photo © family archive, 1974
WHAT ARE THE REVOLUTIONARY COUNCILS?
Prior to 1933. the Portuguese working class had been able to conduct its economic struggle openly through the trade unions. On September 23 of that year. a fascist trade union law was passed. modelled explicitly on the repressive .. Carta Lavori” instituted byMussolini in Fascist Italy. The existing trade unions were abolished and highly-fragmented. state-controlled labor syndicates. which existed right up to the coup of April 25. 1974. came into being.
The response of the Portuguese working class to this repressive 1933 law was immediate and widespread. Among the most militant responses was the insurrection in the Marinha Grande. the glassproduction belt 25 miles north of Lisbon where the entire population had built a long tradition of struggle. Militants of the regional Communist Party. of the CGT [the national anarcho-syndicalist trade union federation]. and numerous local organizations collaborated in a Revolutionary Committee. defining a strategy for taking control of the region so that the economic and political struggle could continue. Prior to April 25. 1974. the Revolutionary Council (also called a Soviet] of Marinha Grande marked the high tide of workingclass struggle in Portugal. The proposal to construct Revolutionary Councils in Portugal today also comes from this industrial region. It is an outgrowth of the particular conditions of struggle imposed by the rule of the Armed Forces Movement since the 25th of April.
Tapping the experience of France in 1968. militants of various factory committees. with the support of the PRBIBR. convened a Congress on April 19. 1975 which was attended by delegates of more than 200 factories and 60 military units. A Provisional Secretariat was established by the Congress to coordinate the work of building the Councils. It had some 50 seats. 35 of which were filled at the Congress itself. Eleven foundry and steel workers. a cork worker. an office worker. an electronics worker. a teacher, a hotel worker, a graphic-arts worker. one unemployed worker. and 11 military people [soldiers. sailors. and junior officers] joined regional representatives from the North. from Alentejo and Algarve. Marinha Grande. Viana do Castelo. and the Covilha.
The Revolutionary Councils have enabled some of the groups participating in the revolutionary process in Portugal to transcend the “revisionist/orthodox” debate which has hampered the growth of the working-class left. This the Councils do by questioning the existence of the concept of orthodoxy. The Communist Party’s preference for working within the state apparatus and for being “responsible” to the MFA is viewed by the Councils as a function of material interests. not bad ideas and deviations from orthodoxy. The Communist Party. the Councils charge. is constructing state capitalism. not “betraying” the working class. This analysis has enabled the Councils and some other forces to benefit from the Communist Party’s real strength – its mass base in the working class – in building the revolutionary movement. rather than consigning themselves to perpetual. harping criticism of the PCP.
The Councils have also attempted to address themselves to clarifying the relationship of the MFA to the revolutionary sectors of the working class. They established a specific form in which. for the first time. revolutionary elements in the MFA and throughout the armed forces could collaborate. in an on-going organizational form. with the rest of the working class. This was a big switch from the endless streams of proposals for more “democracy” and “participation” proposed from above by the MFA and the Provisional Governments.
To date. the largest single show of strength by the Revolutionary Councils acting alone was the march of June 17. 1975. attended by some 40.000 and led by the workers of Lisnave. This march demanded that the Constituent Assembly be dissolved and that the authority to constitute a new regime be passed on to the Revolutionary Councils.
It is important here to distinguish the Revolutionary Councils from the Factory Committees. The Councils are a specific organization. They are. at the moment. the political front. the movement for direct assault on state power. of the most militant sectors of the working class. The Interempresa. or Inter-Enterprise Committee. still exists and coordinates the day-to-day struggles of the factory committees. Similarly. the Secretariat of Revolutionary and Autonomous Neighborhood Commissions. a coordinating body representing the most militant neighborhood commissions. still functions and recently held a Congress to evaluate the work of the last year and elaborate a program for the next. Independent groups such as the Soldiers United for Victory. an insurgent group who defied the new “Moderate” government and held a march in the streets of Porto in mid-September. 1975. are still defining their relationships to the other independent organizations of the class. The Revolutionary Councils do not claim or attempt to subordinate or take over the struggles in each neighborhood. barracks. village. or factory. The continuation of these struggles. they say. will be as decisive a factor in enabling the Councils to take power some day. as they were in the very birth of the Council organization.
Stu Gedal, Documents of the Worker’s Struggle