Popular Assemblies: Organs of Workers' Power

What is a revolution? Trotsky explained that it starts when the mass of ordinary people who normally are not interested in politics, rise up and start to take their destiny into their own hands. This is clearly what has been developing in Mexico over the recent period.

The most important aspect of the mass mobilizations we are witnessing in Mexico is the growing consciousness of the workers. Leon Trotsky explained that in a revolutionary process, what changes most rapidly is the consciousness of the millions that participate in the mobilizations, who break with routine and go out on the streets to struggle and share their experiences with thousands of other workers.

In this atmosphere, the exploited millions begin to question everything that previously seemed permanent, unchangeable, and eternal: from religious ideas and traditions to the role of government institutions and traditional public figures which seem "normal" in periods of calm. But this all changes when the working class throws itself into the struggle to improve their lives. When the police represses them, the media launches a campaign to justify the repression, and legislators use their position to pass laws ruthlessly attacking the exploited people of the country, the workers come to understand the true nature of the state. It becomes clear that it is not an impartial "referee" of society that democratically looks out for everyone's interests, but that it is an apparatus of repression which guarantees the domination of one class over another, in this case, the tool used by a minority to exploit and suppress the immense majority.

Faced with this, workers begin to realize that they cannot simply change the existing state, but that they need to create a new one, one which can meet the expectations of those millions who are currently under the yoke of capitalism. This has happened every time the working class has launched a mass struggle to change their conditions of life.

Already in the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871, the Paris workers established the most important foundations from which the great Marxist theoreticians were able to extract the vital lesson that workers cannot simply reform the existing state, but must smash the state of the exploiters and in the process, create a state of their own. Lenin further developed this idea in his book State and Revolution.

In 1905 and again in 1917, the Russian workers concretised the precise and practical form which a workers' state would take. The January 9, 1905 "Bloody Sunday" massacre radically, and practically instantaneously, transformed the consciousness of the workers. Just hours earlier they were praying to God for a few crumbs from the tsar - now they were demanding arms to fight against tsarist tyranny.

Over the next few months, the Russian workers organized a series of revolutionary offensives, using the general strike as a revolutionary method of struggle. In October of that year, the workers organized a new structure which linked up all the isolated struggles, which placed itself at the head of the struggle to organize a general strike, and gave expression to all the most pressing demands of the workers. This organizational form was the soviet (the Russian word for "assembly" or "committee"), and was the concrete expression of workers' power. The soviets weren't invented by any political party or organization - they were the independent organization of the working class, who instinctively drew the necessary conclusions in their struggle to take power, to disassemble the state apparatus of the oppressors, and to replace it with a workers' government.

However, the soviet type of organization is not exclusive to the Russian working class. In every country where the working class struggles against capitalism to change their conditions of life, they move instinctively toward this type of organization, which represents the embryo of workers' power. In recent years we have seen this type of organization emerge across Latin America: in Bolivia, Venezuela, Peru, etc. During revolutionary situations, the workers have created soviet-type organizations, which though they may be known by this or that different name, all represent the same basic embryonic workers' power.

It is only logical that during revolutionary periods, day-to-day life is disrupted, and opportunities arise for the seizure of power by the working class. The means of communication are taken over, the banks are put under workers' control, factories are occupied and run democratically by the workers themselves, land is occupied and worked by the peasants, the police are disbanded and replaced with a workers' militia which takes care of security, and that all of this is linked up and spread to other parts of the country.

All of this can be seen to one degree or another in Oaxaca, where the workers and peasants have mobilized to transform their reality, and have created an embryonic organ of workers' power, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in Spanish). The APPO represents the leadership of the workers: it is a popular assembly where the needs and demands of the movement are discussed democratically, and whose representatives are elected by the organizations that make up the APPO.

We should add that representation should be based on the number of workers each delegate represents (for example, one for every 2 or 3,000 workers), and that delegates must be recallable at any time. And if there is a wage paid for carrying out these duties, it should not exceed that of a skilled worker. Additionally, all positions should be rotated regularly so that everyone gains experience in the running of society.

In this way, all the exploited people will be represented in this popular assembly, which must discuss a plan of action in order to extend the struggle to other states, to build a united front with the PRD and the trade unions on a national level in order to broaden the struggle as much as possible, and to more effectively defend the movement from repression.

This is the significance of the APPO, an embryonic power which needs to take firm measures to disintegrate the bourgeois state apparatus and raise the level of organization of the workers. The popular assemblies have a vital role to play in the struggle for the emancipation of the exploited. The only solution, if we are to end misery and exploitation, is to fight for socialism, which will become a reality only through the establishment of a workers' government.