Organs of “popular power”

Submitted by Matthew on 17 December, 2014 - 10:24

Text edited from International-Communist League pamphlet, The Revolutionary Left in Portugal (1977).

Portuguese Trotskyism entered the country via Paris after a couple of Portuguese students had been influenced by the ideas of the USFI [mainstream orthodox Trotskyists led by Ernest Mandel] in 1968.

At the time Caetano was overthrown there were nine Trotskyists in Portugal. Now [1975] the number is probably 6-700. Of these 4-500 are in the LCI, the “official” sympathising section of the USFI, and the remainder are in the PRT. The PRT originally split from the other Portuguese Trotskyists encouraged by the American SWP.

The background to this split, and justification for the continued division, is unclear.

A major difference, however, emerged after 25 August when the LCI signed — together with six other groups, including the CP — the document of the Popular United Front (which became FUR). This decision was a grave error. The Front supported the programme of the Fifth Government of Vasco Goncalves (including its austerity programme) and the MFA-People alliance.

The LCI’s endorsement of the Front – no matter what reservations and comments it added to its signature – was an endorsement of class collaboration. To the PRT’s credit it refused to join this ill-fated front with the PCP.

A short comment should be made concerning the Revolutionary Councils (CRTs) and the Popular Assemblies. At the time when these interviews [below] took place it was difficult to see which would emerge as representative organs of the working class. In the following months the Popular Assemblies emerged as the embryonic soviets of the Portuguese working class.

Popular Assemblies were advanced by the majority of the MFA in May and June 1975, as an alternative to the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs) proposed by the CP and the Revolutionary Councils (CRTs) promoted by the Proletarian Revolutionary Party (PRP) and Otelo Carvalho.

The MFA issued a document on 8 July 1975 calling for Popular Assemblies throughout Portugal based on already-existing workers’ committees and neighbourhood commissions. The document expressed the desire that these committees be controlled from above by the MFA leadership, and was vague about the timescale for setting up the “organs of popular power”.

However the working class took up the slogan of “popular power” and began creating Popular Assemblies of its own accord.

“The working class is divided”

Discussion between the Partido Revolucionario dos Trabalhadores (PRT) and Workers’ Fight, 1 August 1975

WF: The MFA say they want to see Popular Assemblies set up across Portugal. The LCI is concentrating its propaganda around setting up of these assemblies, but the danger we see is of them being used as a power base for a populist military government, rather than a workers’ government.

PRT: We see direct democracy is fully developed in Copcon. The Assembly delegates of the Copcon units are elected democratically. They consist of 13 soldiers, 8 NCOs and 4 officers in each unit Assembly. These units (ADUs) generally support popular struggles and are the strongest guarantee we have against a right wing coup. We think that if the ADUs are connected to the workers’ and neighbourhood committees in the Popular Assemblies they will be an alternative state apparatus. The Popular Assemblies should be created and extended as soon as possible because they are potential organs of workers’ power.

WF: The party with the biggest electoral support, the SP, opposes these Assemblies. The working class is divided. How does the PRT think the split in the working class can be overcome?

PRT: We think if the ADUs impose the Popular Assemblies all the workers will be united and their local problems solved. We appeal to the CP and SP to present their own candidates for election in these assemblies.

WF: The forerunners of the Assemblies were the CRTs which the PRP-BR has been very active in campaigning for. Would you say that the main trouble with the CRTs was that they were not based on workers’ struggles, but imposed from above?

PRT: Yes, this is so. The CRTs are mainly PRP. The headquarters of the CRTs is the same as that of the PRP. We insist the CRTs are linked to the popular assemblies.

WF: The PRP places great stress on the autonomous organisation of the working class. However they are weak when it comes to the question of slogans relating to the general administration of society. They have raised the slogan “Revolutionary Government”, but I have been unable to get any of them to say exactly what it means.

The LCI have called for a “Workers and Peasants’ Government”, but again this seems to have no clear content. The PRT has called for a CP-SP-Intersindical government.

PRT: That slogan was raised before we had made a study of the MFA. We have the task of splitting the MFA while continuing to argue for the workers’ united front.

WF: The demand, “Dissolve the Constituent Assembly” has been made recently by some of the revolutionary groups. What is the PRT’s position on this slogan?

PRT: It is a very sectarian and dangerous slogan. Two and a half million SP voters trust the Constituent Assembly to this day. And there has been no alternative to the Constituent Assembly.

WF: The slogan plays into the hands of the CP?

PRT: Yes, precisely that. The SP and PPD say the Constituent Assembly will solve all the problems because it represents the people’s vote. They say that the CP is against it because they are dictators. We say the CP and UDP can raise the problems posed by the Popular Assemblies inside the Constituent Assembly. The result will be no response from the Constituent Assembly. Then it will be time to call for dissolution.

WF: What is the size and influence of the PRT?

PRT: [Our youth group] ASJ has about 1,000 members, mostly in secondary schools in Lisbon. The PRT has 100-150 members, mainly in Porto and Lisbon. Of this 30-40 are worker militants. Our biggest base is in the Metro.

“We want a revolutionary transitional government”

Discussion with the Liga Comunista Internacionalista (LCI) on 9 September 1975.

The discussion started by asking why the LCI signed up to the Front document backing the Fifth government.

LCI: We want a revolutionary transitional government, not a right-wing one. We agree the programme was not completely correct, but it would have been dogmatic to split over it. A new document is being prepared which will exclude references [to support] the MFA as a whole and deny support to the government [this was published on 12 September]. The programme of the new Front is to develop and centralise the organs of popular power.

WF: What are your differences with the PRT?

LCI: There are many differences. The PRT have accused us of joining a popular front.

The PRT fought for the Constituent Assembly. This is a major centre for counter-revolution. The PRT fought for a SP-CP-Intersindical government. We wanted to show up illusions in these bodies, they reinforced them. The workers have lost their illusions in the anti-democratic Stalinist Intersindical. The CP has been unable to prevent a SP/MRPP coalition taking over important unions and removing them from Intersindical.

WF: The SP is fighting against Popular Power. What is happening to the SP’s base?

LCI: In Beja SP workers occupied the SP’s headquarters in protest against their reactionary policies. We try to use the organs of popular power to win over the SP workers. Also we supported the right of the SP, as a workers’ party, to march, and opposed the CP’s attempt to stop them.

The demand for the arming of the commissions is now very important. We do not believe, as some groups do (e.g. PRP-BR), in turning ourselves into a red battalion but rather in arming the organisations of the base.

The CP is now very weak. The far left has much more influence than its membership. It is possible, in one or two months that the relation of forces will change to the point that we are stronger than the CP.

WF: Is it true the CP has had to evacuate from the North?

LCI: It is impossible to operate openly in much of the North and Centre.

WF: Is it true that the Right is arming in the North?

LCI: The threat is shown by the removal of Corvacho as Commander of the Northern Military Region, after reactionary units had gone to the point of illegally putting themselves on alert to demonstrate against him. The PPD is threatening to arm 50,000 right wingers. This is largely talk, but it shows the way things are developing.

WF: Can the organs of popular power be a real alternative government within a few months?

LCI: They are not an alternative at the moment, which is why we call for a workers’ government of revolutionary unity, which would develop them. A Popular Assembly for the whole city is being set up in Porto. And a coordinating committee for the whole town exists in Coimbra.

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