Last weekend I visited a group of comrades from Belgium. After a day of interesting discussions and speeches, the night took a lighter tone with drinks, stories and songs.
Alan from the International committee shared memories from the time he was recruited, and how things had to be all hush-hush back in the 70s. Amelie, Bruno and I discussed the quirky differences between Flanders and the Netherlands, and what colourful and interesting historical figures they both brought forth. But the best thing was when Dan pulled out his songbook of revolutionary music. We sang together Bella Ciao, Katjusha and other of such classics.
But the best part when comrade Eduard decided to sing Grandola Vila Morena – the song of the Portuguese revolution. Eduard is one of the older members. He fumbled a bit with his reading glasses, brushed a crease from his waistcoat and cleared his throat before beginning to sing. Bruno later called him “a bit of a sentimental Marxist”. Eduard was visibly moved by the song, even now. He softly sang, peeking over his glasses now and then, and a few times I thought he’d tear up. But he didn’t and in the end received a warm applause.
Three days later the conservative minority government in Portugal fell thanks to a left coalition. It might have been a coincidence, but indirectly I like to think it was all connected.
What we did together that evening was a continuation of a long, long tradition. The tradition of patience and dedication for wanting to make the world a better place. Because we didn’t give up when Leon Trotsky was assassinated, and we didn’t give up after the United States and capitalism attempt to conquer the world. And because of this perseverance, the opposition in Portugal didn’t give up either. Just as back in 1974 they knew better times would come, if we stay united and don’t loose sight of our goals.
Not giving up and not losing sight of your ideals is not easy. It takes leadership. But it doesn’t end there. If there’s only leadership, the people start to slip out of focus because they weren’t knowledgeable enough. And when the masses lose their focus, bad leadership can take over with disastrous consequences. One of the songs in our songbook was Le Marseillaise., the song of the French revolution and currently the national anthem of France. One of our comrades reacted: “Wait, that’s not a socialist song!” – Of course it was a revolutionary song. But back in 1792 the revolution was muddled by reactionary groups. The originally left leaning ‘sans culottes’ violently radicalised and famous inquisitor Maximilian Robespierre turned from a reasonable, idealist politician into a bloodthirsty beast. Today the Marseillaise is a song for the nationalist bourgeoisie.
It’s exactly why Lenin en Trotsky concentrated so much on educating the youth. Power to the people means leading the people and educating them. Educated people can’t be fooled and will question the authority. That way the leadership reinforces the democracy. This way a malevolent leader can not hijack the revolution. Look at modern examples: Ukraine and the Maidan. Fascist reactionaries wouldn’t be able to take charge if the people knew their theory. Thus they become empty shells that follow the leadership without question.
Strong leadership, strong people and clear goals. That’s how the Portuguese opposition managed to oust the government. They didn’t let the elite divide them, but worked together in the interest of the working class.