What power do we want?

Cecilia Moretti

It isn't easy to think about the kind of power we want, especially when we believe in a freedom that is opposed to any kind of authoritarianism. It becomes even more difficult because, over the centuries of human history, the word "power" itself has been contaminated with notions of authority and domination.

Frequently when power is discussed, it is referred to as the power of those who govern, those who maintain their power through the appropriation of common treasures--such as land and natural resources--for their own interests. This story has been repeated since prehistoric times, when tribal communities became sedentary and began to enter into disputes over land with their neighbours, occupying territories by force, expelling people, and appropriating not just resources, but other human beings too--into slavery. At this stage in "human development", wars also began to occur.

This scenario continues into the present day, where a few multi/trans-nationals control economic and political power, and place the rest of the world at their feet. The globalised world is their territory, through which they move, searching for markets, and for cheap labour to exploit. Everything becomes more and more subordinate to their obsessions for wealth and profit.

This kind of power is based on control by the few, on egotism, individualism, competition, the exercise of violence on all levels, and on exploitation.

However, throughout the history of humankind, another type of power has also existed, thanks to which unjust situations have been transformed. In the face of death, it has manifested itself in the power of life; faced with the destruction of wars and violence, it emerges as a constructive power; in the face of individualism it exists as collective and solidarity efforts.

Gandhi said: "The power to change resides in the people." Similarly, some Eastern philosophies state: "The power to change resides in ourselves." This refers not only to collective power but also to individual power, since the dominant power has not only sought to put "external" obstacles in the way of our freedom (in order to dominate us), but has also lodged "internal" obstacles and false values in our way. These internal obstacles sometimes impede us far more than the external ones: patriarchy, individualism, egotism, competition, materialism, discrimination, the instinct to consume (to which the environment has fallen prey); we have been trained for submission and passivity, so that we obey and do not rebel against the power exerted over us. On occasion, many of these false values have represented the greatest hurdles in the way of social and political revolutions. We have also been brainwashed to believe that the only way to have power is to impose our will on the next person.

The power to transform

But there is another concept of power, based on the capacity that each one of us, as human beings, has within, even if it sometimes lies dormant--the capacity for great creativity and richness, with each person capable of different types of power. Those of us who are nonviolent and anti-authoritarian, believe not in the power of domination, but in the power of freedom; in the power to make decisions autonomously and in solidarity with others; in the power to transform situations of injustice, through the power of working side-by-side; in becoming conscious and raising consciousness in others, because the power to change resides within us.

We can take away power from the corporations by consuming less or differently, choosing carefully what we consume, buying from small and independent producers and not from large companies. We can refuse to pay taxes which are used to prop up corrupt governments that abuse our rights or attack other nations, invading them or selling arms in order to heighten conflict; governments that always have the armed forces at their disposal. We can reclaim or occupy land that has been appropriated by the few, and instead cultivate it and use it for the benefit of ordinary rural people who will work it, such as the Movimento Sem Terra (Landless Movement) in Brazil, or other indigenous peoples in different countries.

The whole of one's personal and social life can be developed in such a way as to avoid any type of collaboration with this power. This power tries to appropriate our own power--for example, that of production-- but in the process, our own powers are diminished. If we could act with entire freedom, we could do so much more.

Power corrupts

We do not believe that taking power-- characterised by domination--solves our problems, or by turning the dominated into the dominators. This kind of power corrupts, and its values and behaviours become internalised, and show themselves in the actions which follow. We have too many examples of revolutions where power was taken, but was soon reserved for a small group who came to dominate the rest.

For us, power is synonymous with creative actions, with transforming situations, of making the most of resources, of improving human relations for the benefit of all. It is about creating organisational forms with different objectives, in a way that is pluralist and horizontal, in which all play a part and all share decision-making, with respect for one another, enabling individual and collective objectives to be met.

Not large corporations, but small; not economics, politics and society on the macro scale, but on the local level; rather than the state, the community; and instead of centralisation we look for decentralisation and diversification.

Cecilia Moretti lives in Argentina and is Vice-Chair of War Resisters' International.
Translation: Lucia Brandi.