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Towards Strategies for Social Change beyond Domination

September 7, 2023

[W]ithout an actual transformation of political practice, we will never be in the position to actually determine the very economic, social, and ecological policies for which we are fighting.~Chaia Heller [1]

One of the most crucial issues for us today should be drafting a coherent path beyond the future that ruling elites and the wealthy have in store for us. A response to rising inequalities, of crawling precarity, of the bureaucratization of everyday life, and the destruction of nature. This is by no means an easy task. The good thing is that citizens from different localities around the world have been organizing against these tendencies. From the alterglobalist movement, through that of Occupy and the Indignados, to Black Lives Matter and the Gilet Jaunes, we have been witnessing popular attempts at reclamation of public spaces and the articulation of alternatives to the status quo.

As participants in these movements, we have to provoke and engage into visionary discussions regarding strategies and approaches that might help us move ahead towards the direction of building an ecological and democratic society. In this respect spaces like the one provided by the Global Transition Initiative can prove invaluable in facilitating such dialogue on a transnational level, bridging experiences from different parts of the world. Below are some thoughts on what we should be cautious of and what we could improve in our struggles.

On capitalism and domination

The current capitalist system has sped up humanity’s descent into a multi-dimentional crisis that threatens the very existence of humanity. It is of crucial importance to put an end to the predatory logic of capitalism that sacrifices human lives and the natural world in the name of generating profits for a small class.

But it is equally important to not limit our struggle against capitalism alone, but expand it instead against every form of domination of human over human and of human over nature (the logic of which is at the root of all our current crises). The culture of domination has existed since ancient times and has been snowballing into new and more expansive forms. From some of the most ancient forms of oppression known to humanity – those of gerontocracy and patriarchy, through that of feudalism, all the way up to contemporary capitalism – the reality is that domination has predated the current capitalist system.

As Sigmund Freud observed, aggressiveness was not created by property; It prevailed with almost no restriction in primitive times, when property was very scanty.[2] Murray Bookchin puts this observation in political terms when noting that: hierarchy is more entrenched than class can perhaps be verified by the fact that women have been dominated for millennia, despite sweeping changes in class societies’. This leads Bookchin to conclude that ‘the abolition of class rule and economic exploitation offers no guarantee whatever that elaborate hierarchies and systems of domination will disappear’. Because of this he insists that if we want to free ourselves from domination, human beings must cease to live in societies that are structured around hierarchies as well as economic classes.[3]

This might seem like an immensely difficult thing to do, but as Bookchin has put it, If we do not do the impossible, we shall be faced with the unthinkable. [4] This thought of his captures very well the urgency we are in right now and the need of a holistic paradigm change, not only beyond capitalism, but beyond every form of domination and oppression.


An important step towards limiting domination is that of creating a coherent institutional environment that will leave no space for it, while democratically advancing radical equality. When we speak of institutions we don’t mean the existing ones, but potential new ones that will operate on the basis of completely different logics and values. As Cornelius Castoriadis suggests,

there cannot be any question of a society without institutions, regardless of the development of individuals, the progress of technology or economic abundance. None of these factors will ever do away with the innumerable problems that constantly arise from the collective existence of mankind. There is no way to do away with the necessity for arrangements and procedures that will permit discussion and choice. [5}

In this sense, a post-capitalist and post-domination society will require its own set of institutions, whose creation must begin from today. Contrary to the contemporary institutional architecture that operates on the basis of bureaucracy and hierarchy that concentrate authority at the hands of a narrow elite, its alternative must embody direct-democratic functioning that will decentralise power among all members of society. Such institutions won’t be static bureaucracies that actively resist popular participation, but will be instead living continuation of collective social decisions. As Castoriadis explains:

An autonomous collectivity is a collectivity that has a lucid, reflective, and free attitude toward its own institutions and that is not enslaved to those institutions. Therefore, it is one that feels it is able, and gives itself the right, to change its institutions when it feels the need or desire to do so—changing them in full knowledge of the relevant facts. [6]

The creation of such democratic institutions was part of the history of bottom-up initiatives for a long time. In more recent historic experiences we saw citizen movements attempt to establish open assemblies at public squares during the Arab Spring, the Occupy, and the Indignados, a confederation of assemblies during the Gilets Jaunes mobilisations, and ecology councils in Mesopotamia. This indicates popular efforts at genuine self-instituting that must be taken seriously by anyone who strives towards social change.

The question of time

There is one more issue that we must take into serious consideration regarding social change and that is the question of time, or pace. Too often systemic alteration has been perceived as an event that takes place after a grand event. This derives from the desire we all have to see a drastic change in a foreseeable future. It is what often leads well-meaning activists to join electoral politics, to only be disappointed right after the victory of their respective side when the realization comes that the system cannot be changed from within. In this context John Holloway underlines that:

The struggle is lost from the beginning, long before the victorious party or army conquers state power and ‘betrays’ its promises. It is lost once power itself seeps into the struggle, once the logic of power becomes the logic of the revolutionary process, once the negative of refusal is converted into the positive of power-building. [7]

Instead, the emancipatory temporality of direct democracy is one of a slow and confident pace. Much like what the Zapatistas have described as the speed of the snail – getting proposals to circulate between collectivities before being finally taken as decisions. This comes in stark opposition to the rapid pace of bureaucracy and capitalism, where decisions have to be taken quickly, without wider deliberation.

As Castoriadis suggests, everything must be remade at the cost of a long and patient labor,[8] meaning that we cannot simply rush our way into a new society. We have to begin by laying the foundations of a more just and emancipatory society from today via processes of popular self-institution. And this means fostering the participation of the greatest amount of people possible, as such societal architecture cannot be enforced by a revolutionary minority, but by a significant majority that has come to desire such change. Because of that Castoriadis advises us that

there are moments in history in which all that is feasible in the immediate term is a long and slow work of preparation.[9]



[2] Sigmund Freud: Civilization and its Discontents, (London: Penguin Books, 2004), p63.

[3] Murray Bookchin: ‘What is Social Ecology’ in  Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology (NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993).


[5] Cornelius Castoriadis: The Imaginary Institution of Society (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005), p113.

[6] Cornelius Castoriadis: A Society Adrift (Not Bored, 2010), p275. [available online at]

[7] John Holloway: Change the World Without Taking Power The Meaning of Revolution Today, (London: Pluto Press, 2003)


[9] Ibid.

Yavor Tarinski

Yavor Tarinski is an independent researcher, activist and author. He participates in social movements around the Balkans, as well as in transnational organizations, dedicated to the production of grassroots knowledge. He is a member of the administrative board of the Transnational Institute of Social Ecology, of the editorial board of the Greek digital journal & publications Aftoleksi, as well as bibliographer at Agora International. Among his books are "Concepts for Democratic and Ecological Society" and "Reclaiming Cities: Revolutionary Dimensions of Political Participation".

Tags: building resilient societies, direct democracy, political ecology, post-capitalist structures