XI. The Elections and Beyond

Submitted by libcom on August 7, 2005

Portugal - The Impossible Revolution? -- Phil Mailer

XI. The Great Non-Party

On July 7-9,1975 the General Assembly of the MFA institutionalised the 'pact' between the MFA and the people. It endorsed 'popular power' as a means of defence against right-wing attacks and as a means of solving economic problems. It spelled out a complicated system of relationships between the MFA, the government and the grassroot organisations. In defining popular power it called for a decentralisation of the state machine. It advocated the handing over of power to workers' committees, neighbourhood committees, village councils, cooperatives, collectives ... and to the League of Small and Medium Farmers. It called for local assemblies to federate into municipal assemblies and for these in turn to federate into what would become known as the National Popular Assembly, which would rephce the government. Military anarchism had appeared on the scene. 'The present norms are not rigid' the MFA concluded. 'Their application should depend on local situations and on the dynamics of the revolutionary process'.

The decision to institutionalise popular power was applauded by all the left parties. Only the CDS, PPD and PS opposed it. On July 11 the PS decided to leave the coalition over the Republica issue. 'What is the PS doing in a government which does not govern? Mino Soares asked. 'It isn't our leaving or not leaving which will determine what the government is to be. We were in the government to govern. Since it doesn't, and can't, there's no point in remaining there'. The PS decided to retain its positions within the Constituent Assembly. It indicted the PCP as the 'chief manipulator behind the crisis in authority' and called for an end to what it described as 'communist dictatorship'.

On July 16, as expected, the PPD followed the Socialists out of the Fourth Government. Only the PCP and its 'front' the MDP were left within the coalition, together with some independents. Basically the PS endorsed some of the conditions made by the PPI) for its continued presence in the government but, ever conscious of its image, the PS hadn't quite the courage to say this openly. Both parties wanted the old press laws (which vested authority in the editorial staff) to remain. The other PPD demands had been:

1) all-party participation in radio and television; 2) one newspaper (North and South) for each of the coalition parties; 3) publicity for the PPD position in relation to the guiding document of the MFA; 4) eviction of squatters from all houses illegally occupied; 5) non-intervention of the military in matters that were not their concern; 6) revocation of all Councils improperly elected; 7) a date to be set for local elections; 8) limits to be defined between public and private sectors; 9) guarantees for small and medium property-owners; 10) immediate assistance for the textile, construction and shoe industries.

Most of these conditions were, of course, rejected. The only concession made was to declare illegal the occupation of the houses of emigrants. The PPD and PS moved into opposition which - as a PRP-BR communique' put it - was their proper place'.

The collapse of the Coalition had both internal and external repercussions. The parties of the Second International (especially the Socialists of Spain, Italy and France) blamed the PCP. France vetoed all FEC aid to Portugal. Inside Portugal both party feuds and class struggle intensified. The Bishop of Braga, in the North, called a demonstration which was attended by 10,000 Catholics. Offices of left-wing groups and PCP headquarters were attacked all over the country. The 400 Maoists arrested by COPCON on May 28 were released unconditionally. Arnaldo Matos, the leader of the MRPP, boasted that the government 'needed the MRPP to rout the reaction'. On July 15, 20,000 people marched in a demonstration calling for the resignation of Vasco Goncalves. The PS leadership, surprised at the right-wing pull their party was exercising, tried to calm the crowds who now shouted 'the people are not with the MFA' and 'Otelo to Mozambique. He is not Portuguese'. Soares had to reaffirm the 'alliance' with the MFA and to tone down his criticism. 'We must not and cannot forget that without the MFA there would have been no April 25th'. Asserting that the socialists were no new 'silent majority' he asked that the people's will, 'shown in the elections', be respected.

On July 16 a demonstration in Lisbon called by Inter-Comissees (the Federation of shanty town Neighbourhood Committees) was joined by three tanks and by armed soldiers, the first time that troops in uniform had marched in this way, in a popular demonstration. When they met the tanks of RAL-1 and of RIOQ the crowd chanted 'Workers of field and factory, soldiers and sailors, united we shall win'. The troops replied through their megaphone 'The RAL-1 soldiers have come to support your struggle'. The applause was deafening. Climbing onto the 'chaimites' (armoured cars) the demonstrators continued through the streets of Lisbon.

'We must transcend the false divisions which the counter-revolutionaries, the parliamentarians, the "doutores" (literally: doctors) and their parties have created among us' one of the leaders of 'Inter' proclaimed, addressing the crowd. 'We must unite the true revolu-tionaries, leaving all sterile sectarianisms behind. The Workers' Committees are the organs which must advance the revolutionary struggle. We must put an end to this government of class collaboration, to this government which cannot cope with our problems. The government contains within it those who conspire, those who hesitate, those who don't want revolution. The bourgeois Constituent Assembly must also be abolished, because it is there that the CDS fascists, the right-wing PPD and the false socialists join hands to halt the revolutionary processs; Our unity will dump them into the dustbins of history.

A proposed PS march on Lisbon, planned for the weekend of July 18, was denounced by many left-wing groups. Rumours were rampant. On July 18 barricades went up all over the country to stop the anticipated march. Armed soldiers guarded the main roads and all entrances to the town were blocked. On the April 25th Bridge returning beach-goers hooted their annoyance, queuing while their cars were searched by young militants. The march never took place: the PS moved into semi-clandestinity. On July 28, 1975 Maro Soares made a speech (Appendix 21) which if uttered by someone less obviously compromised would have been very telling indeed.


The MFA support for the new institutions of popular power, and the momentary working class successes at Radio Renascenca and Republica gave impetus to further struggles. A purge of an institution run by the Catholic Church took place. It was an old people's home in Setflhal. Six Franciscan nuns were thrown out by the inmates (helped by other workers) and accused of 'inhuman practices'. The old people were very badly fed and some had little or no clothing although they were being charged 1000 escudos a month for their p. The local population, horrified at what they found, immediately began to clean the place up. So strong, at this stage, was the feeling against manipulation that every group, party or organisation attempted to play down its own role. But this only helped them to mask their manoeuvres still better. The story was being told of how, when the two great 'non-party' demonstrations crossed on July 4 (see previous chapter), many workers had asked why there wasn't a united march, as the aims of the two processions seemed to be similar. The marches had stopped, while the hidden 'leaders' of each emerged to discuss whether or not to join forces. The demonstrators had remained passive, manipulated and depressed. They had come on a non-party class demonstration, hadn't they? So why not join forces?

Why not, indeed? The answer lay in the explosive proliferation of messianic vanguard groups after April 25th. This proliferation in turn was related to two basic factors. Faced with the impossibility of radically changing things through official channels, would-be revolutionaries_found_bolshevism an easier option than self-organisation. But this in turn reflected the depth of penetration of bourgeois ideology, which saw society as 'naturally' divided into leaders and led. This attitude had deeply permeated the left itself, where it assumed the leninist form of believing that the workers 'could only develop a trade union consciousness'. Everybody wanted to provide leadership. The more sophisticated groups, sensing the popular revulsion against manipulation, attempted to play down their own existence and sought to relate more directly to the workers' organisations, trying to dominate them from within.

Not always, however, as the following episode shows. Some Maoists were demonstrating in Porto, shouting 'Viva a Grito do Povo ' ('Long live the Shout of the People', the name of their paper)A group of workers join in, mishear things, and-no doubt voicing their hopes for the future - begin shouting 'Viva a Rico Povo' (Long live the people made rich). When the Party militants explain that this slogan is 'incorrect' the workers answer: 'Ah, what does it matter? It's good to be shouting!' They could have added: 'and which is the more real, anyway?

The real movement developed considerably during the summer of 1975. In Marinha Grande 700 workers had occupied the factory of glass manufacturer Manuel Pereira Rodao. They purged the administration and were running the concern on their own. The Ministry of Labour had paid some arrears of wages and given help to the tune of 3 million escudos. The workers had rejected any party control within the factory. At the Yogurt Bom Dia plant, 19 workers occupied the installations and set up a system of self-management. They received no help from the government. The Turiaga company, which had both tourist and agricultural interests, had also decided to purge the administration. The government gave no assistance. On June 26, 150 workers came to Lisbon and went on hunger strike outside the Prime Minister's residence at Sao Bento 'to show the country'.

In May 1975 in Unhais da Serra the 1100 textile workers of Penteada and neighbouring firms owned by the Garrett Brothers decided to set up a Workers' Committee and take over the management. After calling for government help the Garretts (one of whom had been an ANP deputy) had a meeting with the Workers' Committee and the PCP Minister of Labour, who called for a compromise. The workers went on strike and the talks broke down. A farm of some 300 hectares owned by the same brothers was taken over by the workers who set up a 'pre-cooperative'. COPCON sent eleven soldiers to 'protect' the occupation. The workers at the textile plant were told by the Garretts that because of the farm occupation the wages due could not be paid. A certain division ensued between factory and farm workers (militants of FEC-ml played a role in this, supporting the farm workers). The Workers' Committee an the farm, along with the 11 soldiers, decided to march against the basses. After a meeting between the two Workers' Committees a solution was worked out whereby the factory workers would pay the wages of the farm workers as long as the latter received no financial help from the IRA. Bath occupations had the support of the entire population. The bosses' house was closed until an IRA inventory could be drawn up. The foreman's house was taken aver by the workers. Among the things found there were cheap thrillers and 'How-to-be-a-He-man' manuals. The Garretts fled to Spain.

Near Avo the factory of Manuel Dinis Dias employing 40 workers went into self-management. In Porto, Manuel Esperanqa Vieira, a synthetics firm employing 60 workers, did likewise. So did the biscuit factory of Guetara de Pombal (90% Mexican capital, 55 workers). The Clana Mining Ca., in Loule', employing 100 workers went into self-management and received 500,000 escudos from the government. In Setubal, workers at the Sapec factory (which made fertilisers and agricultural products) kidnapped two of the administrators and held them captive 'to show the government how bad the situation was'. The company had wanted to move to Brussels.

In Evara, the cafe' Arcada (a busy restaurant em p laying 47 people) was occupied because the workers had received no pay. They began to run the place an their own, eventually receiving a government loan of 175,000 escudas. The Baheira HoteL at Sagres was occupied an June 11 and managed by its staff.

These were just some of the hundreds of struggles which took place all aver the country. By the beginning of August 1975 it was estimated that some 380 factories had passed into self-management. It is worth taking a specific example and looking at same of the practical problems involved:

Empresa Fabril de Malhas was a textile factory in Caimbra, employing 32 people. A worker explained what happened:

'When April 25th took place we were an a four-day week. A minimum wage (3300 escudos) was decreed in May (1974). The boss then decided to close the place down. The workers wouldn't have it. The factory was occupied and we posted pickets. In July we decided to sell existing stocks to pay wages. The bass's partner, Maria Clara, threw her lot in with us. After March 11 the women organised night pickets because they were afraid that something might ha p pen. Maria helped us open the filing cabinet and safe. Mast of the workers felt that the bass (Aires de Azevedo) should be locked up. The MFA arrested him on May 15, 1975.

Support was offered by the Textile unions and by Intersindical, but the workers thought Intersindical was a cupula or clique. They also criticised the PCP Minister of Labour for being iegalktic'. Their CT was felt to be much nearer to them than the union. The company itself was having all sorts of financial problems: the whale textile industry in Portugal was in crisis because Asian countries could produce things cheaper.

The CT had been elected by different sections within the factory. At first it comprised ten members, later five. A 'management committee' was set up which included Maria, the old business partner. The Committee had to present weekly reports to a plenaria of all workers. The idea of farming a company with shares, etc., was discussed but rejected. The workers 'didn't want to become little basses'. There were negotiations with the Minister of Labour for a loan of 180,000 escudos, with which it was hoped to create another 10 jobs, including the hiring of a guard who would take aver the role of the pickets. 'We received promises but no cash'. The partner had been overruled on many points relating to the running of the factory, including her idea of all the workers being business associates, and the idea of making profits and sharing them out. The workers believed that their situation was not one of 'workers' participation' but of 'workers' management'. But they were also conscious of all the limitations of attempting this in a capitalist society. They had no idea of how to solve this contradiction, except by 'all revolutionary workers uniting and fighting together'. But that would have meant overthrowing the system.

This pattern was fairly typical in factories of this size (though the ex-partner joining in with the workers was exceptional). Workers were very conscious of living in a capitalist society, of having to obey all the rules of a market economy imposed upon them. They repeatedly rejected 'elitist' organisations entering into or seeking to direct their struggle, or telling them they were exploited and had to abolish the wages system.

There were many instances of delegates being purged by the workers - or even of whole CTs being revoked during General Assemblies. At 'Provomi' (a cattle fodder factory) near Alverca, the whole CT was purged for having attempted to hide information from the workers and far having tried to increase their own wages. Because of the crisis and of the general political situation it was difficult for the CTs in smaller factories to establish themselves as 'new managers', or to separate themselves too much from the workers who had elected them.


In January 1975 almost all the left groups had supported the struggle far 'unicidade' (monolithic union structure). The obvious soon became obvious even to them, namely that unicidade meant domination by Intersindical and by the PCP. Meanwhile the reformism of Intersindical, along with its outright attacks an certain working class struggles (Timex, CTT, Mabar, TAP, Jarnal do Comercia, Carris, etc.) caused workers to maintain their CTs.

The demonstration of February 7, 1975 (see pl5l) in the face of increasing unemployment and a possible NATO threat, was the culmination of meetings between various CTs. After that Inter-Empresas - which had called the demonstration - weakened, and for good reasons. It was the obvious place to be (or to get into) for any vanguard party worthy of the name. Every leninist group in sight (and some invisible ones) made for Inter-Empresas, with offerings of gold, frankensteins and mire. Inter united nobody and had veryl ittl e to do with trade unionism. A witty slogan on a wall ('Inter: 2 -Sindical: 0') summarised things well, in this football-crazy country

At first certain delegates from Intersindical (who had also been elected to their respective CTs) tried to form a block within Inter-Empresas. Through them the PCP sought to push its 'battle for production' within the portals of Inter-Empresas itself The result was that many CTs stopped sending delegates to general meetings. This facilitated the manipulation of the inter-Empresas skeleton by PCP delegates or other leninists (PRP-BR, MES, MRPP, FEC ml), and contributed to its further dessication. The CT's were more genuinely representative of the workers.They existed in parallel with the unions. The unions, as already stressed, were numerous and ineffec-tive despite certain dynamic 'leaders' or 'personalities'. In TLP (the Telephone Company) only 2 members of the 14 members of the CT were union delegates, and this was typical of many enterprises. Thirty two different unions existed in TLP without any real unity.

Despite their democratic nature, most CTs could still be manipulated by anyone intent on 'capturing' them and using them as a political base for 'struggle' within Inter-Empresas.In Efacec-Inel the Maoists had worked hard. By getting themselves elected onto the }orna/ de Greve they had secured a firm implantation within industry. Their position was stated quite explicitly in issue no.55 (July 6,1975) of the paper: 'The fact that a true marxist-leninist party doesn't exist in Portugal should not impede the actions of true communists and revolutionaries in the unions. To abandon the unions to the reformists is an utterly anarchist position... The Maoists had a perspective of controlling the unions. They wanted their own, more 'radical' version of Intersindical. To achieve this they needed a stepping stone. And if one wasn't immediately to hand they would create one, by capturing certain CTs and using them as an instrument in their power struggle. While the PCP used the mast populist language imaginable, the MRPP used more worker-oriented slogans. In the last analysis both approaches were very similar.

The MRPP was not the only organisatian attempting to capture or to manipulate Inter-Empresas. They were all at it. Siderurgia (the great iron smelting works just outside Lisbon) employed 4200 workers. During June and July 1975 the UDP obtained a footing there. Thereafter the ideology of the UDP became associated with Siderurgia CTs wit in Inter-Empresas. On June 4, 1975 the General Assembly of Inter-Empresas heard a proposal from Efacec delegates to farm a 'new Inter-Empresas'. What certain Maoists couldn't do through a take-over of the Secretariat, they were attempting through the creation of a new organisation of the same name. A delegate from Melka (textiles) analysed the participation by Inter-Empresas in the demonstration called by marxist-leninist groups on May 1. She criticised the Secretariat far not having publicised the assembly paint of the demo and for not having appointed stewards. Other critiques of the Secretariat were for not having contacted the organisers of the demo to insist on the slogans which Inter-Empresas had decided upon ('Not one more dismissal, all to be reinstated' and '40 hours per week, yes! 45 hours, no!'). These had been replaced on the demonstration by 'Against unemployment: 40 hours per week'. This had caused friction.

The critiques led to a demand for the reorganisatian of the Secretariat. Divergencies appeared about how same working class groups should be represented. The Efacec delegates, who had played an important role in Inter-Empresas during its short history, hadn't managed to impose their views an the other delegates. At this paint it was announced by a delegate from the CDDT (Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Workers, one of the committees set up in Efacec after their strike) that some workers of Efacec were meeting to review their position in relation to Inter-Empresas.

'So, comrades, what is happening - and we have proof of this - is that the Efacec-Inel delegates are deliberately seeking to create a split in the ranks of Inter-Empresas, given that they are already thinking of organising other "Inter-Empresas".

'These Efacec delegates will continue their "struggle" until the end: the creation of another Inter-Empresas. They are trying to divide the workers by contacting and inviting other comrades or CTs. Besides assuming the name of Inter-Empresas, they claim that this one has ended. They say that the new Inter-Empresas will be the fruit of the old one. At the same time they slander working class militants ... All this shows the paint reached by those who say that they are the friends of the workers but who really do everything possible to divide them. Since as yet nothing has happened we can only ask why and in whose interests they are attempting to split the organisation of which they themselves are a part and which struggles out of necessity and class feelings'.

The name of the comrade from Soteenica (a Lisbon electronics firm) who reported this meeting may never be known. He or she doubtless had illusions about 'revolutionary unions' but the description of the inter-Empresas meeting hit the nail on the head. Inter-Empresas was being manipulated by groups of CTs of similar party persuasion. ,The left wing factions were doing their utmost to see that it's autonomy was smothered.

The pattern was repeated many times. CT delegates would appear at Inter-Empresas meetings, making party declarations. Here is one, of slightly different parentage:

'The working class cannot hide from politics. Unlike the fascists the CTs claim that politics must enter the factories through the gates. The CTs know that they can only take power if they are conscious. They know where their interests lie. This is different from defending a political party, which they shouldn't do. 'The CTs are organs which act autonomously against the bourgeoisie and against capital. Unlike the unions, they are not conditioned by the laws of the system. The CTs should be against the unions, or at least seek to by-pass them, or even to establish themselves as parallel organisations. The CTs and the unions are working class organisatians when they are under working class control, despite the fact that they have different objectives'.

Then the punchline, giving away the leninist authorship:

'The CTs should not sow illusions in the working class that it can came to power without a Party. But the Party cannot replace all the organs of the class. The CTs have a structure which is genuinely their own Democratically elected and revocable, they can assess the various political lines within the struggle and analyse the various ways of responding to practical problems. They can do this like a true Party of the Working Class'.


In April 1975 bath the PRP-BR and LUAR had warned people not to be surprised by a liberal result to capitalist elections. Throughout the campaign the PRP had been talking about 'Workers' Councils'. On April 19 (6 days before the pall) they organised a large meeting in Lisbon with militants from Inter-Empresas and various Workers' Committees. Delegates from Lisnave, TAP, Setenave - and others from the building and textile industries - met to discuss the setting up of a new type of organisation. Representatives from Soldiers and Sailors' Committees also attended, in uniform. Members of the PRP-BR were, of course, also there - in strength. A programme was agreed (Appendix 19). The meeting launched the Canselhos Revaluciandrias de Trabal-hadores, Saldadas e Marinheiras (CRTSM or Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors).

In Marinha Grande, workers had organised a Council and (given the historical associations of this town - and of this idea) the PRP-BR decided that this was the form of organisatian mast appropriate for the workers in general. They were mesmerised by the word 'council', despite the fact that workers in the Panasqueira mines had, for example, already set up a 'revolutionary centre', and that workers everywhere had - without prompting- set up their CTs. What the PRP were advocating was a particular brand of institution. Living reality had to be poured into the moulds of the past.

The council structure proposed was outlined in same detail. Local councils based an enterprises, boroughs and barracks would elect representatives to zonal councils. These would elect a regional council, and regional councils would elect a national revolutionary council' -which would be the embodiment of working class power. The functions of the councils were defined as the political clarification of the workers, the control of the. economic and financial aspects of various enterprises, saneamento, and the arming of the working class.

Crucial questions concerning the real locus of decision-making in this four-tiered structure were evaded. Were the councils the embryo of a new form of social organisatian? Were they to embody a fusion of economic and political power or would there be parallel political institutions as well? Little thought seems to have been devoted to the more difficult questions such as the specific weight and nature of the representation of agricultural workers, of women, of young people, of the population as consumers (as distinct from producers). How often would the 'revocable delegates' report back? Would delegates remain at work during their tenure of office? How would functions rotate to ensure that bureaucracies based an monopolies of information did not arise? These questions were surely crucial to ensuring genuine - as distinct from purely formal -working class power. While blueprints were premature, it was alarming to see the details with which organisatianal farms had been thought out and to compare it with the total lack of imagination (or even awareness) about relevant content.

The political confusion underlying PRP thinking about the councils was enormous. The PRP had never really understood the nature of state capitalism and of the agencies that would bring it about. 'Working class parties' to the left of (but including) the PS had been invited to send delegates to the Provisional (pro-council) Secretariat. They would bring in 'the masses . But it was naive and dangerous in the extreme to expect the cooperation of Soares and Cunhal in the council movement for this movement was aimed at destroying the I! very 'basis of their power. The participation of social democrats and stalinists would not have been 'neutral'. It would have been profoundly counter-revolutionary. The PS and PCP would have been the conscious agents of the centralisatian of the economy, in a state capitalist direction. The whole weight of their respective party machines would have been used to destroy the autonomous arganisatians of the working class. The councils would soon have been converted into typical instruments of capitalist recuperation.

Another area of ambiguity was the relation of the proposed councils to the MFA, seen as composed of 'progressive officers', &f 'right wingers', and of those 'still undecided'. The MFA was never explicitly analysed in class terms. CRT documents even boasted of the 'support' their movement enjoyed among officers in high positions.

The idea of the councils gained publicity when Otelo and COPCON rallied to it. 'I see no danger at all in these congresses or councils', Otela said in an RTP interview. 'I consider them, like the Neighbourhood Committees, to be the essence of the Portuguese revolution. I consider them similar to the Russian soviets of 1917 ... The anarcho-syndicalists are very humorous when they write slogans on the walls such as 'A Portuguesa so temos cazido'. It's true enough. We must construct our own socialism. I give my whole-hearted support to these revolutionary councils'.

On May 10 a meeting of Councils was held in Porta, openly attended by soldiers and sailors in uniform. At another plenaria the provisional secretary (Vitar Crespo, a metalworker) said: 'We should start by making the CRTs the organisation of the Portuguese people, an organisatian which can exercise power, an organisatian in which everyone has a say. In each factory the workers should get together to discuss problems and to elect bodies which will implement what the workers want '.

On August 2 and 3, 1975 the Second Congress of Councils was held in Lisbon's Technological Institute. But a change was already noticeable. Whereas at the First Congress there had been a genuine working class representation, the second was primarily preaching to the converted. A number of enterprises were 'represented' but members of the PRP-BR and their friends and contacts constituted the bulk of the audience. Banners an the walls sought nostalgically to recapture the atmosphere - and even the vocabulary - of the Petragrad of 1917. 'Fora cam a canalha' 'Pader a quem trabalha'. 'Out with the scum! Power to the workers'. Long live the Socialist Revolution. In the haze of cigarette smoke the leftists dreamt on. The Technological Institute was Smolny, the Lisnave shipyards, the Putilov plant. The Congress discussed at length certain resolutions concerning the MFA-Pava alliance, none of which openly called for a clean break with this mystifying concept. The relations between COPCON and the PRP were very close at the time, and it was essential not to tread on anybody's toes. The perspective was clearly spelled out in a leaflet distributed at the Congress:

'The Councils are the proposed organisation of the workers at their place of work, in their neighbour hoods, in the barracks. The Councils seek to farm structures to take power, bath political and economic, in order to establish socialism. The CRTSM can't became the tool of any particular party because of the way they are elected. But this is not to say that they can't play an important role in the socialist revolution. Theirs is the task of ideologically organising the militants and of presenting proposals to the class. It will be up to the class, and the class alone, to decide what they want'.

The PRP-BR didn't have to call demonstrations under the name of Inter-Empresas in order to create a 'non-party' structure. 'The Councils are our organisation' they claimed, 'and it is not just because a party launched them that they can be accused of partyism. Council members are elected at their place of work and are at all times revocable by the workers'.

In a formal sense this was true. But the Councils nevertheless provided a good field for party manoeuvres. They had 'appeared' at the very moment when, after the fracas at Inter-Empresas, the workers were feeling their way towards new farms of organisation. But they were not barn directly in struggle. Their creation was contrived. As Conihate put it in 1975:

It is in the moment of impasse in the autonomous workers' struggle when people are saturated with party politics -but also at a time when the workers haven't yet created autonomous organisations relating various struggles to one another - that this wide open space far opportunist adventure appears'.

The space appeared - and the PRP colonised it. Councils implanted themselves in a few companies: Lisnave, Setenave, Efacec, Cambournac, etc. Their demonstrations certainly had an effect an Otela, and on the 'left' of the MFA in general. Because of this the CRTs could support COPCON and the 'progressive' wing of the MFA without serious thought being given to the whale question of state capitalism.

As a reality in the life of the class, the Councils hardly existed. They were significant only in the minds of PRP planners and intellectuals who had made a fetish of the 'council' farm, i.e. who had a traditional perspective. While workers participated in demonstrations organised by the CRTs, these bodies had few roots in the factories, where they were seen as yet another party political faction. Of the 1300 workers in Lisnave only two or three dozen actively supported the Councils. Other workers, searching far new means of self-expression, supported the Councils temporarily, as on the May Day demonstration of 1975. Mast workers soon reverted to their original instruments of struggle: the Workers' Committees. Throughout, the Councils remained more an idea than a real movement.


Some 300 'cooperatives' had been formed by August 1975 and another 200 were set up in September. In general, these productive units (whether industrial or agricultural) had appeared either when a boss had abandoned his company or when he had declared himself unable to continue running it as a profitable venture. Fewer than half were ever 'legalised': they existed in a certain limbo between established capitalist companies and enterprises under workers' self-management. A federation of cooperatives came into being and gradually sought to define itself, both in terms of structure and of functions. Let us look at the problems of a specific cooperative. The 17 workers at Termo e Sal (Lisbon) had been engaged in the assembly of air-conditioning equipment. Because of difficulties in paying the minimum wage the boss had abandoned the firm. The workers took it over. Through much sacrifice and many hours of overtime they managed to alter the type of production from the assembly of air-conditioning equipment to the assembly of drainage and electrical components, considered more important. A management committee was set up to deal with all aspects of finance. No decisions were taken without plenaria. In August 1975 one of the workers described the situation to me as follows:

'In terms of red tape it would have been easier to set up a limited company than a cooperative The cooperative had not yet been legalised though it was formed in November 1974. Different wages are paid, but everyone has equal responsibility. It is impossible to go back. If it proves necessary to take up arms to defend the cooperative, I and others would be prepared to do so. The boss is claiming indemnity which isn't fair. Many bosses have joined various cooperatives. I don't mind this, since they too have to eat. At first there were 22 workers here, hut 5 refused to join (the cooperative). The reason, I think, was that they were afraid. There are great difficulties in making socialism in a capitalist world, but the cooperative movement is a step in the right direction. Of course I am still a wage earner but what other way is there, here and now, of resolving the problem? The cooperative has made a contract with a Neigh-bourhood Association in a shanty town (in the borough of Falqueira, in Amadara, Lisbon) .. Our offer was the cheapest that the Neighbourhood Association had received. It was to do the plumbing and electrical wiring (same 5000 escudas per house as against 7000 or 9000 which others would have asked).'


Unpublished official statistics showed that by August 8, 206,645 hectares of 330 different 'herdades' and 'latifundias' had been occupied by same 6000 workers. The main regions affected were the Alenteja, the Ribateja, and the area around Castelo Branca (Centre). The organisation of this land into cooperatives and collectives was less amenable to left-wing manipulation. The government instrument for social change in the countryside was the IRA (Institute for the Re-organisation of Agriculture). Teams of agronomists and specialists worked far its 8 Regional Centers. At Evara, the IRA was running an an 18 hour day schedule. On May 17, 200 hectares in Alenteja (the farms of Mantargil, Leitoes, Pip as de Baixo, etc.) were occupied by about 100 workers. The occupation was supported by both IRA and MFA, and fertiliser was promised. The workers required 15 tractors to start work. With the area in full production they might need 30.

On June 11 the Quinta (farm) da Torre, near Cabanas, was transformed into a cooperative. The IRA gave support. The land had been abandoned by its previous owner, the Count of Tajal. The occupation was carried out with the help of the local Neighbourhood Committee. Machines were taken from a nearby factory to help clear 30 hectares. Houses on the land were to be part of the cooperative.

The 300 hectares of the Quinta de Alagoas near Lagoa (Algarve) were turned into a collective (named 'Red Star'). The Quinta of Sousa de S&, near Evora, was occupied. Some 2000 hectares were involved. Twelve latifundiarios attacked the workers with guns. One man was wounded. On July 16, the Quinta de Sio Pedro in the village of Cuba (Mentejo) was also occupied and a cooperative set up.

On July 25 some 10,000 hectares in the district of Santarem were occupied by 354 workers and declared a collective. Other workers carrying pick-axes had climbed onto trucks and helped the agricultural workers carry out this massive occupation. Together they had taken over farms at Engal (2000 hectares and 23 workers), Monte Couco (3000 hectares and 62 workers), Esparteiro (300 hectares and 45 workers), Faias (350 hectares and 45 workers), Aguas Belas (700 hectares and 62 workers), Aldeja VeIha (1100 hectares and 59 workers), Courela dos Barreiros (500 hectares and the same workers as the preceding farm), Palma (300 hectares and 19 workers), Mopte Novo (1000 hectares and the same workers), and Ruivos (700 hectares and 48 workers).

By the end of July 1975 a clear pattern was emerging. The most noticeable fact was that there was never talk of dividing up the land. The land was to be worked collectively and owned by the village as a whole. The availibility of workers was never in question, but the lack of machinery caused endless problems. The Bank Workers Union (affiliated to Intersindical) had helped ensure that credits were granted to occupied farms. But the agricultural banks insisted that the loans be invested under the guidance of the Minister of Agriculture, Baptista, and through the IRA Regional Centers.

Immediately after an occupation teams from the IRA would arrive and discuss things with the workers. Decisions would only be taken if the workers agreed. Credits would be allocated to the new cooperatives at the current bank rate (6.5%). The credits included an emergency fund from which wage arrears could be paid. Many cooperatives took over stockpiles of cork and wood and sold them to pay wages.

The law on Agrarian Reform had set a ceiling of 500 hectares on personal land holdings. This gave the government power to take over land needed by cooperatives. In many areas the IRA Regional Centers would immediately legalise an occupation. The task of these Centers was to service the cooperatives, not to manage them. Workers at the Centers had constantly to remind agricultural workers of this fact.

Apart from the cooperative movement there also existed a 'League of Small and Medium Farmers'. They were puzzled by the occupations and afraid that their lands would also be taken over. Most were secretly if not openly against the movement.

In the Evora district some 100 occupations had already occurred. During August 1975 new occupations were occurring daily. Again let us look at a specific case: the cooperative of Safira, near Montemor (Alentejo). Having occupied two farms (covering a total area of 1100 hectares) the 89 workers involved elected a Committee which immediately contacted the IRA Regional Center. The occupation was registered. The Committee, meeting in a barn, decided to ask for a loan of 300,000 escudos to get the farms going. Ze', the most articulate member of the Committee spoke to me of some of the problems:

'The owners of the land came round at night', with the intention of removing some of the machinery left on the farm. Because of this a night picket has been set up. Another farm nearby lost two tractors through lack of vigilance. Most occupations are guarded by armed workers. People know it. They don't come this way at night. 'Another problem is the continued capitalist mentality of the workers. Our neighbours at lnfanta have two machines which we would like to borrow. But instead of lending them to us, they want to hire them to us at 400 escudos per day. A meeting of the two cooperatives has solved the problem by analysing the politics of such a transaction. 'A small property is stuck right between the two occupied farms. Although they have no particular respect for its owner, the men want to rent his place from him, and for the government to pay the rent. They have invited this individual to join the cooperative but he has refused. The problem remains unsolved. It will depend on the line of the League of Small and Medium Farmers, of which this man is a member. 'The workers on the cooperative have received no wages for 7 weeks. No emergency monies have been paid to them. We cut some 24,000 tons of cork and seized another 25,000 tons when we occupied the farm. We intend to sell this to pay ourselves'.

Ze' also spoke (and here he was interrupted by other members of the Committee) about the number of wild rabbits roaming the fields. Because of the general opposition to hunting rabbits (a predominantly aristocratic pastime, and one of the reasons why the land was not cultivated) there was a certain confusion as to what to do. The workers from the Regional Center in Evora advised the men to do whatever they thought fit. They alone knew the problems. As one IRA worker put it:

'For 48 years you have had people making decisions for you. If we were now to do that, everything would stay the same. You have occupied the land, now do what you want. Shoot the rabbits if you want to'. In general, this was the attitude of the IRA workers. There was little red tape and the only control by the Center was in the allocation of loans which were, in most cases, automatically granted. Yet there was a great class divide between the Committee and the IRA technical helpers. The IRA team asked the workers to criticise the Center. Ze' spoke of two grievances. The first was a certain disorganisation. When he went to the Center he met different people all the time. Secondly, what one IRA worker said didn't always correspond with what another said.

This, of course, wasn't surprising. Within the Center there were all sorts of political technocratic tendencies. 'they ranged from PCP to MRPP and even included 'libertarians'. In general the role of the IRA was one of recuperation. Just as COPCON helped promote the myth that the working class didn't need to be armed, the IRA promoted the myth that the working class didn't need to take control of the total juridical and financial power. No matter how much the IRA repeated that the workers had friends in the Centers, the existence of the IRA as a lifeline to power impeded the setting up of parallel and autonomous workers' organisations, at this level.


Here again, party struggles tended to dominate the autonomous movement. The Neighbourhood Committees met with interference from the PRP and UDP and, in certain cases, from the MRPP. Within the Assemblies vicious struggles for control were waged, local problems being subordinated to party issues. As usual, many inhabitants lost interest. While some 38 Committees had been represented in the April 19 demonstration, by August only 8 Committees were attending CRAM at all regularly.

The Committees from the shanty' towns were less easily manipulated. Their struggles were spurred on by absolute necessity: they wanted houses and they wanted them soon.

While the PCP spoke of 'anarcho-populism' (to describe any movement they couldn't control), and while the PPD spoke of 'fictitious popular power' (by which they meant that bourgeois democracy was in crisis) the Neighbourhood Committees themselves faced many difficulties. Here are a few:

1) Representativity. Some 17,000 people lived in the borough of Anjos. But the Assembly which met 'in the name' of these residents only grouped some 300 individuals. The figures shouldn't be taken to imply that 16,700 people were against the Neighbourhood Committee. Many would not attend because they worked at night, because they were tired after a day's work, because a member of their family was visiting, because they didn't think a particular meeting important, or because they were fed up with the squabbles. A certain kind of person tended to dominate. They spoke better, explained their ideas more clearly, were used to organisation and control.

2) Passivity. In the shanty towns many workers remained passive on the question of what type of housing should be built for them. 'Wait and see, we'll know when we get the key' was a common attitude. Nor was there much discussion as to the nature of the family in the new homes: it was implied that similar structures would continue to exist (though, obviously, in better surroundings).

3) Individualist On the whole the spirit was collective, not individualistic. When certain workers expressed individualistic views (abusing those who couldn't pay rents, for instance) they were themselves immediately criticised. Proposals for creating funds for those in difficulty were discussed. There were also cases where people were expelled from Committees. The commonest cause of this was receiving money for occupying houses.

4) Recuperation. The Parish Juntas and other instruments of local government were a brake on the whole process of social change, often sabotaging or diverting demands. Thus a Junta which controlled an area of bourgeois housing had the great idea of setting up a 'popular park' in the place of the shanties. This MDP-CDE Junta was obviously trying to create a park which would only be used by those already housed.

5) Statification. In a sense both SAAL (for Neigh-bourhood Committees) and IRA (for land occupations) acted as agents of state capitalism, directing struggles into forms acceptable to the state, making inventories of what was occupied and providing information for the ministries as to what was going on. Many revolutionaries joined these organisations and, sympathetic to the problems of the base, attempted to put their physical and intellectual resources at the disposal of the Committees. But many workers feared them, as they feared a/l state institutions, despite the assistance received.