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Discourses of ‘People’s Power’

  • Heidi Brooks
Chapter
Part of the The Theories, Concepts and Practices of Democracy book series (PSTCD)

Abstract

This chapter analyses the conceptual influences on 1980s ‘people’s power’. Tracing the intellectual currents that shaped its notions of participation, it examines the ideas it generated in the ANC about the form of a future democracy. It shows how the concept of people’s power was far from uniform—drawing on a multitude of ideas including radical democratic theory, Marxism-Leninism, alternative Marxist thought, trade union and activist traditions and grassroots organising. It carves out a sense of the conceptual complexity of people’s power as a ‘model’ of democracy, and a picture of the contestations that formed about what a post-apartheid participatory democracy would look like. The chapter suggests that tensions about the role of the people in democracy severely limited the translation of people’s power into an institutional model post-1994. It argues that the prominence in the ANC of an understanding of participation which subsumed popular organisations in a centralised revolutionary project, itself played a critical role in shifting the power balance in the battle of ideas. Through absorption of vanguardism into the ANC’s dominant conception of democracy, the model of participation imbued in people’s power failed to resolve the tension between political control from above and popular initiative from below.

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Interviews

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heidi Brooks
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Political and International StudiesIIE MSAJohannesburgSouth Africa
  2. 2.Centre for Social ChangeUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

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