Nigel Collingwood


Written 1986: preparatory notes for a workshop.

“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you” (Mark, x 42-3).

“Violence .... is the result of impotence” (Fritz Perls).

“We live in almost overwhelming danger, at a peak of our apparent control. We react to the danger by attempting to take control, yet still we have to unlearn, as the price of survival, the inherent dominative mode” (Raymond Williams).

Jesus criticised the Roman Empire, Raymond Williams the world of today, for the pervasiveness of domination. Nation dominates nation; class dominates class; parents dominate children, men dominate women, humans dominate the environment. Thatcherite Britain is only for us the latest version, buttressed by a philosophy of laissez-faire competition and individualism, and made possible by a technology which seems to have acquired a dynamic of its own (“star wars, or whatever, is bound to come”).

Any critique of this state of affairs in the name of a fraternal or sororal society is made more difficult by the fact that socialism or communism (liberty equality and fraternity) has not been achieved so far anywhere in the world. “Marxist” regimes have their own form of domination and oppression. The argument for a fraternal solution is made out by many today to be finally lost. Where it is still put forward the tone is rarely inspiring. This is due not only to the stress of the battle against despair, but to a neglect of two possible sources of empowerment. One is the ability we now have to begin to discover the inner, emotional and even unconscious dimensions of domination. We have tools for understanding and change in the shape of humanistic psychology and therapy. The other is the whole area of the spiritual or transpersonal, of which the political ramifications are still far from clear. Indeed, many would doubt the existence of any such ramifications. Yet at the beginning of the last century Blake wrote: “Are not religion and politics the same thing? Brotherhood is religion” (Jerusalem, ch 3).

Thus it is that we need to approach problems of domination from a viewpoint that will combine the individual-psychological, the political-social and the spiritual. It is a daunting task. If people meet together to attempt such an approach, they will each come with their own set of positions in each of the three areas. The possibilities for disagreement are almost endless! Yet progress may be possible if we are prepared to be honest about our stance and to listen to other people's.

For myself, I will declare now that as a practising counsellor and gestalt therapist, I am eclectic but reasonably at home in the humanistic psychology movement, while keeping a distant respect for (and usually a respectful distance from) psychoanalysis. Politically I see revolutionary socialism as the best available understanding and programme, and belong as a fairly untypical member to the Socialist Workers Party. Spiritually I am concerned with meditation and with artistic, especially musical, expressions of the spiritual. As for locating spiritual experience in a framework of ideas, I was a RC priest for 14 years up to 1971, but am now an agnostic. Yet having written that, I realise that in working on the topic of this workshop I am perhaps groping for just such a framework!

Anyway, what I have been noticing is a convergence of ideas. These ideas come from, among others, Marx and the tradition of Marxism associated with Trotsky; from the Reichian version of Freud, especially David Boadella's embryological approach; from Bion's work on groups, especially Southgate and Randall's development of it; from Frank Lake, Joanna Macy, Fritz Perls, David Wasdell and Ken Wilber. Even with such rich resources, or perhaps because of them, any synthesis is bound to leave out a vast amount. Oversimplification is a risk I recognise, but am ready to take.

In a nutshell: cooperation between people is possible, and we resort to domination and violence when we are threatened with annihilation and find ourselves powerless to avoid it otherwise. Domination is itself an attempt partially to annihilate, and is most obviously seen when we dominate another person or persons. We might define domination (power over) as depriving people of their ability to develop freely in mutual cooperation (power with).

However, because each person is herself a group of “sub-persons” (and the train is being seen by some as itself a kind of federation), the same possibility of cooperation and danger of domination exists within the individual. For instance, I may dominate my emotions and become a rigid person because I fear total rejection, were I to express them freely. Granted, there is only an analogy between the way in which individuals or groups dominate one another and the way in which, say, a person's ego dominates drives and wishes in the process of acquiring the safety of a habitual posture of defence (i.e. character structure in Reich's terms). But the analogy may be worth exploring, especially since how we dominate one another in the first sense seems to be closely related to how we dominate ourselves in the second.

The ultimate self-domination or self-violence is suicide. It may seem bizarre to suggest that it is committed in order to avoid annihilation. But despair can be seen as a loss of any kind of support or meaning, internal or external. If unresolved, it can lead to such an experience of incipient annihilation that all that remains is a longing to die. It is “the sickness unto death” (Kierkegaard).

This formulation of the process of domination is particularly relevant, now that international paranoia and advanced technology have brought us to the point where we are threatened with the virtual annihilation of humanity and of the ecosphere itself. The USA and the USSR have been afraid of annihilation in their economic and military competition since 1945. While avoiding much direct confrontation, they have practised domination in their “back yards” and notably in Vietnam, and have become involved in ever-escalating “deterrence” (i.e. threats of annihilation). Feelings of powerlessness and despair abound. We know that nuclear war would be suicidal. But would this knowledge restrain people whose despair had crossed the margin of tolerance and issued in a longing to die?

When Blake wrote “Annihilate self-hood in me!”, he was speaking of one level of the intrapersonal annihilation mentioned above, and seeing it as a way towards spiritual growth. Wilber has argued forcefully that analogous “mini-annihilations” have to be accepted at each important stage of human development. It is important to see that annihilation is an analogical term no less than domination. Otherwise we might fall into the trap of claiming that having spiritual experiences entitled us to make light of not our own death, but everybody else's. On the contrary, could it not be that people who have made strides towards “annihilating their selfhood” have a unique contribution to make to the project of getting beyond domination, including political and economic domination? After all, only a contortionist could sit in the lotus position with their head in the sand.

Attached are some highly schematic summaries of some of the convergences I have mentioned. I realise that you may be quite put off by such things. Even if you are not, you may still find it unrewarding to work through them without a full explanatory text. However, it might be useful to glance at them briefly before coming to the workshop; one idea might be to start from a segment of the schema that is familiar or intriguing, and work outwards. Anyway, please bring them with you, as they may be referred to and have been prepared partly in order to obviate blackboards and flipcharts.

I hope you will not be put off by the charts etc., if this is not how you work most comfortably. The emphasis in the workshop will be on here-and-now experience – how can we share a day where there is power but not domination?

LUNCH: Either bring food to share, or make use of the not very wonderful selection of cafes etc. locally. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon tea & coffee will be available. It would be good if we could start at 10, so please try and arrive a bit before to allow for settling-in time. We have a lot to do (I hope!) between 10 and 5.30!



Being, well-being (power with) Stress leads to powerlessness and fear of annihilation which are defended against by domination (power over)    
  location experience dominating dominated character structure   embryological layer
ACCEPTANCE uterine constriction crushing denial (I'm ok) idealising (You're ok) hystero-schizoid paranoid   ectoderm
ocular (i.e. after birth) abandonment rejection        
SUSTENANCE oral emptiness   dependency (I need) oral   endoderm
  poisoned fight (I hate my persecutors) flight (I fear my persecutors) paranoid  
STATUS (EXPLORATION) anal humiliation, and suppression of will oppression (I control)   psycho-pathic   endoderm
      submission (I collapse) masochistic  
    stubborn (I won't collapse)   obsessional-compulsive  
ACHIEVEMENT (COMMUNICATION) genital shame, and suppression of loving sexuality aggression (you will comply)   M
      passivity (I will comply) passive-feminine pseudo-feminine




Being, well-being (power with) Stress leads to powerlessness and fear of annihilation which are defended against by domination (power over)   AS INDIVIDUALS AND NATION-STATES COMPETE FOR RESOURCES/MARKETS, FEAR OF ANNIHIL'N CAN LEAD TO DOMINATIVE PATTERNs
  fear experienced fear restimulated dominating dominated character structure: “valency” fear experienced fear restimulated dominating character structure: “valency”
ACCEPTANCE imminent extinction of group constriction “fusion” leader “fusion” followers paranoid-schizoid encirclement constriction arms race war paranoid-schizoid psychopathic
exclusion abandonment rejection autocratic leader DEPENDENCY oral, masochistic direct producers will have access to m. of pr. enclosures property laws paranoid oral
SUSTENANCE lack of own resources emptiness lack of raw materials emptiness colonial wars oral?
ENERGISING persecution suppression of will FIGHT (treat people as things)   psychopathic collapse of international trade suppression trading wars psychopathic
      FLIGHT masochistic, schizoid        
RELAXATION failure rejection PAIRING leaving it to the pair paranoid        


Social oppression as part cause of stress and distress, leading to habitual defences (=character structure) Social oppression as restimulating infantile distress, thus “hooking” the corresponding defences (ch. str.) Social oppression as kept in place, “anchored”, by the defences (ch. str.) it helps produce
stress distress character str. stress distress character str. char. str. effect benefit to system
poverty life-stresses unwanted unloved resented hystero-schizoid hostile groups hemmed in overwhelmed trapped schizoid paranoid-schizoid employers fear revolution, bankruptcy workers fear unemploym't stability
half-starved poisoned by nicotine paranoid chemical pollution environmental irradiation poisoned paranoid schizoid intellectuals cut off from social effects research into arms, nuclear power
poverty unloved poorly nourished oral poverty neediness oral oral craving for things to to fill emptiness consumer society
people needing to be needed carers for casualties
compulsive compliance (to deny anger) obedient workforce
weak etc. because of quality or presentation of nourishment paranoid       paranoid enemies within & without (colour etc) distraction from real conflicts
parental fatigue & frustration, in part due to social oppression oppression of child's will psychopathic alienating work will oppressed (cp. forced feeding) psychopathic psychopathic bullying (treating people as things) recruits to army, police
masochistic masochistic masochistic submissiveness (grudgingly) obedient workforce
obsessional-compulsive obsessional-compulsive obsessional-compulsive neurotic orderliness accountants
institution of property-owning & bequeathing family to reproduce work-force parents who need sexually restricted children rigidity pressure on parents to bring up children (even with inadequate resources) sexual enjoyment disapproved of rigidity rigidity   competition:
inflexible phallic-narcissistic, macho man phallic, over-aggressive woman winners
flexible passive-feminine compliant man pseudo-feminine “doll” woman losers


As I see it, Marxism is

a way of looking at history

that sees our changing methods of producing goods for consumption and use as crucial in setting limits to what is possible in human relationships and understanding of reality, and sees, in particular, the present highly industrialised method as INITIALLY requiring (a) production for profit, (b) a division between the exploiting and the exploited classes, (c) lack of self-expression (i.e. alienation) at work, and (d) mystification of the exploited by the exploiters (i.e. ideology); but as ULTIMATELY enabling the exploited to take control and to set up a: classless society producing to meet human needs;

hence it is also

a revolutionary project

in which the exploited can act together in seizing their opportunity to free themselves throughout the world by (a) dismantling the capitalist state, and (b) creating a genuine community where all can express themselves in the sharing of resources.

Marxism sees the productive forces (which include the human element of the direct producers) as conditioning, i.e. setting limits to the possible development of, the social relationships of a given period, which in turn condition, in the same sense, the broad ways of thinking about and understanding the world generally prevalent in the same period. This conditioning (not a mechanistic determining) does not exclude influence in the reverse direction.

How does this fit in with the models already presented? We can suggest that whereas facing, centreing and grounding, considered as phases, tend to occur in that order, how we are grounded conditions, i.e. limits the development of, centreing; how we are centred conditions facing.

Where does this leave spirituality? Perhaps we can complete the scheme of “conditioning” by saying that how we face (ourselves, others) conditions spirituality, which we might describe as “opening”, a letting-go of dualistic boundaries. Thus we have

Domination 1

where the “?” might locate a social correlate of spirituality.

How then can we represent the activity, or perhaps better, passivity, of spiritual experience? If the developmental process is facing, then centreing, then grounding, perhaps opening is located “before” facing and originally occurred at a pre-natal stage of development, e.g. the blastocyst stage. Spiritual experience would then be seen as essentially regressive and to entail going back to such a stage, even if the adult brings to the regression a much more developed sensibility.

On the other hand, Ken Wilber strongly attacks this type of theory as entailing a confusion between the pre-personal with the transpersonal. If he is right, and we wish still to save our developmental model, we maybe will have to locate opening after grounding, as a peak experience made possible by satisfactory completion of the facing, centreing and grounding phases in that order. (Wilber is Hegelian rather than Marxist, and rejects any kind of primacy of the material.)

Domination 2

Domination 3

Domination 4

“BEYOND DOMINATION” reading list

In reaching the point I am at, I have found help in reading (and in one or two small cases writing) all or part of the following. N.C.

Bion W, Experiences in Groups, London, Tavistock, 1961.
Boadella D, Organ Systems & Life Styles, in Energy & Character, Sept. 1976
Boadella D, Maps of Character, in ditto, VIII, 2, 1977.
Boadella D, Stress and Character Structure, in ditto, Jan 1974.
Collingwood N, Class-consciousness & Bodies, duplicated, 1979.
Collingwood N, Alienation & Introjection, duplicated 1982.
Collingwood N, Political Grounding, Connect Paper No 3, 1983.
Collingwood N, Ecstasy & Politics, in Self & Society, XII 2–3 (NB: printer's error)
Collingwood N, Party & Alienation, duplicated, 1982.
Collingwood N, Embryonic Layers & Social Oppression, 1985, which I hope may be published before too long – another article.
Collingwood N, Towards Gestalt Politics Connect Paper 5
Grof S, Realms of the Human Unconscious, London, Souvenir, 1979.
Harman C, Women's Liberation & Revolutionary Socialism, in International Socialism, 23, Spring 1984.
Lake F, Clinical Theology, London, Darton Longman & Todd, 1966
Lake F, Studies in Constricted Confusion, Nottingham, Clinical Theology Association, no date.
Lindsey Jack, William Blake (biography).
Lowen A, Bioenergetics, N York, Coward McCann & Geoghegan, 1975.
Macy J,R, Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age, Philadelphia, New Society Publishers, 1983.
Marx K, Early Writings, London, Penguin, 1975.
Marx K, & Engels F, The German Ideology, ed. Arthur C J, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1970.
Marx K, & Engels F, Manifesto of the Communist Party, in Marx & Engels, Selected Works in 1 Vol, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1968.
McLellan D, The Thought of Karl Marx, London, Macmillan, 1971.
Miller A, For Your Own Good; Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, trans Hannum H & H, London, Faber, 1983.
Ollman B, Social & Sexual Revolution, London, Pluto, 1979.
Perls F, Hefferline R & Goodman P, Gestalt Therapy, London, Souvenir, 1951
Perls F, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, N York, Bantam Books, 1969.
Reich W, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, tr. Carfagno V R, N York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970.
Reich W, People In Trouble, N York, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1976.
Reich W, The Function of the Orgasm (1942), tr. Carfagno V R, N York, Pocket Books, 1973.
Reich W, Character Analysis, tr. Wolfe T, London, Vision, 1950.
Southgate J & Randall R, Cooperative & Community Group Dynamics – or, Your Meetings Needn't Be So Appalling, London, Barefoot Bks, 1980
Rowe D, Living With The Bomb, London, Routledge, 1985.
Wasdell D, The Matrix Of Defence, and other writings published by URCHIN, London
Wilber K, The Atman Project, Madras & London, Theosophical Publ. House, 1980
Wilber K, Up From Eden, London, Routledge, 1983.