Theory of Power

Marx, Foucault, Neo-Zapatismo

by Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas (Author)
©2021 Monographs VIII, 138 Pages


The subject of power (singular) and multiple social powers (plural) is unquestionably central to contemporary societies all over the globe. Growing stronger and expanding farther all the time, the world’s anti-systemic movements have been forced to address this issue—the nature of power and powers—as among their most pressing debates. In the process, these movements have also been forced to consider the best possible strategy for confronting them. Should they seize political power, even if they run the risk of simply reproducing it? Should they destroy it altogether? Is it enough to destroy political power while economic, ideological, military, and religious powers remain untouched? And what is the most effective anti-capitalist and anti-systemic way to confront, defeat, and overcome the many different powers found in all present-day societies on Earth? To answer such questions, among others, this book discusses the rich, complex contributions of Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, and neo-Zapatismo to a complicated and essential subject: the theory of power.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: Power vs. (Counter)Power
  • Chapter One: What Power Cannot (Be)
  • Chapter Two: Marx’s Teaching(s): Social Power(s), Human Power(s)
  • Chapter Three: (More) Marxist Teachings: The Power(s) of Money Capital, the Impotence of Political and State Power(s)
  • Chapter Four: The Teachings of Michel Foucault: Macropower(s), Micropower(s), Punitive Power(s), Disciplinary Power(s)
  • Chapter Five: The Teaching(s) of Neo-Zapatismo: Counter-power(s), Resistance(s), Autonomy(s)
  • (In)Conclusion

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Power vs. (Counter)Power

… the general narcissism, the self-love of humankind, has thus far suffered three grave offenses at the hands of scientific research…

Sigmund Freud, “A Difficulty in the Path of Psychoanalysis,” 1917

Over a hundred years ago, in 1917, in his brief but incisive essay “A Difficulty in the Path of Psychoanalysis,” Sigmund Freud put forth a compelling theory that connected the work and writings of Nicolaus Copernicus, Charles Darwin, and Freud himself. This theory identified these three thinkers with the three major offenses or wounds they dealt to the narcissism of humankind, the self-love of the entire human species.1

In the sixteenth century, Copernicus proved that Earth was not fixed in space, nor was it the center of the universe; just like other planets, he found, it orbits the Sun. Copernicus thus confronted humanity with what Freud called “the cosmological offense.” This offense essentially shattered the age-old, deeply rooted belief that our little planet was the center of all cosmic existence, the axis of all gravitation. Thanks to Copernicus, humanity was forced to accept that Earth is just one of many planets in the solar system. What’s more, Earth’s very survival depends on the existence of the Sun and its energy.←1 | 2→

Later, in the nineteenth century, Darwin dealt a second major blow to human narcissism: the “biological offense.” He did so by proving that the human race was not the apex of divine creation, not the most “superior Being” on Earth, but a form of slightly more sophisticated primate: merely the final link, as far as we know, of the long and complex evolutionary chain in the animal world. An animal just like other animals, if a bit more highly developed, that nonetheless has wielded its small evolutionary advantage over primates and other species. We humans have used our upper hand to carry out a few genuinely spectacular creations. But we have also used it to make a show of cruelty, sadism, and violence; to display a particular capacity for punishment, destruction, and self-destruction, all of which remain completely unheard of elsewhere in the animal kingdom and natural world.

Finally, Freud and modern psychoanalysis were responsible for the third wound, the “psychological offense.” This one showed us that man, though he may persistently see himself as the lord and master of his behavior and general conduct, convinced that he controls and dominates his actions, intentions, and feelings, is actually quite the opposite. He is a mere marionette of passions, desires, and instincts, and he isn’t even wholly aware of them. He has repressed the impulses and emotional currents that inhabit his unconscious. In his actions, however, they are the true, powerful engines of what he dreams, fantasizes, and imagines; what he unwittingly expresses and manifests. As a result, they are what truly determine what he does every day, what he really strives for, and what he zealously pursues and tries to attain by any possible means.

It is our opinion that if Freud had thoroughly explored the work of Marx (which, unfortunately, he did not), then Freud would have been able to add him to the brief list of thinkers mentioned above. After all, Marx’s work includes a fourth blow to human narcissism, one we might call the “historical offense.” Beyond humankind’s technological advances over the centuries, and despite the relative complexity attained in the construction of buildings, relationships, processes, and social institutions, Marx shows us how humans remain submerged in the true “reign of natural necessity.” We are actors in a story, a history, we certainly do not control or shape with freedom, sovereignty, and autonomy. On the contrary: this history seems externally imposed on humankind, completely beyond our will.

Even today, humankind continues along the path of a history that, to paraphrase Fernand Braudel, is more suffered through than protagonized: a history in which societies are still incapable of constructing their lives, and the social bonds entailed by those lives, freely and according to their own will. Moreover, this social life doesn’t function according to the desires, intentions, and consciousness of different human groups and collectives. Rather, it obeys the ruthless logic of economic scarcity and its corresponding productivism, the autonomization of power ←2 | 3→in general and social powers in particular, and profoundly hostile figures of social organization. Such figures don’t only pit different social classes against each other in class struggle; they also constantly bring “individual interest” into conflict with the supposed ethereal, biased, rigged “general interest.”2

Marx characterizes human history thus far as a mere “human pre-history,” emphasizing that men live in “relationships necessary for and independent of their will.” The very powers that humans have created, he adds, subsequently appear to them “as something totally independent” from themselves. As a result, those historical individuals “act but do not know,” which explains why we remain consumed by the same “reign of natural necessity.” It explains, too, why we must put an end to the global capitalist system, to every possible society divided into social classes, and to the era of human “pre-history,” so as to inaugurate “the true reign of liberty” at last.3

Through four blows to the self-love of the human race, we remember that we are not the center of the universe (Copernicus) and that we aren’t divine, exceptional, or superior beings (Darwin). What’s more, we humans are forced to acknowledge and accept that we are not lords and masters of our history, our general social destiny (Marx), our emotional lives, or our own individual destinies (Freud).

Almost half a century after Freud advanced his theory of the three narcissistic offenses, Michel Foucault revisited and recovered it. In response to Freud’s theory, Foucault constructed a new triad of authors: Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud. In doing so, he addressed a far narrower and more specific field: the field of interpretation as an intellectual project, as well as its numerous techniques, modalities, constitutive levels, and specific dimensions.

By postulating the still-relevant modality of “modern hermeneutics” in reference to these three nineteenth- and early twentieth-century authors, Foucault proposed other possible implications of Freud’s texts (beyond the psychological offense), as well as of Nietzsche and Marx’s (beyond, in Marx’s case, the historical offense we have mentioned above as a hypothesis).4


VIII, 138
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. VIII, 138 pp.

Biographical notes

Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas (Author)

Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas has a Ph.D. in economics from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a post-doctoral degree in history from the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. He is a full-time researcher at the UNAM’s Institute for Social Research. Robin Myers is a Mexico City-based poet and literary translator. Recent book-length translations include The Restless Dead by Cristina Rivera Garza, Cars on Fire by Mónica Ramón Ríos, and Animals at the End of the World by Gloria Susana Esquivel. She writes a monthly column on translation for Palette Poetry.


Title: Theory of Power
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148 pages