Saturday 4 December 2004 by Trevor
We cannot allow the bourgeois politicians to again use the coming elections to consolidate their grip on power. This short paper suggests the building of community assemblies to provide a place where the masses can discuss how to use the local government elections to take forward their struggle for water, electricity, houses, health care and other needs which the present ANC government is failing to help provide because of its neo-liberal capitalist policies.
THE ASSEMBLY WEAPON OF WORKERS DEMOCRACY IN THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS AND BEYOND Next year it will be local government elections time. The politicians will be knocking on our doors looking for our votes again. Are we going to repeat the mistake of voting for people who later attack us with their capitalist policies? As the local government elections approach the question facing all of us is: will the mayors and councilors we elect next year continue with high bills, cut-offs, summons, evictions, pre-paid meters, out-sourcing, retrenchments, privatization, Igoli 2030 and GEAR? The sad answer is: of course they will; that is, unless we do something to stop them.
This is a challenge to all working class communities, political organizations, trade unions and civics. It is a challenge to all workers, women and youth. How can we use the coming local government elections to take forward our struggle for free basic services for all? How can we have mayors, councilors and municipal managers who do not put profit before the people, who work for us and not for the capitalists?
THE WORKING CLASS COMMUNITY ASSEMBLY: AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME
We must form people’s assemblies in working class communities. The idea of an assembly (a people’s assembly or community assembly or local constituent assembly) is there to challenge and help communities and workers to fight against the policies of local government which attack the working class. Assemblies are popular meetings of residents in an area or township or village where matters of government and of general concern to the community are discussed and acted upon with the interests and needs of the working class in mind.
In theory, the best assembly is where all residents, workers, organisations, committees, institutions and clubs in an area participate as long as they take the side of the working class against the capitalists. In practice, a significant section of the community will form the assembly. At first the assembly will be filled with residents and workers suffering from cut-offs, pre-paid meters, high bills, evictions, starvation wages and looking for a solution; together with grassroots leaders and organisations already actively in struggle against ANC local government policies which attack the working class and benefit the (black and white) capitalists; and representatives from local structures and institutions which are willing or compelled to co-operate with the wishes of the assembly e.g. ward committees, SGBs, CPFs, health committees, etc.
The assembly is a home of working class community control over local development and local government. It is in the assembly that the community discusses all the issues and problems of development in the area. The assembly exists in order to restore power back into the hands of the community and out of the hands of the capitalist councilors and mayors. The working class assembly is a counter-power to the power of the capitalists and the capitalist state. Ordinary residents must be given a voice over matters of government that affect them. It is in the assembly that the rank and file can pronounce on and exert control over local government policies and those who implement them.
When we elect councilors they go and meet in their Council Chamber. When we elect parliamentarians they go and meet in their parliament. We the voters who elected them: where do we meet? Where do we discuss our problems and tell the councilors and parliamentarians what to do? Where do we plan how best the local school, clinic, hall, police station, and municipal depot can serve us? The idea of the assembly is one whose time has come. The job of the APF and its allied forces is to take the idea of the assembly to working class communities. The assembly is a working class weapon in the struggle to make councilors and mayors to serve the working class and not the capitalists.
WHERE DOES THE IDEA OF ASSEMBLIES COME FROM? The idea of a community assembly is based on the tradition of working class struggle and politics. Workers in the factories and in communities realized very early in their decades’ long struggle the need for a government of their own. In France the workers formed the first revolutionary government in 1871, the Paris Commune. The bosses drowned this experiment in workers’ government in blood and the commune lasted less than 4 months. But the seed had been laid. In revolutionary Russia the workers and peasants formed the soviets. These were workers’ councils which became the building blocks of revolutionary government in Russia. In South Africa during the height of the struggle against apartheid working class communities formed street and block committees as seeds of a revolutionary people’s government. In Brazil in the city of Porto Alegre an experiment in pro-poor participatory local government saw the budget being put together by ordinary people. In Argentina the piqueteros set up their neighbourhood assemblies to organize local solidarity economies to feed the class during the political and economic crisis which saw 5 bourgeois governments fall in one month. What is common in the workers’ commune, the soviet, the street committee, the neighbourhood assembly and the people’s budget process is the principle of bottom-up democracy, of government by the rank and file, direct democracy by the working class without the poisonous influence of bourgeois political representatives. The community assembly builds on this proud tradition of workers’ democracy.
IMPORTANT POINTS IN BUILDING THE ASSEMBLIES • Assemblies will be created in the context of the coming local government elections but they go beyond elections. They are the seeds of a future socialist government controlled and run by the working class. • The APF will be central in forming the assemblies where it has a presence and influence. But the idea must spread far and wide and other forces should be encouraged to take it forward. • Assemblies, like soviets and street committees, can only be properly built upon the foundation of a mobilized working class in struggle. But even during a lull the idea can take root if it connects with the masses. • The best way to build an assembly is around an issue or set of issues which touches a wide layer of residents and workers in an area e.g. water pre-paid meters in Phiri, evictions in Protea Glen, forced removals in Thembelihle and Diepsloot. • The assembly must be built as an alternative counter-power to the power of the councilors, the mayors and the capitalist managers and their government. It must be based on the slogan “Fire the mayor! Fire the councilor!” The assembly is the organizational expression of the act by the working class of taking back the power which is in the hands of the capitalist councilors, mayors and managers and their capitalist controllers.
DUTIES OF THE ASSEMBLY
1. To provide a forum for residents and workers in an area to discuss the question of power, working class needs and the coming local government elections. 2. To build the confidence and capability of residents and workers to deal with matters of power, development and local government from a working class perspective and based on their own collective experience, thoughts and needs. 3. To act as an alternative counter-power in theory and (increasingly) in practice to the power of the capitalists and their local political representatives and lackeys. 4. To initiate and involve the local community in debates and actions which link the struggle for the satisfaction of our needs to local government processes and structures. 5. To be a place where the work of local government is assessed, criticized and alternative policies presented, assessed and (where possible) be implemented. 6. To act as a force which subjects present and future local government councilors and managers to community control. 7. To develop specific steps and measures to keep councilors and municipal managers accountable to the community and to popularize and implement such measures. 8. To attract wider and wider layers of the community to the assembly and active participation in political discussion and action around local issues of development and governance. 9. To broaden the range of issues and matters which the assembly deals with, show the links between the issues and to link up with other assemblies and like-minded working class organisations wherever possible. 10. To infuse the community with the spirit of struggle behind working class needs. To educate in theory and practice in the principles and methods of workers control, workers democracy and workers power. To raise the banner of socialism and a workers government in all its work.
THE WORKING CLASS COMMUNITY ASSEMBLY RESIDENTS, WORKERS AND YOUTH MOBILISED & TAKING CONTROL OF THEIR LIVES Fire the mayor! Fire the councilor! Replace them with workers community power!