Posts Tagged ‘Carnation Revolution’

Maurice Brinton – Portuguese Diary (ii)

August 24, 2010 2 comments

M. Brinton, Portuguese Diary 2, in D. Goodway (eds), For Workers’ Power: The Selected Writings of Maurice Brinton (Oakland: AK Press, 2004), pp. 185-186

Also see Portuguese Diary (i).

April 19, 1976, a Radio Televisao Portugues crew, in a van, is doing a programme on “the vision of socialism”. It is stopping in the street, at factory gates, in markets, talking to people and recording their replies. It’s a tight fit inside: seven people and lots of equipment.

We make for Barreiro, an industrial town across the river from Lisbon. Once there, there is no problem getting to the giant CUF chemical works. The sky is grey, part cloud, part smoke. The walls are grey too, but bespattered with the red of posters. The plant, the stacks, the water towers hovering above us look as if built in the last century. Long streets of hangers, stores, sheds, many with broken windows. There is noise, and rust and the plaster is peeling off the front of many buildings. Heavy smells hang in the air. The road is in poor repair. An old-fashioned capitalism dearly cohabits with the new.

We pace through mean little streets of minute, decrepit terraced housing. “‘Sulphuric Acid Street”. “Candle Grease Street”. Capitalism even murders the imagination. The houses were built six, seven decades ago, possibly more. People still live there – sort of.

This is the heartland of the PCP, its ideological and physical domain. Its posters are everywhere. A gigantic PCP balloon is tied to a rope between two rooftops. “Unity with the MFA”. ‘Vote PCP”. The van stops and the crew take up their positions near 10 a group of women of indeterminate age, going in. They are not in the least shy and talk readily. “Socialism?” – “A steady job!” – “Like this?” – No answer. A steady drizzle is falling. “Like this?”, the producer repeats. The women, sensing something strange, turn on him, abuse the television, and march off, their fists raised, shouting “PCP! PCP!”


There are joyful moments, too. Walking along the Tagus waterfront, between lie Station and the Praca do Comercio we stop in front of a particularly fine example of mural art. Enormous. Unforgettable. “Socialist realism” at its hideous best.

The reds and yellows are gaudy as usual – caricatures of real colour. The oppressed have very square jaws, very short hair, enormous arms, a very determined look. The proletariat, as seen by the Maoists is clearly more brawn than brain: the sort of animal any skilful Leninist could easily ride to the revolution! But the “anarcho-cynicalists” have been at work. Modern capitalism requires modern transport.
The MRPP leader is calling for a cab.


Another story about taxis. In Elvas, in the East, some of the estates belonging big landlords have been taken over by those who work them. The usual pattern – for the agricultural workers to occupy first and seek authority later -from the local centre of the IRA.

One recently expropriated latifundiario (latifundista in Spanish) also happened own the biggest taxi business in town. His drivers disliked him heartily and were much impressed with the new goings on in the co-operative. So they took over the taxis.

But the cult of authority dies hard. The act had to be “legitimized”, entered “into the books”. So the cab drivers all turn up one morning at the IRA Headquarters for an “official” sanction. The Ministry of Agriculture has files on tenants, trees, touros … and technical aid – but nothing on how legally to appropriate a fleet of taxis. The Revolution creates its own surrealist precedents.


May Day, 1976. Top of the Avenida Almirante Reis in Lisbon. The demonstration called by Intersindical is marching past. Municipal workers in their Sunday best Railway workers in serried ranks, decorated lorries packed with agricultural workers carrying pitchforks. Occasional singing. Very occasional laughter. Sellers do a roaring trade in political stickers, selling to those watching the procession: stickers for the Association of Collectivized Farms, for the Housing Fund, for student or women’s groups. Schoolteachers, building workers, hospital workers chant “Intersindical, Intersindical” as they pass, ten or twelve abreast. Twenty thousand people march by _ apparently far fewer than last year. The traffic has prudently been stopped, although Portuguese motorists have learnt patience – the hard way.

It is a fine warm day. Banners, unbelievably, still demand “Unity with the MFA’ – the very MFA which is now the main brake on the revolution. They also demand the right to full employment and vigilance against fascists.

Do I sense a certain weariness? There is none of the exaltation, of the euphoria of even a few months ago – as if people realized that it would take more than mural graffiti to bring down the walls of capital. The Party is everywhere, though nowhere in its true garb. In the Association of University Professors. In the Association of Municipal Associations. The bank employees march by shouting “No to Reaction!” One or two Tenants’ Committees carry colourful banners … demanding government loans. The two groups march next to each other. Someone should introduce them to one another!

At the end of the procession a mass of red flags and a few hundred very young people shouting raucously: “Unidad sindical unidad sindical“. One might be dreaming. They want the PCP and PS (Socialist Party) to take power, in order to expose them. And Intersindical too. To form a government “without generals or capitalists”. Yes, the Trots. In their rightful place. At the tailend of a Stalinist demonstration.


Postal Workers’ Manifesto

August 24, 2010 2 comments

Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 8, No. 3 (December 1975), pp. 3-5

The CTT (Post Office) workers came out on strike on June 17, 1974. As the dispute hit directly at the new administration it was savagely repressed by the government and virulently denounced by the PCP. For the PCP there could be no strikes ‘against the collectivity’. The problem was that the CTT workers did not feel themselves part of the ‘collectivity’. After all the belief in the union structure which the ‘Pro-Union Committee’ (CPS) had fostered, the CTT workers were ‘amazed’ at being attacked publicly by the so-called political Party of the Working Class. The Committee issuing the manifesto was made up of various union tendencies from before April 25th and a number of worker militants integrated onto the Committee at a later date. Despite illusions as to the role of the PCP and as to the role of unions as organs of struggle, the document raises a number of interesting points.

‘A great campaign of lies continues to fall upon us, the workers of CTT. The real meaning of our struggle persistently continues to be misrepresented, so that public opinion has come out against us, trying to raise doubts and confusion among us, and seeking to isolate the pro-union workers’ committee.

We daily receive hundreds of telephone calls and telegrams from allover the country in which the CTT workers demonstrate their support, decide to continue united in struggle, and ask that we deny and denounce the untrue allegations made against the Committee and against all the workers of CTT. It is the indignant voices of 35,000 workers, and the right of the public to receive correct information ~hich compel us, yet again, to deny the falsehoods and insinuations made against us. These are made by the leaders of the Lisbon Regional Organisation (DORL) of the so-called Communist Party, an organisation which despite calling itself the party of the workers and the defender of their interests has distinguished itself in this campaign by attacking our struggle. It is an organisation which is certainly aware of the facts. But they have misrepresented and falsified our struggle in their communiques, in their meetings, in their press and even in other organs of information, through articles and declarations from their members and sympathisers.

Let us look, for example, at some of the most important points of the DORL communique of the so-called Communist Party, which appeared in the newspapers of June 28, 1974 :

1) On the composition of the CPS they say it is made up of elements which appeared after April 25th, replacing the workers who, for nearly 4 years, had struggled hard and honestly for the creation of a union.
They try to create the impression that the elements of this Committee never did any work for the workers.
It is evident that a committee which tried to organise union work in an enterprise numbering 35,000 workers could not function with a small number of people. Because of this the Committee was enlarged to help it cope with the many problems which the workers face. The new members of the Committee were democratically elected by the workers, at a meeting held in the Sports Pavilion on May 5.

2) The PCP claims that the Committee “called the strike ‘over the heads of the majority of CTT workers’. As we have announced a number of times (and the majority of CTT workers can confirm this) the strike was decided by the workers, in a large meeting of delegates, through telephone contacts with various parts of the country who could not be present, and in Assemblies held in many work-places. The decision to strike was not taken by the CPS. The Committee limited itself to carrying out the instructions of the workers. Moreover, the strike was declared on June 12 and there was still time until June 17 for the government to put forward a negotiable counter-proposal.

The PCP knows this very well. A member of their Central Committe was informed of it when he was at our offices. We don’t understand why they continue to lie about us and seek to prevent the public from being accurately informed.

3) As regards the abandoning of the struggle by those who are most impartial, we ask DORL to say who these are.

4) The communique reiterates various accusations against individual-workers of CTT, saying that they are deeply implicated in Fascism. The CPS would appreciate knowing their names and being provided with proofs, so that we can collate all the facts and speed up the purging processes.

5) The communique continues: ‘Workers of CTT, it is you and only yqu who can accept the government proposalso In all stations you should hold meetings and approve motions in support of the government proposals’. We can say that in all stations meetings have taken place and motions have been proposed. All rejected the government proposals.

Meanwhile the workers have approved a new list of demands 7 which has already been handed in.

While we have tried to clear up some fundamental points the list of lies is long. The CPS have more important tasks than entering into polemics with political organisations. This was never our intention and we hope we won’t be forced to spend our time in such replies. Political organisations who, for whatever reasons, oppose our struggle should do so honestly, and not use lies and falsifications which have an effect on public opinion. They should reply to the facts.

Once again we affirm that we are reacting to the so-called Communist Party because they have been the standard-bearers of the struggle against us, and the principal force which supports the offensive against us.

The principal task of the Committee is to develop the work of the union and the united struggle of the workers in the defense of their interests and needs.

Lisbon, June 29, 1974.

The above document was sent to all the national papers. None of them published it.

What Workers’ Councils?

August 24, 2010 2 comments


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.

Portugal: North and South

August 24, 2010 2 comments

Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 8, No. 3 (December 1975), pp. 10-16

The following text was sent to ‘Solidarity’ and to ‘Liberation’ magazine (New York) at the end of August 1975 by Phil Meyler (King Mob sympathiser). The author has lived in Portugal for some time and speaks the language fluently. We hope to publish in the spring a substantial book by Phil, dealing in depth with the background and evolution of the Portuguese events to date. The text includes excerpts from many documents (produced by tenants’ committees, shanty town collectives, agricultural workers’ groups, self-managed factories, etc.) hitherto unavailable in English. The book, which runs to about 90, 000 words, will probably cost about £1.00. Advance orders welcome.

April 25, 1974 was welcomed as a liberation by nearly all sections of Portuguese society. But this pluralism hid deeper contradictions which only later became apparent.

The most advanced industrial areas in Portugal are found in the South, in and around Lisbon in particular. In the South are also found the large latifundias and estates, many of which were not worked at all, or were only worked in a semi-feudal manner. In the North the situation is entirely different: capital accumulation has been very slow many of the companies employ fewer than 6 workers, land is divided up into small holdings and rented out in lots of less than 5 hectares. This is only a general pattern and there are exceptions. North and South differ in their dominant types of production. So too does the working class movement and the type of class struggle engaged in.

In their practice the five successive governments have ignored this fact. The result is that the country is rapidly heading towards a confrontation between North and South.

The policies of Agrarian Reform (occupations of unproductive land with a view to making them productive) benefited the southern agricultural workers in a real way. But it had little relevance for the northern part of the country. The policies of nationalisations affected the economic structure of the South while hardly touching the North. In effect the North was all but abounded. Now that the North wreaks its vengeance onto the streets it is being called ‘reactionary’, ‘fascist’, ‘counterrevolutionary’, etc.

People in the North blame the government. But who is the government? The dominant influence is the PCP and its sister MDP-CDE (Portugese Democratic Movement). Thus the number of political party offices reduced to ruins in the North is not the advance of a fascist movement but the expression of real worries felt by the majority of the northern working class and small peasant farmers. It is an anti-Communist movement because it was the Communist Party who added to their miseries, who did not respect working class democracy, and finally insulted the workers by saying that they were manipulated by fascist organisations, by ELP, by the CIA. All the left groups follow the chant of the PCP (with the exception of the Maoist MRPP) and then wonder why their own offices are being burnt down. They play games with words, calling the CP reformist or revisionist but in the last analysis rush into its arms as soon as they are invited to do so. The CP is, after all well installed in the government apparatus and all of these groups have ambitions of power. A ‘United Front’ is merely a shortcut to sitting in government.

Two main forces oppose one another throughout the country. In the fifth government there are the forces of state capitalism: Vasco Goncalves and the Vasco wing of the MFA, the PCP, the MDP-CDE. Their ‘socialism by decree’ has been exposed time and time again. On the other hand there is the Socialist Party, the Melo Antunes wing of the MFA, private capitalism, liberal social-democracy. Both forces fight one another for control of the existiing state apparatus. Neither has anything to do with social revolution. Thus:

– The document of Melo Antunes (or Document of the Nine) cpmplained of a ‘revolutionary vanguard’ operating from Lisbon and the South against the will of the rest of the population. But it also suggested. that the only answer was in economic partnership with the EEC and EFTA.

– The line of Vasco Goncalves demagogically called for the continuation of the ‘revolutionary procecs’, ‘popular power’ (Neighbourhood Committees, Factory Committees, Village Councils, etc.), The PCP had originally attacked all of these. It also called for agrarian reform and for nationalisations.

– The document of COPCON which criticises the CP and proposes a more radical type of ‘popular power’, total orientation of the economy towards agricultural products, abolition of luxury goods; etc., with a view to becoming ‘nationally independent’.

Melo Antunes is supported by the Socialist Party and by the PPD. Goncalves is supported by the PCP and MDP. COPCON is supported by most groups (except the Maoists) to the left of the PCP.

Historically the PCP was always stronger in the South. During the 60’s there was a series of strikes and labour disputes and the PCP and other groups participated in them. The North, and especially the North East, was completely ‘closed’. It was ruled by local fascists, priests and other such types. It is rich in tradition, ignorant of the outside world, poor, and getting poorer.

Food prices rose by 15% (between July 1974 and July 1975) in the cities (Lisbon and Porto) and in the South. They rose by 40% in the interior and in the North. Housing costs, on the other hand, rose by 6% in Lisbon while in the North, where most people own their houses, there was no significant change.

Measures such as the reduction of the price of fertiliser, etc., were never put into practice in the North because the fascist apparatus remained intact there. Laws coming from Lisbon were just ignored.


The PCP was no different from any of the right-wing parties operating in the North. The Communists infiltrated the local apparatus of the state, without destroying it. In general terms nothing changed, except the demagogy of those sitting behind the desks. After April 25 most people accepted this (any change was welcome). But it soon became apparent that it was all power politics and nothing fundamental would alter. Credits and grants were. given out to those most loyal to the PCP (just as in the old days they had been granted to those most loyal to the fascists). For the vast majority of people the situation got worse’.

The ‘dynamisation’ programme in the North, organised by the MFA, was designed to explain to people why April 25 was necessary. It made great promises but nothing concrete was done. Very often it was carried out paternalistically the people of the North were stupid and reactionary and had to be educated in a more revolutionary fashion. The people wanted fertiliser and all they got was songs and posters.

Administrative Committees were appointed from above in certain areas and certain of the larger factories in a very dictatorial fashion. No elections took p~ace and people naturally resented this.

With all these problems the only support which the North received was from the right wing groups (PPD, CDS, etc.). They blamed the Communist government in the South. Rumours that the Communists would take away their houses, their plots, that the country was heading for collapse and that they would be without work mounted.. The right found fertile soil for their operations.

Groups such as ELP and the CIA (who have 180 agents and hundreds of operatives, selected from Portuguese immigrants in the USA) found their work made easier and easier everyday.

Thus in the factory of Manuel Goncalves in Famelicao (near Porto) could be witnessed the unhappy scene of thousands of workers shouting ‘Down with the Committee, long live the Boss’. In this chemical factory, employing almost 4000 workers, an Administrative Committee was appointed by the government, and a Union Committee appointed itself. The Union Committee was entirely PCP.

The boss (at present in Spain) was implicated in the March 11 coup and is related to ELP. But what the workers meant was that their new boss (the state) was no better than their old boss. They are’afraid for the security of their jobs, for their future. Inteernational pressures, (raw materials were refused the factory by a Swiss company unless the order was signed by the boss) put their jobs in jeopardy. Similarly, the new Union Committee was engaged in all sorts of manoeuvres and undemocratic practices. The difference between the idea (workers’ control)
and the practice (control of the workers) has led the workers to reject a Communist solution altogether, and to opt for private capitalism and for support for the old boss. In new elections in the area many of the workers forecast a Socialist Party’ majority.


The PCP have been joined by most of the groups on the so-called left: FSP, MES, LUAR, PRP-BR, MDP-CDE, LCI, PRT (i.e. all the leninist and trotskyist groups). COPCON has been drawn into the ranks as well. The ppwerful Fifth Division (responsible for much of the information,etc.) also supports this block.

On the other side there are the 9 signatories of the Melo Antunes document, President Costa Gomes, the Socialist Party and the PPD.

Thehunting of Communists has begun in the North; the hunt for “reactionaries’ has begun in the South. No matter which side wins it is doubtful that they can stabilise the economy. There are 400,000 unemployed and another 400,000 emigrants returning from Angolao. There is the, prospect of economic collapse. Neither state capitalism nor private capitalism (nor various mixtures of the two) could easily contain the crisis. If the sixth government is Socialist Party-dominated it will have easier access to international funds and credits. But even they will soon realise that the Western European model of social-democracy is not enough to put the economy back on its feet. To do this the help of the workers themselves is absolutely essential.

The leninist groups realised this from the beginning. When the workers began occupying factories, farms and houses, the State began to channel this activity into ‘cooperatives’, as the form best suited to recuperate and control these spontaneous actions. The State, lacking the, capital to invest in these companies, invested the one thing, there was in plentiful supply: labour. By creating the myth that the companies actually belonged to the workers it was easier to extract more labour power from them. Workers now worked 12 hours instead of 8 – and accepted lower wages. This in essence is the idea behind the PCP’s ‘Battle for Production’. The cooperative movement is not the form chosen, by the revolutionary proletariat but is the form used by the bourgeoisie to
recuperate proletarian self-activity.

Social-democracy will be forced to utilise a similar strategy, though the ideology will not be so blatant. It is in this light that the Melo Antunes document rejects ‘Western types of socialism’.
It is therefore extremely dangerous to describe the Northern workers as being ‘reactionaries’ or ‘manipulated by reactionaries’ (as all the so-called left wing groups do). This idea has been publicised outside Portugal as well: by I.S. in England, by P.L.P. in the US (to name but two). It is dangerous and divisive and, if continued, will lead to a civil war waged on geographical rather than class lines, which will benefit the workers in no way whatever. This is not to underestimate the activities of groups like ELP or the CIA. It is merely to show that the CIA and ELP cannot operate without a real basis of dissatisfaction.


Apart from differences in the pattern of production and of capital accumulation, it is obvious that different ideological structures pertain North and South. Since state capitalism and its decrees offer nothing
to the North they choose the only option which does: liberal capitalism. In the North the state apparatus is weak (a throw-off from Lisbon) and it is the local priests and bosses who wield real power. In the South, where most of the state bureaucracy operates, the opposite is the case. Technicians (in various departments) have been absorbed into the ‘revolutionary’ process and support the accumulation of power by the State and thus, finally, their own power. Such a centralisation of power offers nothing to the Northern worker~ and peasant farmers. Nor does it threaten the local power structure.

A certain amount of support exists among the Alentejo agricultural workers for the drive towards state capitalism; it opens up a door whereby they can seize land, factories, etc. There is a real difference for them. Thus the technicians of SAAL (Housing) or IRA (Agrarian Reform) are not seen as enemies, despite the distrust they inspire. For tlle moment there are real benefits: a new house, a farmj etc. Thus the whole idea of ‘popular power’ finds an echo.

In the North it has nothing to offer. No village Councils or Neighbourhood Committees exist that have any meaning for the local population. In one town near Porto where the PCP seized the local Council, it set up links between the Neighbourhood Committee and the Council. When the PCP were defeated in the elections the Neighbourhood Committee passed to the PPD and CDS too. It is now being used to ‘improve’ the area – but only those roads in which there are shops and factories, etc. By not smashing the fascist apparatus but merely occupying it the PCP cut their own throats.

Thus the whole ideological apparatus in the South was used for the needs of developing capitalism, needs which momentarily coincided on certain points with the demands of the workers. In the North the, ideological apparatus remains intact, extremely authoritarian and reactionary (even when it is controlled by the PCP). Other groups to the left of the CP, but who play the same game are therefore, quite understandably, as liable to be attacked. Thus MES, LCI, FEC(ml) have all had their offices burned in various towns. (I saw a ridiculous article in Socialist Worker which said that the struggles in the North could not be seen as heroic anti-stalinism. The evidence given for this was that even the offices of the maoist FEC (ml) had been destroyed – as though local people did not see the FEb as being just as stalinist as the CP.)


Such a question obviously does not depend on Portugal alone. The success of a revolution here depends on successes elsewhere.

There are autonomous struggles. From May 1975 most of the workers’ groups have rejected the elites (‘cupulas’) of the various political parties. Thus Factory Committees refuse to take party positions. Neighbourhood Committees have had demonstrations which forbade all party banners. Party interventions and attempts at manipulation (under the guise of ‘popular power’) have met a considerable and firm resistance from the rank and file.

But through Vasco Goncalves (who incidentally owns a Banking company and a civil-construction firm) ‘popular power’ has become identified with the line of the PCP and all the undemocratic practices which go with it. The PCP were at first doubtful about ‘popular power’ (calling it ‘anarcho-populism’) but finally (under duress) came round to accepting it, because they thought they could manipulate it.

Two sections of the ruling class are feuding among themselves and using the name of the workers in their scramble for power. But the workers are not putty in the hands of these factions. They have a practice of their own, and realise it more and more everyday. At the moment, because of the infiltration of these factions into their organisations, and because of the crisis in capitalism which hits them first, the workers are weak. There is little organisation: parties use them, play games with them. But workers are rejecting this too. They are searching for
a way out. The COPCON document seemed, superficially, to offer a way out. It was certainly, to start with, a rejection of the PCP, which is why it was supported by some 100,000 workers in a demonstration on August 20.
It has since then been integrated into the CP policy; it is now seen that in no way does it provide a way out.

It is essential that the workers’ movement by-pass the CP altogether. The so-called left wing groups have not realised this. They too are wedded to the perspective of state capitalism. They have formed a ‘United Front’ with the PCP, and have started down the road to their own destruction. All the better for the workers, in the long run.

The next issue of Combate will have an interview with some workers of ‘Manuel Goncalves’ and we are trying to arrange a round table discussion between a self-managed factory (Sousa Abreu) and Manuel Goncalves (both are in the same town). We reject the notion ‘reactionary’ in the way it is used by the left-wing groups. The struggle in Manuel Goncalves is not yet revolutionary (since they don’t see through the ideology of the PSP) but neither is it reactionary. Revolution can only mean a total break with both the PSP and the PCP (and their satellites). It is the only meaningful possibility.

Maurice Brinton – Portuguese Diary (i)

August 24, 2010 4 comments

Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 8, No. 3 (December 1975), pp. 17-23

A diary by Maurice Brinton describing some experiences in Portugal during August 1975.

Also see Portuguese Diary (ii).


Evora is at the heart of the Alentejo, and the Alentejo is the heartland of the agrarian revolution. The latifundia are vast and for decades have been neglected. The soil is dry and hard, and upon it grow olives and cork. Wheat and maize would also grow readily if it were ploughed and watered. But this would interfere with the joys of hunting,

It is here that the class struggle has erupted in one of its most advanced forms. The agricultural labourers have seized many of the large estates. In some the former owners have fled, occasionally leaving ‘managers’ to, defend their interests. In others they have remained, seeking to repossess their property through the courts or through direct action. The balance of power varies from village to village, estate to estate.

We sleep on the floor of a large isolated farmhouse about 3 miles out of town. Some 15 Portuguese comrades have been lodging there every night for several months. The farm has been expropriated by the local Institute for Agrarian Reform (IRA) in which libertarian revolutionaries work in uneasy alliance with the representative of the Ministry of Agriculture and members of the local MFA. Their aim is to help the farm workers to solve some of the practical problems which immediately and inevitably crop up in the wake of occupations. The libertarians want to assist, without substituting themselves for those they are seeking to help. It is an almost impossible task.

The farm comprises a large communal living room in which meals are taken at daybreak or sundown. From it passages lead to a number of communicating rooms, stripped of all furniture and fittings, except for mattresses strewn on the floor. There is running water and electricity. There is beer in the fridge and bread and cheese are brought back from the town each day. There are also sten-guns amid the guitars. Dispossessed landlords have threatened to string the young revolutionaries up from the nearest lamp-post at the opportune time, ‘when we return to power’. Under such a threat the wine tastes sweeter and life is lived to the full.

On our first evening we drive out in a jeep some 30 miles to Santana do Campo. The villagers have a problem. They want representatives of the IRA there, ‘to help them bring pressure on the government’. Several farms were occupied in the morning. The owners have paid no wages for several weeks. Two managers were locked up that very afternoon ‘to help the absentee landlord face up to his responsibilities’.

The people are gathered in the local school – 130 agricultural workers with their wives and kids, and quite a number of the old folk. As so often in the countryside, the school is the only public hall. The lights can be seen from a long way off. They illuminate rugged faces, as varied as their owners, and quite unlike the crude stereotyped models of the maoist posters. The whole village has turned up to elect the Council and to decide what to do with the two men incarcerated in the stable. Everyone knows everyone. Anyone over 16 can be nominated and can cast a vote. Little tickets are handed out. Some of the olderwomen decline to take one. Anyone can write anyone else’s name on the slip. The eight people securing the highest number of votes will constitute the Council. Speeches are unnecessary. It is in struggle, over the last few months, that credentials were earned. The selected names are read out by four ‘tellers’, the tickets sorted into little piles. The new Council has been elected.

The main problem is then outlined to the visitors from the Evora IRA. Two opinions emerge: a union representative urges caution. (The Agricultural Workers’ Union is affiliated to Intersindical, the PCP dominated trade union federation. The Minister of Agricultµre, who is sympathetic to the Party, must not be embarrassed.) Others suggest a different course of action. ‘Give them no food or drink. Let the news out. The Bank will cough up soon enough’. No one discusses the PCP or its politics as such. The two alternatives are mutually exclusive. The radical proposal secures a majority. The cheque materialises within 24 hours.

The following day we set out in the jeep, in the full heat of the early afternoon, to visit a big farm where the workers are reluctant to impose any kind of control on the owner. The farm, built in 1945, is beautifully laid out. The main buildings and barns are painted blue and white. Cows are grazing in the fields and watch us pass impassively. Only the turkeys noisily announce Our arrival as the jeep edges its way between them, raising a great cloud of dust.

The farm workers are gathered in a large barn, eight or ten of them, sitting on sacks of grain, talking heatedly. Our party enters three young agronomists from the Evora Institute of Agrarian Reform (with long hair and determined expressions), a young officer in uniform (with even longer hair) and us two political tourists. An excited argument gets under way and lasts about an hour. The local MFA is keen to ensure that the workers elect a committee which would exercise some ‘control’ on the owner and prevent him from doing ‘economic sabotage’ – such as slaughtering cattle, disposing of his tractors or selling the grain (instead of keeping it for sowing). The workers are not convinced. The farm is a ‘model farm’. The boss has maintained reasonable relations with his men, often working among them. The paternalism has had its effects. The men lack confidence. An old, edentulous worker fiercely articulates their innermost fears. ‘If we elect a committee, the boss will sack some of us. Work is hard to come by these days. If we make things difficult for him, will he continue to pay our wages? Come on, young man, yes, you with the gun, answer us. Look at all the problems in the other farms in the area!’, It is strange to see his innate conservatism clash with the vision of the young revolutionaries. The visitors depart: mission unfulfilled.

Later that afternoon we go to another big farm, 35 miles away in the opposite direction. On the way we pass through whitewashed Alentejo villages, bespattered with red slogans. These villages are strongholds
of the PCP. The agricultural workers are natural, genuine, down-to-earth communists. They want to share and share alike. No one seeks individually to appropriate anything. The Party calls itself communist. The workers vote for it. It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that. The inability to read fosters and sustains a fierce radicalism. The workers are not confused by the tortuous ambiguities of the politicians.

The farm, near Oriola, is owned by an absentee Spanish landlord. The last two miles have been very rough track, which only the jeep can Cover. The workers have taken the farm over, despite the government’s half-hearted undertakings not to allow the expropriation of foreign-owned properties. The men have had no pay for tea weeks. There are big stocks of cork, neatly piled up, to be sold. But the lorry has been stolen. There are problems too with the vegetable produce. To be sold in the cities, refrigeration is needed. People are fed up with eating tomatoes.
The Communist Party’s solution to all these problems is simple, eminently ‘practicable’. All occupied farms should become state farms. The Ministry of Agriculture will eventually pay the wages. A state trust will be set up to buy the produce, provide the lorries, look after problems of distribution. The workers are tempted, but instinctively suspicious. They want to get together with other workers on other farms to discuss things with them, to create cooperatives, to deal directly with the population in the towns. They distrust the parasitic officials, sitting in their offices in far-away Lisbon. But they are desperately in need of money to buy shoes, shirts, soap, string, nails and agricultural implements. The men who work the farm over the hill have a tractor which isn’t being used full-time. Will the Army please instruct them to release it for a while? A joint meeting is arranged to thrash things out. The Institute will try to arrange a bridging loan from the local bank. A lorry will be provided to take the cork into the town. Ad hoc solutions are improvised. The wolf is kept from the door for a short while. The Institute has done
a job of first aid. Hope will survive a little longer.

Amid the wasps, an old woman is washing her linen at the fountain.
The crickets are chirping. The sky is unbelievably blue.


The Second Congress of Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors (CRTSM) was held on August 2 and 3, 1975 in Lisbon’s Technological Institute, a vast concrete building at the top of a hill. Posters announcing it (in the best ‘socialist-realist’ style) had broken out like a rash on the, city walls several days beforehand. Once the paste had dried they ripped off easily, to the delight of large contingents of revolutionary tourists in search of souvenirs.

We attended the afternoon session on the second day. At the entrance, a vast display of duplicated literature, distributed free. Posters are on sale, their price escalating rapidly as it becomes obvious that demand will exceed supply.

The foyer is packed with young people. Most look like students and a substantial proportion are not from Portugal – one hears almost as much French and German as Portuguese. Young PRP supporters answer questions. Few relate to work, its problems, its tyranny, its organisation, its transcendence. Most are about Cuba, or Chile, or the political allegiances of this or that Army commander. The answers stress Portuguese particularism. The Army will be with the people. Otelo (Saraiva de Carvalho) has made friendly noises about the PRP.

We go up a flight of wide stone steps, with impressive columns on either side. The meeting is due to start in a vast hall which has doubtless harboured many a degree-giving ceremony or governmental function. Row upon row of wooden chairs. About 600 people present. The same mixture as before. Very few workers (quite a number had apparently been there the ” previous day but had not attended for a second dose). No readily identifiable sailors. Banners on the walls seek nostalgically to recapture the atmosphere – and even the vocabulary – of the Petrograd of 1917: ‘Fora com a canalha! Poder a quem trabalha! – Out with the scum! Power to the workers! Long live the Socialist Revolution’. In the haze of cigarette smoke, the leftists dream on: the Technological Institute is SmolnY; the
Lisnave shipyards, the Putilov plant.

At the far end of the hall an elevated platform, on which a long table has been erected. Seated behind it,perhaps a dozen comrades, most of them bearded, two of them women. In front of the leaders neat stacks of cyclostyled notes. Slightly to one side of the High Table the television crews with their wires, floodlights and other paraphernalia, busy creating images. The 1970s are here, regardless.

The afternoon session starts about an hour late. Several speeches from the platform, most of them lasting half an hour or more. ‘Various analyses’, we are told, ·of the current situation. No interruptions. No laughter. No protests. No cheers. As platform speaker succeeds platform speaker the texts of their ‘contributions’, already duplicated, are handed out by stewards. Only one speaker elicits any enthusiasm – a soldier in civvies. It transpires he is making a ‘critical analysis of a text recently issued by COFCON (the section of the MFA devoted to Internal Security!). Some of the formulations are being challenged in the best tradition of dialectical nit-picking. The legitimacy of that particular fount of revolutionary wisdom is not, however, being questioned.

People quietly drift in and out throughout the proceedings. It is formal, well-behaved, self-disciplined and incredibly dull – an exercise in,’ revolutionary’ masochism. It has upon it the hallmark of death – or rather of a verbose still-birth. The corridors outside are plastered with slogans. The revolution is suffocating under the written word. In the gents’ toilets, amid the usual graffiti, a wit has scrawled PCP = Joaquim
Agostinho (Primeiro Cyclista Portugues).

After 3 hours we drift out. Near the exit we pass a large notice beard. On it are listed the workplaces ‘represented’ at the Congress. It looks impressive: factories of all kinds, transport depots, shipyards,
telephone exchanges, hospitals, banks, shops, offices, all the areas in modern society where people are exploited and oppressed. On direct enquiry however – and after our refusal to accept evasive answers – it was admitted that although members or supporters of the PRP worked in these various places, very few were attending in a delegate capacity. The whole episode left an unpleasant flavour of manipulation.

I doubt we will hear much more of the CRTSM. When the next upsurge develops, it will find different forms and a different content.


Guimaraes is a small industrial town, some 40 miles north of Porto. The Sousabreu textile factory there is typical of many in the region, reflecting many of the problems of Portuguese capitalism.

The factory, which makes towels, was occupied on September 14, 1974, after it had been abandoned by its owner. Earlier in the year the boss, who owned another factory in the town, had begun to move out the more modern dying equipment under pretext of repairs. He had also removed the lorry.

Thirty three workers (22 women and 11 men) had taken over the factory to preserve their livelihood, and decided to continue production. They had had to learn everything from scratch. They bought the cotton at local wholesale rates and sold directly to shopkeepers, to ,visitors, to political sympathisers, and even at the gates of local factories. To start with they had sold part of the stocks to pay their own wages. They had received little help from the local textile and metalworkers sections of Intersindical, which were dominated by the PCP. The Party’s support for self-managed units was highly selective. And Sousabreu was not a unit of which the Party approved.

The workers had elected a Committee of seven which met almost daily. There were, also fairly’ frequent assemblies grouping everyone in the factory. They all worked 48 hours a week. There had been a sustained attempt at equalising earnings. The average wage was 127 escudos (just over £2) a day. The machine minders earned 190 escudos. The newly taken-on apprentice 70 escudos. The main theme discussed at recent general assemblies had been whether to take on more labour.

The factory consisted of a number of large, fairly dilapidated hangers adjoining one another, in one of which the looms were situated. The machines looked at least thirty years old and were noisy and dusty. There were cobwebs, everywhere and little light filtered in. The first task of the socialist revolution would be a sustained attack on capitalist technology. But here there were scarcely funds enough for wages, let alone for modernising the plant.

In the adjoining rooms women were checking the towels, folding them, packing them in plastic cases. The room was brighter and they spoke to one another. I approached a woman in her forties Who had worked there for 15 years. What was now different? ‘For one’, she said, ‘there are no longer foremen breathing down your neck. There used to be 3 foremen in this room alone.. We now decide the pace of our own work, and no longer live in fear of displeasing someone. We run the place ourselves. If I want to go ‘-shopping one afternoon, or if one of the children is ill, we can consult together and have a little time off, without loss of earnings. No one takes advantage. We know that our collective livelihood depends on producing a certain number of towels each month’.

Adversity had bred a firm solidarity. When earnings were low, the most needy had, been provided for first. Everyone seemed aware. Of the others’ problems. Recently things had not been too bad. This year, for the first time ever, they had enjoyed a fortnight’s holiday with pay.

Their main complaints were about the way people deformed the meaning of what they were doing. Their wall posters showed an intense awareness of their own condition. There can be few factories in the world plastered with excerpts from Marx’s ‘Philosophical Manuscripts‘. They knew well enough that they were still wage slaves, that what was being self-managed was their own alienation. They worked harder now than they did before. But they had gained a confidence in themselves that they had not felt previously. They had held ’round table’ discussions with representatives of other self-managed factories to establish links and to exchange both experiences and products. They had even bartered shirts for towels, one of them told us with a twinkle in his eye. They had discovered a great deal about the functioning of capitalist society which would be of use to them ,’When the real time came’. They had also learned very quickly about the trade unions, which had refused to help them or had only damned them with faint praise. Above all, they had learned a lot about themselves.


The PCP headquarters in Famalicao, north of Porto, lie shattered. Before April 1974 it was widely believed by those in power that literacy bred subversion. There was only one place in the town where the wealthy could obtain secondary education: an expensive private school, solidly built and set behind a row of tall trees.

With the collapse of the Caetano regime the building had been taken over by the local PCP cell. I couldn’t help thinking what an ideal Stalinist redoubt it made, separated by its high walls, from the bustle of the multitude, set on higher ground, its impressive drive redolent with respectability. From here the Party had carried out its manipulations of local government, of trade union branches, of cooperatives, of the granting of agricultural credit. The reaction had been handed things on a plate.*

After an open air meeting, early in August, a crowd protesting against the unrepresentative nature of several local bodies had set siege to the school and tried to burn it down. Party militants had fired from the upper windows, injuring two demonstrators. The MFA had arrived on the scene to ‘restore order’ (their fire had killed two more demonstrators).

MFA interventions in such episodes had, we were told, been interesting to watch. At times the soldiers would threaten the crowd with their weapons, turning their backs on the besieged stalinists. On other occasions they would turn their backs to the crowd, confronting the Party members with their guns. Attitudes had varied from locality to locality, regiment to regiment, moment to moment,. At Famalicao the soldiers had faced the crowd, seeking to restrain it. After a siege of 48 hours the local Party stalwarts had been ordered by Party Headquarters in Lisbon to evacuate the premise. The Army had then left almost immediately. During the whole siege there had bean no sign of working class support in the town, not even a token strike. The institutions controlled by the Party apparatus were empty shells.The Party had no roots in real life.

Popular anger had then erupted. The place looked as if it had been hit by a tornado. An overturned car, burnt out, lay grotesquely in the road outside. The drive was littered with charred papers, posters, Party cards. A disconsolate leaflet announcing a meeting that was never to take place. In the building itself every window had been broken. Searchlights installed on the upper balcony had been smashed. Not a stick of furniture, not a fitting remained. The place was now unguarded. Visitors were strolling about, looking at the debris. They had to step carefully for the ‘victors’ had left shit allover the place.
The MRPP (maoists) issued a statement welcoming ‘the people’s_retribution against the social-fascists’. It wasn’t however as simple-as that. The red flag had been burned. A Portuguese flag now stuck out provocatively from an attic window. Beneath it, a large inscription proclaimed ‘Building to be taken over for refugees from Angola’.

*The reaction already had an economic and ideological base in the North (based on the structure of land tenure, on the fears of impoverished small farmers of being rendered poorer still, and on systematic propaganda by the Church.

Open Letter To The Portugese Revolution: A Reply

August 23, 2010 2 comments

Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat – Revolutionary Brigades

Tony Cliff, a founding member of the ‘International Socialists’ published an ‘Open Letter to the Portuguese Revolution’ in ‘Socialist Worker‘ on October 11, 1975. In this letter he advises his Portuguese co-thinkers of the Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat – Revolutionary Brigades to concentrate on two main objectives:

1) to struggle for the creation of mass councils of workers and soldiers, and for the setting up of a central body representing all the councils in the country. This central council could become the revolutionary authority, entrenching and establishing a new society.

2) to direct their efforts towards the creation of a mass revolutionary party, to function within the workers and soldiers’ councils, fighting off the reformist tendencies and guiding the councils on a permanently revolutionary course.

These two proposals are identical with Lenin’s tactics of 1917., The fact that in Russia the councils were formed without the advice of the Bolsheviks is here beside the point. The real question concerns the relation between the councils and the revolutionary party. In Russia Lenin advocated the slogan ‘All power to the Councils’ as the main weapon for overthrowing the Kerensky government. At the same time the Bolsheviks tried to win over the workers and soldiers represented in the councils. Eventually the Bolsheviks achieved a majority within certain councils and wielded the authority of these councils to carry out the October revolution. However, once the old regime was overthrown the Bolsheviks dropped the policy of ‘All power to the Councils’, adopting instead a policy which ensured all power to the Bolshevik Party. As early as November 1917 Soviets were dissolved if of the ‘wrong’ political complexion. Nor was this surprising. Had not Lenin, two months earlier, stressed ‘our Party, like every other political party, is striving to secure political domination for itself‘. (Selected Works, vol.6, p.209).

Leninists tend to gloss over this fundamental political issue. They refuse to declare openly to the rest of the revolutionary movement that if they had to choose between ‘All power to the Councils’ and ‘All power to the party’ they would opt unhesitatingly for the latter. It is one thing to wield influence through being a major groups within the councils, while political authority remains vested in the councils themselves. It is another matter to use the council system merely as a means to achieve a majority, and to destroy it when this aim has been achieved. The Leninist policy towards the council system deliberately evades a discussion of (and commitment to) the council system in post-revolutionary society.

The Leninists specifically refuse to give a clear answer to the following questions:

1) What do they consider the role of the councils to be after a victorious revolution? Are the councils to be the institutions ,of decision-making in every aspect of social life, including all political decisions? Or are they merely to control the implementation of economic decisions taken by the Central Committee of the revolutionary party?

2) Are the Leninists committed to uphold the council system (in a post-revolutionary society) if they find themselves in a minority within it? What will they do if the councils take decisions with which the Leninist party does not agree?

Lenin never committed himself on these issues. But when conflict between the Councils and the Bolsheviks emerged after the revolution his policies revealed the meaning of his earlier reticence. The slogan of ‘All power to the Bolshevik Party’ came to imply ‘Down with the Councils’ . The councils were first reduced to the role of supervisors of decisions taken by the party on matters relating to production. Decisions on issues like war (e.g. with Poland) were not considered to be a matter for the councils. Later, when the councils took decisions which conflicted with those of the party, the Leninists destroyed them.

Cliff knows this history, and this problem, very well. But he has not published a critique of Lenin’s attitude to the council system in post-revolution Russia. This implies that he endorses it.

The question which revolutionaries must put, before a revolution, to Leninists who advocate the council system is:. ‘Are you ready to commit yourself to support the council system and its role of supreme decision-making authority in all social matters after the revolution too? And, if the answer is positive, ‘What is your critique of Lenin’s policies on this issue?’.


Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 8, No. 3 (December 1975), pp. 24-25