This is a letter in response to a previous story. If you’re interested in contributing a letter to the editor, please contact us.
By: James Lyuh
At a political education session for members of Philly Socialists, our comrade Tim Horras defined social power as “the power to influence people and events, which stems from organized people using persuasion and (generally, but not exclusively nonviolent) social pressure.”
I want to begin with a broader definition of power. In On Violence, Hannah Arendt writes:
Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act, but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together.
Any Marxist definition of power should be rooted in the collective aspect of power. Among other reasons, it foregrounds our organizing with a democratic political vision, rather than one rooted in “great leaders” or a revolutionary vanguard. Moreover, this definition of power clarifies that the ability to produce and reproduce a “group” is a power in itself. The Philadelphia Tenants Union social power does not lie in its ability to push forward legislation, but to bind tenants together for collective action.
I do not think that we should place organized persuasion at the center of our definition of social power. Rather, social power should be rooted in the production and reproduction of society. I would define social power as the ability to bind and rebind groups of people, or to produce and reproduce social bodies.
While organized persuasion is certainly one aspect of reproducing social bodies, we should recall the experience of past revolutions and their communes and workers’ councils (e.g., Paris, Russia, and Venezuela). The power of these bodies did not lie in persuasion, but their role in social transformation, their role in establishing new ways of binding people together and rebinding them. Moreover, the foundation for the struggle for political power is based in this kind of social power. The primary task of Philly Socialists and the PTU is to accumulate social power on such grounds—persuasion follows naturally from this course.
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