Popular Assemblies and Confederations

Photo by Stig Marlon Weston. A plant

Communalism is an ideology and a political movement, which aims for a direct democracy.  It abandons capitalism as ecologically unsustainable and inhumane. However communalists do not seek an alternative by strengthening the state or taking over state power for themselves, but from a social order that rises from taking part in local popular assemblies and libertarian associations based on them.  Communalism provides a clear and practical proposal for political institutions and praxis that enable social freedom.

Direct democracy 

According to communalists, all political power should belong to local popular assemblies. True democracy can only be accomplished if people take part in open assemblies, where they can meet each other face-to-face and create social forms of action together.  Every member of a community should have an equal right to propose matters to their neighbourhoods popular assembly to decide upon and also to voice their opinions on them. No act is democratically justified if it is not directly proposed, discussed and decided on by the people – and not by any kind of  representative.

Managing these jobs can, however, be left for committees or other forms of workgroups that execute the decisions of the assembly under their close scrutiny.  Membership in committees and workgroups, and also other jobs and responsibilities, can be rotated  regularly so that power doesn’t accumulate on omission to a few based on their  “expertise” or knowledge.  All members of a community don’t, of course, have to take part in all deciding about all issues, but all will have an equal possibility to take part in matters that are important to them.

Decentralizing cities

The size of cities and municipalities is crucial to fulfilling communalist ideals of civic democracy and governance of cities and municipalities by their members.  Modern metropolitan cities have to be, in the end, decentralized to smaller municipalities and communities. This also has sound ecological reasons for it.  Physical decentralization of cities will of course take a long time, but they can be decentralized institutionally before that. Popular assemblies can at first work as networks in block, neighbourhood and city levels.

Municipalization of the economy

Communalists propose that the economy should be municipalized and all privately owned land and factories and other production facilities should be moved to joint ownership by the municipality’s citizens.  Decisions about economic functions will be made by all members of the municipality in assemblies.  This would mean that economy as a whole will be brought into political decision-making and also that single factories or farms will no longer be competing entities.  In assemblies people would not only belong to their own profession with their own conflicting interests, but they would work for the benefit of the whole community. This way a basis could be created for an economy of purely ethical reasoning, where everyone would give according to their abilities and receive according to their needs.


All economic activity or decision-making  doesn’t need – or have– to be limited to areas where people can congregate to meet in assemblies. Communalists propose a confederation as democratical and libertarian municipal alliances. It is a network of administrative councils whose members are selected face-to-face in assemblies. The delegates can be recalled and changed at any moment and they are responsible to the assemblies that have chosen them.

Assemblies also carefully regulate the delegates and give guidelines to their action.  In fact they are more messengers of assemblies rather then representatives, since representatives make decisions for the communities that they represent.  Decision-making and making policy decisions will be solely the right of the assemblies. Only administration and coordination are the responsibilities of confederal councils.  

If members of a confederation cannot get to a agreement through their delegates, a confederation-wide general election can be held, where the common policy of municipalities will be decided.  When creating a confederation there can be an agreement among members that functions as a sort of a constitution for the confederation and that defines every member community’s rights. For example how they can resign from the confederation and what kind of issues can be decided in whole confederation-wide general elections.

An agreement like this would on one hand secure the rights of communities and the people who live in them against the arbitrariness of the majority opinion and also would make possible action in the case of a single community polluting other communities areas.  Also confederalism would prevent local communities from relapsing to parochialism. 

Also economic cooperation should be expanded to cover the whole confederation. ideally, communities would combine their strengths in local confederal networks that would join even larger – ultimately even worldwide – networks where production and distribution is planned according to the needs of a community and their possiblities for production. 

Assemblies as a force for change

Some of the most important methods when striving for communalism are starting local assemblies, strengthening and making their power legally binding and radically democratizing existing municipal institutions. Local assemblies should also create confederalist networks with other communities, so that the movement can rise to be national and even international.  This way directly democratic political institutions would exist already before abandoning the old social order and a relapse to oligarchy would be unlikely after a revolution.  

The functioning of assemblies could create many needed reforms in people’s lives already when political power officially belongs to the state and state-like municipal structures. When they develop assemblies will most likely come to a conflict with state institutions and the capitalist economy, because power cannot exist simultaneously belong to both the state and corporations that govern the economy and the people in directly democratic institutions. This way a revolutionary tension will form, that causes assemblies to take all political power to themselves and their confederation. 

In addition to starting assemblies communalists also favor co-ops and other co-operative forms of educational alternative economy.  However these should be regarded as mostly educational, because staying alive in the market and growing to challenge capitalism is quite unlikely. Rather these islands of an alternative economy must copy ever more practices from regular companies and they must adapt to existing economy according to Its terms.  True struggle is fought over political power that must also be used to force economic activity to become part of assemblies’ direct governance.

Editorial Comment

Leaflet written by Jyri Jaakkola, the finnish activist shot in Mexico, April 27th, 2010

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Originally published in Tekijä klikklak, 2010.
This text was distributed in Finland as a leaflet for communalists.