To address issues regarding disintegrating power, we need to assert a definition of “power”. Traditionally, it is viewed as a category, either meaning one’s capability to perform an action or one’s capacity for dominating others (Taylor 2010). As part of social and political terminology, it is normally referred to as the power of the individual to influence their political body or as the power of one organisation, group or political party to dominate another. In the managerial perspective, typically the dominant organisation is the state and revolts are seen as different social groups’ method of contesting that dominance, as exerted by a capitalist elite onto the proletariat worker, the latter inevitably fighting his own submission.
What would certainly not evade a perceptive reader is that an ever-present struggle for accumulating power seems to be key to all these perspectives. The pluralist citizen fights to have his voice heard by the powerful System, the managerial bodies are in constant rivalry to achieve greater power and the Marxist worker must become a revolutionary in order to overthrow the powerful state.
How can we even begin to imagine a world where power no longer exists? The physical world of scientific law is, too, made up of power relations. The power of one force over another, the power of the gravitational pull of energy, which formulates every object in the Universe are the focal points of our existence. It is as difficult for a human to imagine a world without political and financial power, as it is to imagine a world with no gravity or no force of attraction. And if we are to stretch the metaphor even further, our Earth may need gravity, but as Carl Sagan famously said ”Space is the final frontier.” Could we dissolve power and find ourselves in a society, where “power-over” as Holloway puts it, does not exist and all we have is “power-to” work together, with respect and integrity, in a social context where diversity, unity and equality prevail over power-hunger?
It would appear to the ordinary person that we have gone into the realm of far-east teachings, leftist, even Utopian ideals and madness. Anyone would argue that super-human beings, with endless care and love and no ambition or greed are the only people, who could achieve this. In the past few decades numerous academics, particularly in the field of political sociology, have tarried with the issue of power and social change, bringing the ideas of the protester and the activist into the classroom and examining them in the way they deserve (see Chomsky 1999, Holloway 2002, Luxemburg 1973,). And from a vast pool of work, one could conclude need merely change our self-conscious in two ways, in order to achieve this: 1. our confidence of our personal ability to control our own lives (Chomsky 2002 p.62,) and 2. our respect for others’ knowledge, ability, ideals and decisions (Holloway, 2002 p.20). Some social movements around the world have begun to prove to us that it is possible to avert ourselves from the current pseudo-democratic Capitalist model. The faceless, anonymous revolution of the 21st century is not only empowering the citizen, it is doing so without aiming power in the hands of any particular group and any particular individual. A variety of examples will be examined further in the body of this piece.
Power has always been a matter of great interest for politics, and in recent years, with the development of political sociology, the social sciences have turned their focus towards this elusive, yet immensely important for understanding society, topic. Ideas of power as the ability to act, work, perform and create can be traced to early Libertarian theorists, particularly Hobbes (1991), whilst Weber established power as domination of one over another. Hobbes particularly noted that power can only be relative, meaning that one only has as much power as this power is more than another’s power. Power thus is a form of relationship between individuals, organisations and states, and is central to understanding social stability. We can see both these theories entwined in modern political models and social structures. Neo-Liberal thought uses Locke (Gutman 1980) and his definition of power as the basis for their “equality of opportunity” policies. In this sense, we can see “power-to”, as Holloway (2002) named this power form, abused in a negative Capitalism-affirming way, where competition, individualism and the lack of caring for others can be found. Chomsky (2014) quotes American anarchism as an extreme form of this, which according to him is not viable in modern society. A more positive way to manifest this power-to is to look at it as a capability to create, move forward, improve, own one’s life and take responsibility for the future. This is the positive power that Holloway praises and the power that modern social movements are trying to cultivate. OCCUPY uses the manifestation of direct democracy via the power to protest to challenge the legitimacy of corporate and state “metapower” (Taylor, 2010). These metapowers that Taylor speaks of are transnational intercontinental mega-institutions, such as WTO, IMF, UN.
A question arises. Why does one need to exert his power to overthrow large institutions? The aforementioned organisations are conglomerate versions of states and national organisations. Surely, in a democratic world, through the pluralist’s power-to, we have voted into power institutions, which represent our interests. Power, as Locke said is only as great as it is greater than the power of another. Weber takes it further, as he focuses he definition of power on power of one over another, that is, the ability to dominate. Or as Wrong (REFERENCE) puts it is the ability of one person to instigate events and effects onto others as he pleases. From this perspective, we can look at revolutions and social movements as power-to reacting to the suffocating actions of power-over. Holloway’s comment on past movements and past revolutions is one of silent disappointment at the power-hunger with which they seem filled – there is always a new leader who is placed in the place of the previous one. If we need to look at Holloway’s argument and contrast it to Hobbes and Weber, it would have a new place entirely – to him, what is of significance is not who takes power but rather, the very essence of opposition and the absolute necessity for power-over to be dissolved and the institutions, which implement it abandoned. In his words: “The real, material existence of that which exists in the form of its own negation, is the basis of hope” (Holloway, 2002b).
As Castells (2009, p.10) notes, power is a form of domination of institutions over their “subjects”. In retort to this and more of contemporary literature on the topic of power, Holloway screams:
“The only way in which radical change can be conceived today is not as the taking of power but as the dissolution of power” (2002a). In a way, modern revolution finds it roots in leftist, Marxist views. Zizek (Boyle 2008) is commonly talked about as a Marxist philosopher; Chomsky speaks extensively of his anarcho-syndicalist beliefs (Chomsky and Nevins 2014). They preach of radical change which is not to have “only dirted the balls off those in power with dust, the point is to cut them off” (Zizek 2009) but one thing which strikes the reader is the sameness of their answers to “what next?” which inevitably ends up being something along the lines of constructing trade-union like structures, where alienation is defeated by the re-accumulation of capital by the common man. But if we look at what it takes to break down political systems, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2005 p. 1023) states: “The fundamental causes of such failures appear to be the lack of a widespread sense of the legitimacy of state authority and the absence of some general agreement on appropriate forms of political action”. There is no mentioned effective need for a different form of legitimate power to be alleviated.
If we are to speak of power as a form of control, then we are speaking of domination - we need to consider Foulcault and Lukes’s arguments. Lukes looks at power from a three-dimensional view – the first dimension being an observable control-submission situation. What is of greater importance to the current thesis, however, are the second and third dimension – the dimension where one is prevented or made to do something without realising that they are being dominated. The third dimension is one, which we need to look specifically hard on. It not only talks about someone who is being controlled via social rules and assumed punishment, as was recently painfully reminded to society through the Charlie Hebdo tragedy (BBC 2015). It refers to a domination of an entirely different type, which does not even allow for perception. Foucault words this in his idea of power “as the strategies in which they [force relations] take effect, whose general design or institutional crystallization is embodied in the state apparatus, in the formulation of the law, in the various social hegemonies.” (1998, pp.92-93). Note that we see here Gramsci’s (Katz, 2006) notion of hegemony, which is central to understanding state struggles; it is what Holloway stands against. Hegemony is also a constant object of Chomsky’s work (2004), where it refers to military and propaganda methods of asserting global control. Holloway works quite intensely with Foucault’s ideas of post-modernist all-consuming power and domination over the public, via the use of media, surveillance and propaganda. In a way, the power Holloway aims to overthrow is one resembling Lippman’s manufacture of consent (1922). This power is a form of coercion achieved via mass media, indoctrination in the educational system, involvement in the capitalist market, Foucault’s notion of pastoral power, etc. In all these instances, a small elite is educating, ruling, guiding the masses into what they are incompetent of doing themselves. Notions of wage-slavery, frequently seen in Zizek’s work denote the submissive face of modern work – we learn from someone better equipped to know than us, we work for someone better equipped to work than us, we are preached by someone who understands faith better than us – or so the assumption goes. The idea of breaking apart power and not-substituting it for anything can only transcend into reality if, as was needed centuries ago in the cultural revolution of the Enlightenment, the human once again is empowered to a position of authority over their own life. If during the Renaissance Western Europe was religious in a sense of Christianity, today it has alleviated Capitalism to the point of ascension. Bourdieau (2000) speaks of this notion as the naturalization od power – a feeling that all domination, force and alienation imposed onto a person is the natural way of things, and it is his own decision to participate.
We can see an antidote to this all-encompassing power through history. Leftist Hegelian revolutionary ideology, is perhaps the first one to refer to by challenging monarchy and feudalism. Monarchy is by definition a form of rule, where power is given to one person who, in a Christian context, is assumed to be appointed by God, making the monarch’s dominance absolute and indisputable. Going back to notions of legitimacy, monarchical theocracy is key – this is the foundation on which states’ legitimacy is based. Thus, the only key, which was able to destabilize this legitimacy, was the destabilization of religion and the rise of Humanism. The age of Enlightenment was the cradle of ideology, as it radicalized the self-value the ordinary person placed on himself. As Bell (2002, p. 394) states: “The history of all thought was a history of progressive disenchantment, […] the function of criticism-using the radical tool of alienation, or self estrangement-was to replace theology by anthropology.” A legacy, continued by Marxism and the battle against the fetishization of human labour. This is one of the main points of Holloway – the real power is in the worker, the doer, to produce the “done” (Holloway 2002). This was the argument, which began the revolution in wage-regulation, working condition improvements and the birth of the middle-class.
Today, these decisions have been passed on to private corporate metapower, work, be it manual or intellectual crafts, has been completely fetishized. In fact, “work”, and “labour”, words connected to “doing” have now been abandoned for the descriptive “job” and “product”, entirely separated from the “doer”. This is a main point of Holloway and it touches briefly on an argument, extensively covered further by Foucault and Zizek (1989) – the labour but also the intellectual and political alienation of the individual. We are under constant Panopticon (Foucault, 1975) control, via presenting our own information, opening the windows of our own Panopticon through social media, mass media, blogging, etc. Our consent is never our own.
In a world of such suffocating dominance, little wonder arises at Holloway’s “scream”. We do need to scream to demolish such immense and overwhelming power. Zizek’s modern Marxism and Chomsky anarcho-syndicalism are a natural progression to the struggle of 21st century’s powerless society. While mainstream political figures sneer at the radical views modern philosophy brings, what Holloway adds to their argument is not contradictory; it’s claiming they’re not being radical enough. We don’t need a different form of control, we need to equip ourselves with the ability to exert individual control over our life and property.
When, in 1968 French students rioted against their government, they needed Liberté, not a new rule. When Seattle experienced the first big OCCUPY protests in 1999, power realised it was beginning to lose ground. When in 1994, the Zapatistas refused to have their decisions made for them, the first incident of self-rule at the very basic human level occurred. The new protester is the “person of the year” (TIME, 2011), they are the brave individual, who is not looking for power or money, but justice. They are the students who Occupied universities around Europe (Mason 2013, Silova and Brezheniuk 2014, England 2014) and they are the Anonymous hackers and the Wikileaks writers, who fight the manufacture of consent and the monopoly of mass media by distributing new information, they are the underdog star-come-activist (Brand 2014), who uses his/her power to prevent violence and diminish inequality, they are the intellectual, who uses articulates the concerns of modern times. The key factors of these new activists is the lack of face and the lack of power-hunger – it was the Zapatistas, which Holloway was inspired by, and whose argument he brings forward. It’s an argument of social co-operation, a refusal to submit and a fundamental change in the role of the individual in society – the person becomes not a pawn to be controlled, indoctrinated and extracted products from, but an actor and a builder of his own world and commodity. In this sense, countries from the so-called second world have the upper hand – as Kamov (2013) argues for Bulgaria, as an ex-communist country with a failed and corrupted state, it is ideal for a co-operative society, where social experimentation and innovation can flourish. The Zapatistas found access to their lands relatively easily, as the Mexican state in 1994 was not strong enough to hold them down. The Ukrainan revolution in 2013 found itself creating a Maidan, as a platform for debate, as the state was a malfunctioning ruin for the democracy they needed. Perhaps revolution now needs to engage with state power through the Scream, in order to silence its hegemony.
Can we change the world without taking power? Possibly. For the purpose, however, we need to change the way we commonly look at power. Finding the breaking point of domination in the legacy of leftist ideas could be one way. But what’s more important than the political ideals of such a revolution is the humane ideals of it. We need to experience a renaissance of the mind-set – humanity needs to de-fetishize labour, to remove itself from wage-slavery, to evade individualisation and reach ascension of the self-value of the individual within society. Holloway’s idea fills a great gap in modern power-relations theory and provides ground for thought to all of us, who look for change and revolution. And the lack of answer to this question, as frustrating as may be, needs to be seen as the fluid way that future social movements will need to take their form in order to instigate change in a diverse and global world.
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