After our second Peoples Assembly we think it important to reflect on these events and how we can continue to build off them. Since the beginning of our first Peoples Assembly we’ve always centered the theme of abolition, having triggered a wave of assemblies across the area including at least two assemblies in Roanoke by our sister organization Roanoke Peoples Power Network. These are good developments, all political spaces in the region and nationally are dominated by liberal politics and organizations that are system-loyal, which means partnering with the cops, funding the cops, and maintaining the capitalist system which they prop up. Us creating any space, no matter how small, that’s independent from this norm is crucial to building an abolitionist movement capable of achieving its goals.
The explosion of mass rebellion in response to the cop murder of George Floyd was only ever going to be temporary. Riots, protesting, all these things can only last so long, this is why we called for the Peoples Assemblies – to take this righteous anger against state oppression and channel it into effective, sustainable, long-term organization that can get to the roots of the issue. While abolition has been the theme behind these assemblies there still is an unresolved question of what does abolition mean to each group? When we say we want abolition does this mean replacing cops and prisons with privatized services? Can we achieve an abolition of the cops and prisons while still retaining capitalism and the political system they protect? Can we use the Democratic Party as a vehicle for abolition? Can we vote in abolition under this system?
We argue “no”, abolition cannot be achieved partially while still retaining this system. We cannot defund the cops while still maintaining capitalism. We cannot abolish the prison system while still respecting private property and class. Cops, prisons, and the legal system are all means of ensuring the maintenance of capitalism, of a class dictatorship of the rich over the majority of working people. History has shown the only path forward for working people is not only abolishing the core of the capitalist state (cops, prisons, military), but abolishing capitalism entirely via working class insurrection and the successful seizure of state power by working people through revolutionary struggle.
This requires a particular political orientation and particular strategy to be victorious in our objectives to achieve real liberation, we must have no illusions about how this will be achieved. There can be no retention of any aspect of this system and its fake democracy if we truly want abolition.
The Peoples Assembly is our attempt at building a new society based on abolition out of the shell of the old. We cannot magically wave a wand and make the core of the capitalist state disappear in an instance, it will be a protracted process defined by class struggle between the rich and their cops, prisons, and military versus working people and their independent political organizations contending for power. The assemblies must act as a new deliberative body of working people which recognizes itself as a workers government-in-waiting. In order for the assemblies to be successful we cannot treat them as activist mixers where we pat ourselves on the backs for the various works we do, but to be seen as a legitimate body of the working people which can make decisions and execute them effectively in the line of march towards abolition and the seizure of state power by working people.
The assemblies must be the democracy we need, delegitimizing the local government bodies and system they maintain as we struggle towards a dual power situation where the political legitimacy of the current governing bodies have degraded while working peoples’ deliberative bodies (the assemblies) gain political legitimacy and are seen by working people as the means to address the social issues they face – from housing, to employment, to state repression, to violence inflicted between working people. In other words if we want to achieve abolition we must be able to effectively handle the social contradictions among the people that is qualitatively different from how the capitalist state handles and enforces these contradictions. Mass incarceration and punitive measures cannot address the issues of crime and anti-people behaviors, but we must be able to offer real alternatives that address the fears and caricatures people have about abolition meaning to let rapists and predators run free because the wishful thinking of idealists leaves them unprepared to handle such issues.
We have to show that the assemblies and abolition means a better society where working people can handle these issues without recreating the largest prison population in human history or the execution of people by state-sponsored enforcers who never will be accountable to the people they police over. Our deliberative bodies and organizations must become capable of fighting and defending our interests for the benefit of working people, that means training of working people who can be elected and recalled as needed based on the satisfaction of their performance by other working people. When we advocate for abolition that doesn’t mean leaving working people defenseless, quite the opposite. It means building our capacity to defend ourselves and fellow working families against anyone who may act in transgressive ways towards working people. This is a tall order when talking about how to deal with organized crime or those who have no reservations on using violence against working people to get what they want out of us.
So when we say abolition this means not just getting rid of these institutions that enforce this social order through organized violence (cops, prisons, military), but simultaneously replacing them with independent working peoples’ organizations that are accountable to the working people they serve and are drawn from. The only way to abolition is through a revolutionary socialist movement comprised of working people contending for state power which usurps it from the minoritarian capitalist class dictatorship and their fake democracy.