Under Assemblies what might national, European and global governance look like?

This article was sent us by Mark N. Barrett, a long-time democracy campaigner, and supporter of Occupy London.

Asking this question raises profound questions about sovereignty, representation and justice. In an age characterised by the sovereignty of the nation-state, since the Treaty of Westphalia, globalisation has brought about the rise of the new, unaccountable king, in the form of global bond markets and other undemocratic world institutions. By contrast the Occupy/15M movement recognises the need to reformulate political economy at local, national and global levels, and to put it under people’s control.

The first principle of the global movement is therefore the sovereignty of each people’s assembly, within certain constitutional parameters. These parameters can be loosely defined with common slogans like “think global, act local”, “inclusivity, equality, everyone’s voice counts” , “they don’t represent us, and I do not represent anyone but myself”. In short, the assembly is a new political form to bring about a people powered globalisation and democratise all spheres of life.

Talking about global governance is a huge and complex issue, but with the above first principle in place it is possible to sketch out how the process of change, driven by the assemblies, might look in practice. First, because we recognise the nation state itself is problematic, and second because of our general belief in participatory democracy and local, decentralised community sovereignty (in Spain the assemblies decentralised down to the neighbourhood level quite rapidly and ) it is quite likely that the assemblies movement will aim to transform the domestic state / constitution.

So, in England (for example) this might mean the aim of overturning the centralised Parliamentary and Royal Prerogative Sovereignty (the latter now vested in the Prime Minister)  and replacing it with sovereignty of the people, via a decentralised, community focused political economy. Under this model, People’s Assemblies as new ‘institutions of the common’ would drive national, as well as local policy via a federated, delegate system to the national (and ultimately also transnational) representative bodies. A useful statement about the need to democratise the British Constitution, via the formation of People’s Assemblies, was produced in 2006.

Taken to the European level the same could apply, so the post-crisis European nation-state (if we will still chose to call it that, perhaps ‘administration’ is a better word) gets founded on principles of radical local subsidiarity and common welfare (commonfare) rather than the corporate, bureacratic, anti-democratic model currently being formulated. These transformations would naturally affect both internalities (ie the constitution) of the UK and Europe and its external foreign policy. All would become transparent and radically accountable to the grassroots, indeed they would be driven by altogether new processes and would produce a radically different economic reality. I wrote about one aspect of this, the future of work, earlier in the year here.

Alongside these or similar ideas of public and private employment, and a living wage for all one might also imagine the full array of public services being provided by new, commonly owned constitutional arrangements. For example governance itself (local Governing Assemblies), banking and finance, education (‘it takes a village to bring up a child’), food production and so forth. In short wherever services can be provided locally and democratically, they should be.

At the fully global level, at this stage we need to speak in even more broadbrush terms. However starting again with the first principle, the sovereignty of People’s Assemblies and the need to secure a new global settlement in which that principle is honoured, just as with the nation state and European endeavour ( which will be overturned and/or  transformed by the power and voice of the assemblies ) here we may also imagine the first step in democratising the global institutions.

It might make sense for the Assemblies to campaign to end tax havens worldwide, which would not only allow more revenue to be raised by national administrations, but could also perhaps begin the process of democratic global regulation of capital markets. However, here there are justifiable fears over the bringing about of world government via such a movement, with sovereignty ending up vested in even worse ( centralised, unaccountable and potentially fascist ) global institution. To counter such a possibility, and in order to cement the global sovereignty of people ( via the assemblies) perhaps then we should call for a global tax ( ‘no corporate representation without global taxation!’ ) but crucially in which the rate, collection and destination of the funds realised is to be decided by the global assemblies. This, the beginning of a ‘world health service’ driven from below might then be the way forward. This would allow us to establish the global sovereign as the people, not a global state or other representatives of capital, supporting one another via our global communications networks while also beginning the process of redistributing wealth directly to the grassroots ( say to the Horn of Africa to tackle the famine, or to provide water, sanitation and other basic services in the global south ). And then, from there we could use our new power to tackle our constitutional relationship with the many other undemocratic global institutions. See also: http://roarmag.org/2011/10/15-o-manifesto-humanity-united-for-global-democracy/

New forms of taxation such as land tax and the ending of income tax, and new local powers embracing parliamentary, public employment, banking and educational functions presently monopolised by undemocratic states could follow in many countries as assemblies begin driving the future culture.  However all of these ideas must play second fiddle to the assemblies process. For any of them to come to be they must be agreed and campaigned for by the assemblies themselves and the priorities for this in each territory will of course be very different,

NB. This piece is not official Occupy policy, it is just a personal position written to encourage debate within the movement. By contrast, a broad brush and consensus-agreed summary of how People’s Assemblies can bring about real democracy,  written in 2009, is set out here.

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Categories: Europe, General Assemblies


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8 Comments on “Under Assemblies what might national, European and global governance look like?”

  1. jimprues
    January 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    We need to do much more of this sort of thinking to bring about the substantive change required to create a new cultural operating system. We must also establish principles like peace, love, equality, justice and solidarity [adopted by Occupy Cincinnati].

    World 5.0 offers a vision aligned with Mark’s thoughts above. Reconstructing government is required to arrange priorities to support communities and ecologies, and to dismantle the kleptocracy of corporate/government globalism.

  2. January 3, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    The above is all about changing form – *how* to govern, and not at all about content – the governance of *what*? Or to be exact, it already says what to govern: taxes, capital, markets, wages, labour – Capitalism. It’s a proposal for a reorganization of capitalism, and not for abolishing the exploitative class relation altogether. Such a proposal implies the continuation of commodity production, wage labour, money, the state and other institutions of capitalist class society, and the alienation, mediation, domination and powerlessness that these capitalist relations inevitably produce.

    Capitalism is a form of social relations and material production, and not a form of political governance. We can’t abolish capitalism by inventing just another form of political governance, a state (even if this state was established in the name of “the global sovereign as the people” and called something else than a state).

    What we need in order to empower ourselves is not a politics of reform, but anti-political anti-capitalist activity that begins to address the question of immediate material reproduction of a human community and how to satisfy needs and desires without wages, commodity production, market, money, administrative decisions…

    “Human beings lose their mastery over the running of their personal and group life when they lose the mastery over their conditions of existence, and first of all over the production of the material basis of these conditions. Our problem is not to find how to make common decisions about what we do, but to do what can be decided upon in common, and to stop or avoid doing whatever cannot be decided upon in common.” …

    “The essence of political thought is to wonder how to organize people’s lives, instead of considering first what those to-be-organized people do.

    Communism is not a question of finding the government or self-government best suited to social reorganization. It is not a matter of institutions, but of activity. ”

    -Gilles Dauvé: A Contribution to the Critique of Political Autonomy

    • January 3, 2012 at 11:19 am #

      The political sphere is, indeed, not independent from the social relations of production and distribution. It has never been more evident than in the current crisis that shows in the interest of whom the political elites are managing the crisis.

      However, envisioning how certain forms of participatory democracy may scale up, if and when adequate level of pressure from the multitudes supports that, can be useful. The degree of its usefulness may depend on whether such vision is coupled with a theory of, and strategy for, the transition to commons-based peer production in a commons-based economy and society.

      Having said that, I think that those of us in Occupy who favor a system change in the direction of a post-capitalist society, do full-heartedly support the struggle for real democracy. The movement for real democracy, when coupled with the birth of the new social relations of production in the womb of capitalism, can just be the potent mix of condition for r’evolution that we’ve been waiting for.

  3. January 5, 2012 at 2:42 am #

    I would be curious to know what the author thinks of social charter processes to claim sovereignty for local and regional assemblies? I have been following closely the social charter process underway in the Western Asia – North Africa region since the Arab Spring kicked off this whole affair.

    To read about the background for how the WANA Forum Social Charter process was started this past year and is continuing thru ongoing deliberative processes in the region, go to:

    The initiating document for the charter process was recently completed, see the pdf: http://www.wanaforum.org/images/pdf/charter_english.pdf

  4. January 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

    Mary Beth, the potential for cross-fertilization and synergy between the “people’s assembly” and “socail charter” processes is so great that it would deserve a blog by you and/or Anthony…! Thanks for calling it to our attention.


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