The portuguese government and opposition parties in parliament today commemorate the forty years of the 25th of April revolution; yet they do so fearful of the very word “revolution”. To commemorate is already to disarm, to confine the event to a stabilised and domesticated past. The revolution is finished, long live the revolution. Its victory is confined to the legacy of a liberal democracy and a well ordered capitalism.
Yet in the wake of the coup d’état that brought down the 48 year old fascist regime, and unexpectedly for all, power fell into the streets, to be taken up by industrial and agricultural workers, neighbourhoods, students and soldiers. For 19 months, until the November 25th, 1975 coup, a popular democracy gained form in factory councils, rural collectives and cooperatives, and neighbourhood assemblies. And if the initial motivations for these movements was often modest (e.g. securing employment, better housing, etc.), the limits of what was possible were quickly pushed back in the very struggle to satisfy these ambitions.
Arrayed against the “council democracy” was not only the State and Capital, the social relations which defined them, but an opposing model of socialism that saw in the State the principal vehicle for revolutionary change.
More often than not, operating at the margins of/in opposition to the major institutional actors of the post coup d’état period, factories and rural estates were occupied and set to work; houses were appropriated and neighbourhoods fell under the partial authority of autonomous, self-managed, participatory commissions. Together they prefigured a form of life freed from domination.
The revolutionary movement failed, in the sense that it was unable to create the conditions for its expansion and intensification. The causes here, both internal and external, are far too many to catalogue and remain a matter of dispute. But on the side of the popular movements, one may cite a lack of unity of purpose across the different “council” organisations and tensions, contradictions, in relation to the perceived role of the State, the military and political parties of the Left in the revolution.
Setting aside the failure, today it is this revolution, within the “official” revolution, which is passed over, forcefully cast to oblivion. Yet it is this revolution that must be, not commemorated, but lived as our present.