Change the World Without Taking Power

Change the World Without Taking Power

The year 2011 saw the collapse of some of Africa’s longest despots: Ben Ali, Mubarak, and Gaddafi in the noted North African awakening. Post conflict reconstruction challenges in these countries since then, especially in Egypt, demonstrate the limitations of centering revolution on changing state power.In “change the world without taking power: the meaning of revolution today” (2002), John Holloway argues that for too long the “state paradigm, that is, the assumption that winning of state power is central to radical change, dominated not just theory but also the revolutionary experience throughout most [of] the twentieth century – not only the experience of the Soviet Union and China, but also numerous national liberation and guerrilla movements of the 1960s and the 1970s”; the assumption here is that after revolutionary forces have captured previously undemocratic and imperialist centers of power,  they can “then use the revolutionary state to change society”. Yet as demonstrated and indeed part of  the legacy of tyrants such as the ones noted and many others like Mugabe, Biya, Museveni and Taylor (to mention just a few), “betrayal has been a key word for the left over the last century, as one government after another has been accused of ‘betraying’ the ideals of its supporters”. Holloway insists that “you cannot build a society of non-power relations by conquering power…once the logic of power is adopted, the struggle against power is already lost”.

“But how can we change the world without taking power?”

The above is a pertinent question that we should be asking ourselves in 2013 and beyond. Precisely because we should be thinking of change beyond the confines of state power, whose failure at facilitating a space where individuals can live creative and dignified lives can be deduced from the growing and harrowing levels of global inequality.

Holloway insists that the “state is not the locus of power that it appears to be…it is just one element in the shattering of social relations”. The limitations of state power must therefore help us understand that “power cannot be taken, for the simple reason that power is not possessed by any particular person or institution [because]…power lies rather in the fragmentation of social relations”.

In the first quarter of this year we, at BLF, hope to engage with this question and many other related questions. Questions like beyond the state itself, is it possible to imagine a world that is not centered on any other kind of power? In the spaces we occupy, the academy, industry and elsewhere are we afforded a space in which we can think of a world that is based on dignity, “a world of humanity, but without taking power”? What are the limitations that we face in our thinking? Is anti-power a possibility?

Best regards and we look forward to working and collaborating with all of you in the coming months.  If you are interested in joining the BLF team or contributing as a guest author, please contact us at

BLF editorial team


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