot, Edward Elgar.
Dinerstein, A. C. (2015). The politics of autonomy in Latin America: The art of organising hope, Basingstoke, Palgrave McMillan.
Dinerstein A.C. and H. Pitts (2021) A world beyond work? Money, Labour and the Capitalist State between Crisis and Utopia, Emerald, ‘Society Now’ Series, London,
Icaza, R. and Vázquez, R. (2013) ‘Social Struggles as Epistemic Struggles’, Development and Change, 44(3), pp. 683–704.
Levitas, R. (1997) ‘Educated Hope: Ernst Bloch on Abstract and Concrete Utopia’. In Daniel, J.O. and Moylan, T. Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch, London and New York: Verso), pp. 65–79.
Levy, Z. (1997) ‘Utopia and Reality in the Philosophy of Ernst Bloch’. In Daniel, J.O. and Moylan, T. Not Yet: Reconsidering Ernst Bloch, London and New York: Verso, pp. 175–185.
Subcomander Insurgent Marcos (EZLN) (1997) The Seven Loose Pieces of the Global Jigsaw Puzzle (Neoliberalism as a puzzle: the useless global unity which fragments and destroys nations) available at http://www.struggle.ws/mexico/ezln/1997/jigsaw.html,
Teaser photo credit: Sign of the entering Zapatista autonomous territory: North Zone. Board of Good Governance. Strictly prohibited: The trafficking of arms, planting and consumption of drugs, intoxicating drinks, illegal sale of wood, and the destruction of nature. Zapata lives, the fight continues… You are in rebellious Zapatista territory. Here the people rule – the government obeys. By Matthew T Rader, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88956310