Differing Views on Citizens’ Assemblies – Extinction Rebellion’s Third Demand

Gene McGuckin
XR sign

"Citizens' Assemblies are Driving Progress Around the World!

As voter disengagement, mistrust, and the lure of populism is growing around the world, a powerful way for citizens to lead is emerging. 

Citizens’ assemblies are gaining recognition as an exciting vehicle to give citizens a real voice. To promote evidence-based decision making. And to instill the wisdom and courage we need in our political leaders to tackle the challenges of our time. 

Citizens' assemblies are being trusted with the toughest issues:

In France,150 randomly selected citizens on the Citizens’ Assembly for the Climate have been tasked with developing an ambitious climate plan: to cut carbon emissions by 40% before 2030. 

In Scotland, their Citizens’ Assembly will make recommendations to guide the future direction of Scotland in a post-Brexit world.

In the UK, the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate will direct the government on how to meet its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

In Ireland, the Irish Citizens’ Assembly will propose legislative changes to achieve real progress on gender equality. Past Irish Citizens’ Assemblies have been held up as a model of citizen participation around the world for their groundbreaking work on issues such as climate change and abortion. 

The parliament representing the German-speaking region of Belgium has formed a permanent Citizens' Assembly.

Citizens are being entrusted to make recommendations on contentious issues that have become politically deadlocked due to partisan infighting.

Citizens’ assemblies are not run-of-the-mill government consultations managed by politicians, full of self-selected participants.

In a citizens’ assembly, randomly-selected, demographically representative citizens are recruited from the voter’s list—either by mail or by actually going door to door.

The entire in-depth process—learning from experts and stakeholders, consultations, and deliberation—is managed independently of political parties. 

2020 will deliver valuable lessons about how citizens' assemblies can lead on issues that matter to their countries—and to the world.

From inequality to threats of war to climate change, first-past-the-post politics is leaving the voices of the majority behind. 

Together, we will do everything possible to achieve a National Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform in this Parliament.

With hope and gratitude,

Anita Nickerson
Executive Director, Fair Vote Canada

P.S. Just in today! Your work at the provincial level has led to a breakthrough: a second candidate in the Ontario Liberal leadership race has committed to a binding Citizens' Assembly in Ontario! More details on Thursday when we release the results of our questionnaire to the leadership candidates."


Gene McGuckin 


Jan 14, 2020, 2:23 PM (6 days ago)




to vancouver-ecosocialists



Aaannnndddd POOF!  class and the daily class struggle disappear again! 


On a less antagonistic note, I guess we should study up on the past experiences of citizens' assemblies, their limitations, and what (if any) tactical hay can be made of the focus on them.






'evangainspower' via Vancouver Ecosocialists


Sat, Jan 18, 11:34 AM (2 days ago)




to vancouver-ecosocialists



Pardon my plausible ignorance here, but what's so wrong with Citizen's Assemblies? I can see an angle where they're seen as an effective tool for democracy when they really starve hunger for class struggle and the illusion they're doing something good when they're not is harmful. Like, it's possible because they're potentially inclusive of the bourgeoisie citizen's assemblies will just be co-opted immediately, but it doesn't seem to me that would necessarily be the case. The impression I've gotten is citizen's assemblies can be a good thing, may make things better than the current situation and certainly wouldn't automatically make things worse. What am I missing here? 



Gene McGuckin


Jan 18, 2020, 2:22 PM (2 days ago)




to vancouver-ecosocialists


Hi Evan,

Citizen assemblies have done good work on limited issues over limited time periods. To extrapolate that a randomly chosen, smallish group can somehow plan incredibly complex interwoven policies--scientific, technological, political, social, economic, environmental, legal, military, etc.—to restructure massive societies just seems to be based on more than a little wishful thinking.

But the big problem, in terms of class analysis, is the notion that—as you suggest, Evan—the bourgeoisie will suddenly not be able to, and/or won’t want to block any attempts to cut into their profits and political control by

a)    Regulating or expropriating their operations

b)    Increasing their taxes

c)   Effectively protecting and restoring the environment

d)     Giving significant power to workers, First Nations, tenants, students, etc.

e)     Stopping wars and other imperialist maneuvers abroad

f)      Increasing social spending on health, education, welfare, etc.

g)      Creating an equitable society

h)    Etc.

Anyone who’s lived through the past 40-50 years of neo-liberalism knows that the bourgeoisie is prepared to fight to the death (of everyone else) to protect against the above list. Anyone who’s watched the continuing sabotage of efforts to halt or even mitigate climate disruption and vandalism knows that they are even prepared to sacrifice their own futures and those of their children to keep the profits rolling in as long as possible.

We’ve seen them strangle unions, hollow out civil and human rights, increase poverty and death, cut social spending, mount police and armies to crush resistance, sponsor mass murder, foster bigotry and fascist gangs, even (in extreme, but not so rare cases) denounce the whole concept of democracy itself.

So, why would they step aside and not interfere with such a mild-mannered mechanism as a citizens’ assembly? What would keep them from ignoring it? Or using sympathizers within it to paralyze it? Or using their existing governmental control to crush it, if it inspired popular mobilization? As Marx said, the most class-conscious class is the ruling class.

If you say getting 3.5% of the population involved in non-violent direct action would bring bourgeois acquiescence, I would challenge that strategy’s effectiveness as well. Even from the pared-down, selective, heavily edited news we get to see, we know about countries where significantly more than 3.5% of the population are not just demanding reforms; they’re engaged in a civil war and shooting at the government without getting it to do what they want.

The good thing about the idea for citizen assemblies, in my view, is that it poses the possibility of citizens—not by sortition or government appointment—sitting down with each other in their neighbourhoods and cities, provinces, etc. to start learning how to plan a just transition to a safer and more just future, how to make that process democratic, and how to organize the class-based political battles necessary to win the power to do that.

Just to be clear, I’d expect repressive measures from bourgeois governments in this situation as well. But that would be expected, and we’d have to prepare for it. 

    With solidarity and respect,




Ann Grant


Jan 18, 2020, 4:04 PM (2 days ago)




to vancouver-ecosocialists



Thanks Evan for asking the question and prompting Gene's response.




michael a. lebowitz


Sun, Jan 19, 6:03 PM (23 hours ago)




to vancouver-ecosocialists



Greetings, folks..

    There's a world of difference between neighbourhood assemblies, popular assemblies, communal councils (as in Venezuela) on the one hand and 'citizen's assemblies' created by lot or lottery by a state above. In the former, people have come together, united by common goals, struggles or history and, in their activity, they develop their capacities, capacities that once developed potentially can be applied to other spheres of activity. If we focus upon the development of capacities (note Marx's concept of revolutionary practice-- the simultaneous change in circumstances and self-change), 'small' here may be beneficial in that it provides the space for people for protagonism (which, in the Bolivarian Constitution, is the necessary way to develop their capacities, 'individual and collective'). The participants, in this case, have and create a history.

    In contrast, in those citizen's assemblies, the atomism of the participants mirrors the dominant separation and atomism of capitalist society. Those 'citizens' have no history and expect to have no future. In this respect, it is essential to challenge the very logic of such constructions. They are easily manipulated [cf the assemblies created to develop alternative electoral schemes], and having completed their assigned tasks, return to whence they came-- their separation.

    Of course, as Gene emphasizes, any combinations of people (be they neighbourhoods, workers [eg councils or assemblies] and 'citizens') will be challenged by capital and its representatives (hired or ideological) whenever they appear to threaten capital. That's class struggle, and it is why socialists should be active in creating such structures and struggling within them and stressing the need to connect. For sure, citizens assemblies may appear attractive to many under existing conditions in the absence of anything else [i.e., what is there to lose?']; that's why it is essential to build alternatives from below.

in solidarity,