From the working group of 15M-Madrid, Política a Largo Plazo, comes the following reflection on the assembly as a space for horizontally and freely creating human community, a reflection on what is here is called asamblearismo. The translation from the original spanish text is ours. (The text is also posted on the Acampadasol website).
Introductory note: We are fully aware that there is not a single form of assembly-ism (asamblearismo), that there are many kinds. We use the homogenising term – which is nevertheless insufficient – “assembly-ism” for reasons of practical utility. Nothing is further from our intentions, on the other hand, than to postulate a specific model of “assembly-ism”, or to consider assembly-ism as a closed system, or an ideology. We consider it above all as a way of organising spaces of dialogue, of organisation and as a space for arriving at consensuses in a non-authoritarian manner and with the greatest horizontality and freedom possible. We understand by “assembly-ism” therefore the collection of movements that hold to this form of dialogue and political organisation as the bases of social reality.
Assembly-ism proposes the assembly of equals as the basis for debate, discussion, organisation and political decision, but its real and transforming potential does not stop here. The greater part of assembly-ist movements – 15M among them – use the assembly uniquely as a public political space and as a tool for reaching a real horizontality within affinity groups that seek to intervene in social reality. This is however only one of its applications. An extensive and real assembly-ism should propose to itself to penetrate different social realities, including also and above all the organisation of work and the totality of the processes of education and to act materially and concretely in reality. As long as assembly-ism limits itself to the public assembly and to activist groups, it will continue to be an unfinished political project, with the constant risk of being absorbed by the hierarchical and authoritarian system within which it arises. It becomes necessary to extend as far as possible the assembly project – which is a political project, but also and fundamentally educational and social – to all of the domains of collective reality. To reduce assembly-ism to a mode of participation and political decision – for example, as a way to debate, treat and decide upon matters in the public life of neighbourhoods and villages/small towns – is to limit assembly-ism as a real project, which should begin with interpersonal relations, in school, the family and at the work place.
Assembly-ism versus parliamentary democracy
Numerous social actors – including some very close to the current system – nevertheless maintain the belief that assembly-ism and parliamentary democracy are compatible and that they can subsist together. Nothing is further from the truth: in essence, they are antithetical projects. Parliamentary democracy, falling as it does into representation and the delegation of power, reveals itself as a system of domination of some classes over others – which is grounded in a complex vertical hierarchy that penetrates all ambits of society, including education – ministries, town councils, provincial government, directorships of centres, teachers, students – and the organisation of work – management of companies, administrative councils, work committees, bosses, workers. In the face of this, assembly-ism seeks a classless society that organises itself in a horizontal and non-authoritarian way where each individual has a voice and the capacity to decide, and where the collective organisation is taken to the end of eliminating all hierarchies. Before a false assembly made up of individuals of the same social class – the parliament – distributed in distinct factions and completely fortified against the real participation of the rest of the population, assembly-ism is committed to assemblies of equals with the real participation of whoever wishes to be a part of them and who implicates themselves in all and each of the collective activities.
As long as assembly-ism co-exists with parliamentary democracy, its potential and its real effectiveness will remain strongly diminished. The establishment of a real assembly-ism will only be possible with the systematic disappearance of parliamentarianism and its substitution by a complex network of assemblies of equals.
The assembly is not a means to an end, but a reality in itself.
Another of the equivocations worth noting in the use of assembly-ism is to consider it as a means to arrive at different kinds of organisation – commonly vertical and hierarchical. But the assembly of equals is a total space in itself where completely different types of personal and social relations develop and flourish, distinct from those of authoritarian systems and which are founded on equality, solidarity and cohesion within a commons. Horizontality proposes kinds of relations and kinds of participation that are utterly different from those of verticality, and we may even affirm, totally distinct kinds of persons. Psychological conditioning changes radically from a horizontal project to an authoritarian one. Patriarchy, for example, is without meaning in a non-authoritarian society, as well as machismo, militarism or police systems, to cite but a few examples. In the search for an egalitarian and a classless society, the assembly is not a means. The classless society and the assembly of equals are two faces of the same reality that mutually sustain and create each other.
The assembly is an educational space
One of the fundamental values of the assembly of equals, often ignored, is that of providing an educational space and a space for the development of relations between persons – in speaking of equals, we do so always from the political, social and psychological perspectives, respecting always peoples’ diversity -. Ambitiously, we adventure to claim that assembly-ism – experienced since childhood – is capable of producing a distinct way of being human from that of authoritarian systems. In the horizontal and free assembly, there flourish forms of relations and of learning different from what is typical, because they develop on completely different bases. In this process, autonomy and the capacity for personal decisions, the respect for others as equals, the creation of personalities and the search for consensual, non-authoritarian solutions to conflicts, are promoted and strengthened.
But for this transforming potential to become reality, it is necessary for the individual to experience and grow within this kind of space from their infancy, and for this, a radical transformation of the currently reigning methods of teaching is required. The joint and horizontal assembly of students, teachers and workers of educational centres (at whatever level, from children’s to adult education) could be introduced as the basis of education, where knowledge flows horizontally and freely and not – as happens now – from top to bottom, with the enormous ideological and repressive weight that it carries. An individual who grows within equality and the personal and collective freedom that assemblies propose will be much more fit and motivated to change the world dominated by authoritarianism, coercion and the submission to power.
The assembly as the means of the organisation of the workers
Real assembly-ism must seek by all means available that human labour organise itself also on the bases of the assembly. For this it will be necessary to first or simultaneously eliminate the very foundations of capitalism – competition, salaried labour, capital accumulation, private ownership of the means of production, private property of land – . The current organisation of labour, based on hierarchy and vertical specialisation by category, rank and pay differences, must be substituted for assemblies or councils of workers where each individual has the capacity to decide and deliberate, where all decisions that concern a specific labour activity – be it agricultural, industrial or administrative – are debated in assembly, and where each task and who carries it out has the same value as others, and this in absolute self-management and equality between workers, with neither bosses nor foremen. Again, this type of change presupposes a previous educational experience, and we thereby repeat that these real changes must go hand in hand with changes in the mentality of the current and new generations, or they may be condemned to failure. Before the current system, which proposes the move from the verticality of education to the verticality of the exploitation of salaried labour, we oppose the move from horizontal educational assemblies to centres of horizontally self-managed labour. The aim that education will seek is the absolutely natural transition from the one to the other, in addition to carrying out a labour of extirpation of all of the traces of authoritarianism in daily life: machismo, patriarchy, submission, authoritarianism, leadership, imposition by force.
As long as schools as we know them continue to exist, as well as the the family and the social relations with which we are familiar, as long as companies and centres of work continue to function as hierarchical entities, subject to capital, assembly-ism will be nothing more than a foreign body in the same old world, and rulers and vertical asymmetries will continue to perpetuate themselves. As with every radical and utopian project, assembly-ism not only proposes a new society, but the inauguration of a new world, a new human being. And it assumes breaking radically with the past and the possession of the courage and the lucidity to travel collectively towards the unknown, inventing at each step something else rooted in freedom and solidarity.