Food to confront a submissive thought
Human Rights Reader 76
WHY POWER ONLY YIELDS TO COUNTER-POWER.
1. Power is to be understood here as the submission of some to
the will of others. When power leads to the advancement of an
individual?s or a minority group?s own interest, it becomes
linked to exploitation and thus to the violation of human rights
2. Duty bearers manage or control ?authoritative resources? that
result (flow) from the established and given organization and
distribution of power in a given society.
3. Existing structures and institutions embody relationships of
power; they are the manifestation and materialization of power.
Furthermore, social and political organizations are designed
specifically to distribute power in a given way. (Note that or-
ganizational charts represent relationships of power!).
4. In HR work, we are called to uncover the structural determi-
nants of people?s-condition-of-oppression so as to help them
transcend these conditions; this means increasing their bargain-
ing power and aiming at their emancipation. (This is the only
sensible way out since the existing social system and class re-
lationships, embodying key human relations of power, do con-
straint people?s actions).
5. Emancipation takes place whenever people are able to overcome
past and present restrictions (and overcome their rights being
violated). In a way, to emancipate means to invert the poles.
For this to happen, there is no need for more money; people just
have to impose fairer rules.
6. We, therefore, need to assert ourselves against the current
powers of control and find and create such a fairer balance. (J.
7. It behooves HR activists to identify the political distor-
tions being used by the (minority) power holders and to uncover
how these distortions (often disguised in a whole new jargon or
?newspeak?) result in oppressive and exploitative power rela-
8. Power can be, and often is, socially malign; it is linked to
conflicts of interest? and counter-power is the means by which
these (dialectical) conflicts are resolved.
9. Moreover, power is often hidden. For instance, solutions
based on ?compensatory power? offer incentives and rewards;
those based on ?conditioned power? change beliefs through per-
suasion and education. Only ?coercive power? wins submission by
directly, more openly and more blatantly, violating people?s
10. Resolving conflicts and balancing competing interests
brought about by these three powers is the art of politics.
11. People?s participation in social networks can (and does) be-
come a critical source of power; actually, these networks are to
be seen, first and foremost, as the most viable vehicle to build
people?s power. (Remember that ?divided-we- beg, united-we-
12. In the confrontation of networks against hierarchies, HR ac-
tivists should use the art of politics to get involved in creat-
ing these social networks and helping them mobilize to effec-
tively place their claims. 13. Whining about the North or the
rich being too powerful long ago ceased to stir any pangs of
conscience. The only chance to become a player, not a ball, in
the game of eradicating HR violations is to try and build up
countervailing clout. (F. Nuscheler)
14. But this clout cannot stay only at the level of protesting
(e.g., at the WTO or the WB/IMF meetings); a newly acquired
clout will only take us to higher levels if it makes viable,
constructive (new) propositions?and in HR work we can make
plenty those propositions: re-read your old HR Readers?
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Through much of this Reader I distilled arguments found in sev-
eral issues of D+C the German development journal, the book ?The
Hidden Connections?, by Fritjof Capra, the book ?Heading South,
Looking North? by Ariel Dorfman and the book ?Refugiado del Iraq
Milenario? by Claudio Sepulveda.