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What Workers’ Councils?


The Labour Movement before and after April 25th.

Until April 25th the working classes in Portugal, in the struggles they had embarked on against capitalism (throughout the fascist period), had had few possibilities of getting to know and of confronting the party and trade union structures which claimed to represent and defend them. This aspect is quite significant. It helps us to understand the wave of radical autonomous strikes unleashed by the working class after April 25th.

It was precisely because there were no structures of party and union type, talking of the ‘stability of the national economy’ (as the PCP and Intersindical so flagrantly did after April 25th) that radicalisation of autonomous working class action could reach undreamt of proportions.

The upsurge of demands attempting primarily to the poverty stricken situation of the Portuguese workers, soon by-passed this stage of making demands : it became a frontal attack on the basic structures of capitalism. Aims that appeared revolutionary, such as the workers’ struggle to reduce wage differentials, were accompanied by forms embodying direct democracy : the General Assemblies of Workers.

As it was of primary importance to Intersindical and to the PCP to deviate this movement into reformist channels, there was a split. A spontaneous, autonomous movement arose. It was at one and the same time the expression of a revolutionary necessity in the face or capitalist exploitation and a movement against the organisations that were preventing the achievement of these aims.

The General Assemblies, being the direct emanation of the needs of all the workers, represented an important step in the direction of workers’ emancipation. The Workers’ Committees, elected during struggles, reflected the most radical layer of workers. While the workers elected to the Committees were the expression of the requirements of the at struggleat the place of work, another movement developed and grew radical, giving rise to the Inter-Factory Committees.

The Inter-Factory Committees

Because of its perspectives this profoundly anti-capitalist workers’ movement was bound to spread. The TAP strike was the highest point of this movement.

When troops occupied the airport the striking workers realised that their revolutionary demands had to be extended and resolved by the entire working class. As at TAP most of the strikes that broke out – Lisnave, EFACEC, Timex, CTT (postal workers), Soganthal – represented a revolutionary necessity that could not be limited to ‘defence of the national economy’. The framework of struggle had to shift from a unit of production to a grouping of production units.

The Inter-Factory Committees at first accurately reflected these aspirations. But as soon as they were infiltrated by various leftist groups, manipulations (the habitual practice of these groups) cropped up. This was the beginning of the end for the Inter-Factory Committees. Moreover the collapse of struggles in those factories which had no concrete aims for uniting among themselves, and the demobilisation of the rank and file, made it easier for the leftist groups to gain control. The comrades of the Workers’ Committees who, in the factory struggles, had been the radical expression of the needs of the workers, became, on the InterFactory Committees, the agents and recruiters serving the needs of the various leftist parties to which they belonged.

Their activity as revolutionary militants, from that time on, was at the service of the sects directing them. It was contrary to the interests of the working masses. It became increasingly bureaucratic and remote, whether by placing itself entirely at the service of party ideologies or, even more dangerously, when the militants themselves became
the new bosses through the Workers’ Committees which now manage almost all the factories described as being self-managed.

Choosing between parties began to constitute the fundamental life of the Inter-Factory Committees. Because they did: not in any way reflect the workers’ interests, a situation of frustration and impasse developed.

The PRP-BR (Proletarian Revolutionary Party – Revolutionary Brigades) took account of this situation. It tried to exploit it to its Own advantage with the creation of the Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors (CRTSM).

Deadlock in the Working Class Struggle: The Meaning of the Councils

The frustration created by interparty struggles led large sections of the working masses into a certain stagnation. This was reflected not only in the refusal to adhere to one party or another; the working class now also understood that ‘Portuguese-style socialism’ only called for sacrifices.

Portuguese capitalism could only emerge from the crisis it is now going through if the workers were ready to pay with their sweat for the reconstruction of the national economy. In populist ideological terms, the MFA and its acolytes call this ‘the Battle for Production’.

The MFA, the parties and the unions not only enter the Workers and Tenants Committee to try to recuperate the spontaneous energy which the creation of the Committees was based on, but also encourage the appearance of radical structures in order to recuperate them too, later on.

The example of the CRTSM is significant of what manipulation by a party or by a ‘progressive’ section of the MFA can amount to. It was no accident that the PRP and the ‘progressive’ section of the MFA had to assist the structuring of the CRTSM, as a springboard for future manipulation.

On the one hand the PRP cannot exist as a party without recruiting workers. Its aim is to capture the state machine, with a view to later becoming the new managers and exploiters – hence the need to create the CRTSM as a parallel structure to attain these objectives. The ‘progressive’ section of the MFA uses these same Councils with the aim of emerging from the current crisis capitalism is going through. It believes that the Councils can stimulate the labour force to produce more.

Why is this? This section of the MFA has understood that Intersindical and the existing parties no longer have enough pull to mobilise working people for the ‘Battle for Production’. That is why they are using these new forms of organisation, which can be more representative and have an impact on workers. But do the CRTSM at present have an influence on the working class?

Deadlock in the Autonomous Struggles: The Revolutionary Alternative

In the current class struggle in Portugal the workers are faced by contending forces. They must choose the way most in conformity with their revolutionary interests.

On the one hand the workers have already understood that, basically, parties and unions only canalise struggles in terms of party quarrels, and manipulate the autonomous interests of the working class.

The demonstrations of June 17 and July 6 are significant examples. The June 17 demo was entirely stage-managed by the PRP. Of the two demonstrations on July 6, the one called by Siderurgia was stage-managed by the UDP, that called by TAP, TLP, Metro, etc. by the MRPP. Their objectives were the same: to mobilise the workers in the name of objectives described as ‘non-party’ , but in reality for the furtherance of their own party interests. What must be emphasised is that these parties already need the ‘non-party’ label to mobilise the workers, and they use this mobilisation only for their own growth .

The PRP is distinguished by the subtlety of the organisational forms it has created. It not only called allegedly non-party demos, but began by creating an allegedly non-party structure: the CRTSM. It was under this name that it subsequently developed its whole political practice.

The CRTSM are not organs generated directly by the practical needs of workers in struggle. They appeared at the very moment when workers began to feel the need to create new forms of organisation that transcend union and party structures and connect up different struggles in a more significant way. In this period there is not only an impasse in the development of the workers’ autonomous struggles, saturated as they are by the acticity of the parties. The autonomous organisational forms that could develop unity between different struggles have not yet been found by the workers. There is plenty of scope for opportunist intervention.
The need persists for the workers to organise autonomously, without being manipulated by party or union bureaucracies. The rank and file General Assemblies in factories, streets, hospitals, countryside, etc., whether at a local, regional or national level, need to be extended and’ to develop what the Inter-Factory Committees put forward at the start as the emancipation of all workers. They must be democratically elected and subject to instant recall. They should have the function of carrying through in practice what is required at present, and the future aim of destroying the state machine.

The workers will have to struggle against everything and everyone who embodies the perpetuation of this society. There is a whole world of exploitation to overcome, starting with factories, transport, commerce and hospitals and finishing with the state. That is why the workers can only count on their own strength.
They cannot delegate the carrying through of their revolutionary interests to the various deities on the Portuguese scene.

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