Changing Society Without Taking Power

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Ed Lytwak:

It is important to understand Holloway’s brilliant double entendre “taking power.” Taking power is not just the taking “of” state power but the collective power of society’s hierarchical structure to “take” – appropriate – the commonly created wealth, including the commons of the natural world. The capitalist economic system controls not just the means of production – labor – but the means of survival, i.e. food, shelter, information, safety, community etc. This control of the means of survival ensures that all people, not just labor, exist in a relation of colonial dependency not only to the state but more importantly to the capitalist economic system. This is what Holloway means when he says that “wage labor is the complement of capital, not its negation.” It is this colonial dependence that greatly limits the political options of revolution based solely on taking power. As countless “revolutions” have show, taking state power without addressing the underlying economic dependency relationships – i.e. ownership, private or state – greatly limits the capacity for transformational change of those hierarchical economic relationships.

“Without taking power” is the revolutionary idea of creating an alternative to the capitalist taking economy. It is the collective power of people to “do,” to create their own means of survival through, cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid. By collectively creating an alternative economic system that meets people’s survival needs, people can break the relationship of colonial dependence not just on the state but more importantly on the capitalist economic system. Only by creating new horizontal economic relationships can we truly change the world without taking power. And, that is what finding the cracks in the capitalist economic system is all about. Creating a parallel horizontal economic system in the same time and space as the hierarchical capitalist economic system. This is what David Graeber et al. call the egg-shell theory of revolution. Once the colonial dependency on the hierarchical economic system is broken not only the state but capitalism itself simply “withers away.” Gandhi was saying something similar when he posited that effective political action must be based on a constructive program. Taking state power is essentially an obstructive program – it tries to change hierarchical economic relationships from the top down (as such it is much like reform). Unless revolution is based on a bottom up constructive program, the collective power to meets peoples basic survival needs, taking power cannot transform hierarchical economic relationships into horizontal ones." (