... This brings us to a second translation difficulty. Two Spanish words translate as the English word “power”: poder and potencia. Generally speaking, we could say that poder defines power as “power over” (the sense it has, for instance, when it refers to state or sovereign power) and potencia defines “power to,” the type of capacity expressed in the statement “I can.” To continue with the generalization, it is possible to say that poder refers to static forms of power, while potencia refers to its dynamic forms. Potencia always exists in the “here and now” of its exercise; it coincides with the act in which it is effected. This is because potencia is inseparable from our capacity—indeed, our bodies’ capacity—to be affected. This capacity cannot be detached from the moment, place, and concrete social relations in which potencia manifests itself. This is the reason for arguing, in the article we are introducing, that anything said about potencia is an abstraction of the results. Whatever is said or communicated about it can never be the potencia itself. Research militancy is concerned with the expansion of potencia. For that reason, a descriptive presentation of its techniques would necessarily lead to an abstraction. Such a description might produce a “method” in which all the richness of the potencia of research militancy in the situation is trimmed off to leave only that part whose utilitarian value make it transferrable to other situations.
The thought of practices is thought with the body, because bodies encounter each other in acts that immediately define their mutual capacities to be affected. History can only be the history of contingency, a sequence of moments with their own non-detachable intensities. Miguel Benasayag argues that act and state—to which correspond potencia and poder—are two levels of thought and life. None of them can be subsumed under the other. Either one takes the side of potencia or the side of the poder (or of the desire for poder, as expressed in militants who want to “take power,” build The Party, construct hegemonies, etc.).
Potencias found in different forms of resistance are the foundation of counterpower, but both terms are not the same. Counterpower indicates a point of irreversibility in the development of resistance, a moment when the principal task becomes to develop and secure what has been achieved by the struggle (Benasayag & Sztulwark 213). Counterpower is diffuse and multiple. It displaces the question of power from the centrality it has historically enjoyed, because its struggle is “against the powers such as they act in our situations” (MTD of Solano and Colectivo Situaciones, Hipótesis 891 104). To be on the side of potencia is to recognize that the state and the market originate at the level of the values we embrace and the bonds that connect us to others.
Potencia defines the material dimension of the encounter of bodies, while poder is a level characterized by idealization, representation, and normalization. Colectivo Situaciones avoid a name to define their political identity, which would freeze the fluid material multiplicity of militant research by subordinating it to the one-dimensional nature of idealizations. “We are not ‘autonomists’, ‘situationists’, or anything ending with ‘-ist’” they once told us. Identities have normalizing effects: they establish models, they place multiplicity under control, they reduce the multiple dimensions of life to the one dimension of an idealization. They make an exception with Guevarism, because Che Guevara clearly preferred to stay on the side of potencia and opposed those who calmed down concrete struggles in the name of ideal recipes on how to achieve a communist society.
An investigation into the forms of potencia and the social relations that produce it can only be done from a standpoint that systematically embraces doubt and ignorance. If we recognize that the practical thought of struggles is an activity of bodies, we have to recognize as well—with Spinoza—that nobody knows what a body can do. To do research in the realm of potencia—to investigate that which is alive and multiple—militant researchers have to abandon their previous certainties, their desire to encounter pure subjects, and the drive to recuperate their practice as an ideal of coherence and consistency. In this regard, one might say that Colectivo Situaciones seek to concretely embody two Zapatista slogans: “asking we walk,” and “we make the road by walking,” such that, the act of questioning and collective reflection is part of the process of constructing power.