Full Communal Power: Against Municipal Power and More

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Jacob Richter
Full Communal Power: Against Municipal Power and More

Full Communal Power: Against Municipal Power and More

"The Commune to be master of its administration and its police." (Karl Marx and Jules Guesde)

Despite bourgeois pejoratives, there are more to communes than just isolated Utopian-Socialist outlets or "Year Zero" lifestyle policies pursued by the most insane examples of peasant revolutions.  In medieval times, there was no centralized authority to provide physical protection against agents of violent and lawless nobles in the countryside or local unrest within, and so each town formed legal communes for mutual defense and retribution against attackers, as well as for public order.  To ensure security along trade routes and other roads in their territory, rural communes were formed, and they developed in northern France, northern Germany, Sweden, Norway, and most importantly in the territories that eventually formed the Swiss Confederation (that is, modern Switzerland).  Contemporarily, the commune as a European political form takes the form of communal assemblies encompassing all who live in a Swiss municipality, communal parliaments for larger Swiss municipalities, lower levels of government in France since the French Revolution (most notably the 92 skilled workers and petit-bourgeois professionals comprising the Communal Council of the Paris Commune in 1871), and intercommunality leading up to Communities comprised of the many French communes.

In the earlier commentary on local autonomy, the word "commune" was deliberately avoided except when referring to Venezuela's communal councils and the participatory budgeting and local currency alternatives derived from them.  Emotional detachment from infantile yet glorified strike committees (better known as workers' councils, or soviets) as the allegedly definitive but sporadically meeting organs of ruling-class power for the working class - compared to the full minimum program of eliminating judges in favour of sovereign commoner juries, random selections for public office instead of elections, sovereign socioeconomic governments directly representative of ordinary people, recallability from multiple avenues, full freedom of class-strugglist assembly and association for the working class, etc. - need not lead to newfound emotional reattachment to political communes, communal power, agitational slogans for such, and thus decentralization fetishes as the new and historically petit-bourgeois dead-end-for-a-road towards ruling-class power for the working class.  The full minimum program for the Demarchic Commonwealth, the form of the so-called "dictatorship of the proletariat," can be implemented with or without full communal power, one of whose features can indeed be the decentralization of hypothetical police functions which have already been substantially democratized.  Still, the establishment of working-class hegemony at the expense of bourgeois hegemony involves eliminating bourgeois pejoratives - including those about communes from their heyday as political organs of a petit-bourgeoisie that encompassed many more occupations than it does today and of a working class not yet socially differentiated in full from that same petit-bourgeoisie.

Returning to the Venezuelan example, much has unfolded since the formation of the neighbourhood-based communal councils in April 2006 and the earlier formation (and stagnation) of the Local Public Planning Councils in June 2002.  As reported in July 2010 by Pascal Fletcher of Reuters:

"We're talking about government by the people," said Ulises Daal, a pro-Chavez parliament deputy and one of the main promoters of the project.  He says the legislative plan to set up self-sustaining, self-governing "socialist communes" builds on the existence of some 36,000 Chavez-inspired "communal councils" that already dot the country.

Daal said 214 communes were already "under construction".  Some have introduced barter markets and their own currencies.

[...]

But the Cacique Tiuna commune seemed some way off its intended goal as a self-sustaining, self-governing community.

"People don't seem enthusiastic, they don't want to participate, I don't know why, since it's for them," said the head of the carpentry shop, Alexis Valdiviezo.

He himself did not have an apartment in the commune but was brought in six months ago by the Basic Industry Ministry to oversee the creation of a "socialist" carpentry network.

"I'm living in a hotel," said Valdiviezo, who said he had been promised an apartment in the commune by Chavez.

But for many of the commune inhabitants, the apartments, built with a primary school, a state MERCAL grocery and a soon-to-be opened high school, represent a huge improvement on their previous slum accommodation in hilltop shanties.

[...]

A clause of the Communes Law stipulates that existing state governorships and municipal mayorships should make funds available to finance projects for the communes.  This has led to worries by opposition mayors that the new structures will monopolize funds, accompanied by political discrimination.

The Commune Ministry's own information sheet on the Cacique Tiuna community notes among its weaknesses: "There were commune members who hold an ideology opposed to the government".

The legislation foresees each commune having its own parliament, elected in open assemblies, and a five-member council to ensure the execution of decisions taken.  A Communal Bank, and communal justice system will also be created.

Moreover, there has been discussion on transforming the National Assembly itself into a Communal Parliament - not unlike the Swiss reconciliation of communal power with parliamentarism.  As reported in that same month by Patrick O'Donoghue of Vheadline.com:

National Assembly deputy (AN), Alfredo Murga has defended the Commune bill, stating that it aims to "establish norms regulating the constitution and organization of communes as a local socialist entity when popular power sovereignty develops principles of self-government in building a communal state."

Murga, who heads the house citizen participation committee, said a communal parliament will be the maximum expression of popular power and will transform the legislative body.  It is obvious, he continued, that the National Assembly should end up being part of the popular power.

The deputy did admit that the transformation of the National Assembly into the Commune is not part of constitutional content because there had been a reform attempt and "we all know where it ended" referring to the constitutional referendum which the government lost in 2007.

For socio-productive projects, organization and financing, the deputy declared, the communes are of vital importance and they will be regulated and monitored by the Ministry of Communes.

Like all government spokespersons to date, the deputy insisted that the bill does not aim at substituting the functions of state governorships and municipalities.

The Commune, at the moment, he stated, is limited to providing legality to socio-productive projects presented by nascent communes responding to the needs of local communities.

Contrary to Murga's defensive statements, full communal power beyond neighbourhood applications would go against at least municipal power in its present form, which already lacks even participatory budgeting and concentrates much executive power in the hands of strong-mayor officeholders or professional city managers.  In challenging the power of certain provinces, prefectures, or so-called "federated states" (like those of Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Mexico, Venezuela, and the United States), full communal power would go beyond federal districts for administering capital cities, since other key urban centers that subsidize rural areas are affected.  Taken to more advanced levels in critical urban theory, full communal power could replace whole provinces, prefectures, and federated states altogether, since it would cover entire chains of adjacent metropolitan areas known as megapoleis or megapolises.  Some of these are: BosWash (from Boston to Washington, DC), SanSan (from San Francisco to San Diego), the Great Lakes Megalopolis (ChiPitts from Chicago to Pittsburgh, plus the Golden Horseshoe centered around Toronto), the Pearl River Delta (centered around Hong Kong), the Yangtze River Delta (from Nanjing to Shanghai and all the way to Ningbo), and the Taiheiyo Belt (from Tokyo to Osaka and all the way to Fukuoka).

Does this reform facilitate the issuance of either intermediate or threshold demands?  While full communal power is a vast extension upon participatory budgeting, local currency alternatives to government money, various other features of local autonomy, formation of separate tenant associations, and subsequent property management by tenants themselves, the limits of this can already be seen in Switzerland, again specifically in its reconciliation of communal power with parliamentarism (on top of the absence of communal power at the neighbourhood level).  Without the Demarchic Commonwealth in place, full communal power at the megapolis level would most likely require parliamentary talking shops even for hypothetical sovereign socioeconomic governments directly representative of ordinary people in a given megapolis.

Does this reform enable the basic principles to be "kept consciously in view"?  Like with the earlier commentary on local autonomy, this stresses that every open class struggle grows out of political struggles (because every open class struggle is political).  The more radical challenge posed towards the power of provinces, prefectures, and federated states is one that involves politics at levels higher than local ones, and again from these higher ones emerges open class struggle.  Also, the development of megapoleis is such that full communal power at that level has become a transnational concern, as noted by the Guardian:

The world's mega-cities are merging to form vast "mega-regions" which may stretch hundreds of kilometres across countries and be home to more than 100 million people, according to a major new UN report.

[...]

The trend helped the world pass a tipping point in the last year, with more than half the world's people now living in cities.

The UN said that urbanisation is now "unstoppable."  Anna Tibaijuka, outgoing director of UN-Habitat, said: "Just over half the world now lives in cities but by 2050, over 70% of the world will be urban dwellers.  By then, only 14% of people in rich countries will live outside cities, and 33% in poor countries."

The development of mega-regions is regarded as generally positive, said the report's co-author Eduardo Lopez Moreno: "They [mega-regions], rather than countries, are now driving wealth."

"Research shows that the world's largest 40 mega-regions cover only a tiny fraction of the habitable surface of our planet and are home to fewer than 18% of the world's population [but] account for 66% of all economic activity and about 85% of technological and scientific innovation," said Moreno.

"The top 25 cities in the world account for more than half of the world's wealth," he added. "And the five largest cities in India and China now account for 50% of those countries' wealth."

[...]

The growth of mega-regions and cities is also leading to unprecedented urban sprawl, new slums, unbalanced development and income inequalities as more and more people move to satellite or dormitory cities.

 

REFERENCES

 

Programme of the French Workers' Party by Karl Marx and Jules Guesde [[url=http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm[/url]]">http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1880/05/parti-ouvrier.htm]htt...

Medieval Movements and the Origins of Switzerland by Greg Bryant [[url=http://www.rainmagazine.com/archive/1991-1/medieval-movements-and-the-origins-of-switzerland[/url]]">http://www.rainmagazine.com/archive/1991-1/medieval-movements-and-the-or...

Venezuela's Participatory Socialism by Roger Burbach and Camila Piñeiro [[url=http://www.sdonline.org/45/burbach-pineiro.htm[/url]]">http://www.sdonline.org/45/burbach-pineiro.htm]http://www.sdonline.org/4...

Chavez "communes" stoke Venezuela democracy debate by Pascal Fletcher, Reuters [[url=http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE66E7E420100715[/url]]">http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE66E7E420100715]http://www.reuters....

AN deputy: Communal parliament maximum expression of popular power by Patrick O'Donoghue, Vheadline.com [[url=http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=94214[/url]]">http://www.vheadline.com/readnews.asp?id=94214]http://www.vheadline.com/...

UN report: World's biggest cities merging into 'mega-regions' by John Vidal, Guardian [[url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/22/un-cities-mega-regions[/url]]">http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/mar/22/un-cities-mega-regions]http:...