By Richard Swift
The revolutionary process in Portugal is not one that lends itself
very easily to a coherent political analysis. Political leadership
is quickly thrown up by the creative energy of the workers and peasants
and as quickly discarded as its usefulness to them wears thin. In
many ways it recalls the French revolutionary process of 1789. Like
the revolt of the first estate in France, Portuguese events started
at the top with the revolt of the Spinola group attempting to engineer
a neo-colonial solution in Portugal's African territories. As in
France, this created a dynamic in which more and more demands on
the revolution were being made from below. The strongest similarity
with France is in this political process whereby a political grouping
reaches power (the Girondins, Jacobins, or the Directory) just in
time to see the alliance of social classes which created it broken
down by the emergence of new needs and fresh polarizations which
rob it of its initial social support. In Portugal this dynamic has
caught up with the original Spinola grouping of officers, the alliance
of Armed Forces Movement and political party moderates and radicals
and most recently the Portuguese Communist Party and its military
allies. The present 'coalition' government is being subjected to
the same pressures.
Each new regime has promised its own form of 'normalization' to
meet its own ends. For this purpose a whole arsenal of repressive
legislation such as the Censorship Law and the Labour Relations
Act have been created but seldom applied. This legislation has remained
on the shelf and normalization' has not proceeded very far because
the initiative has not rested with these governments. The initiative
rested with those workers who have taken over and are running their
factories, the peasants who have seized the large estates, the tenants
who have occupied and are co-operatively running vacant housing,
neighbourhood committees, and perhaps most importantly the soldiers'
committees which have challenged the whole hierarchical concept
of a traditional army. Each political crisis has meant a new gathering
of strength for the working class. In the last year and a half,
Portugal has become a vast laboratory of experimentation and apprenticeship
for large-sections of the Portuguese people in learning to run their
own society. Whatever political arrangements are finally arrived
at, this self-activity and the confidence it has created have become
an integral part of Portuguese working class experience. It will
not be forgotten.
The growth of socialist consciousness is widely evident all over
Portugal but particularly in the urban areas and in the south. After
decades of acute censorship the signs of intense political debate
are everywhere; posters covering walls and monuments, posters on
the inside of banks (Banco de Atlantico), insurance companies taken
over by their workers, mass demonstrations, socialist literature
on sale in the streets, and groups of men gathering spontaneously
to discuss current political issues. The Chinese technique of communication
by means of wall posters has been widely adopted. In Lisbon's railroad
station workers gather to read the latest rumours of fascist political
maneouvering or the political position of one of the myriad left
groups. After years of enforced 'apolitical' existence under the
Salazar and Caetano regimes there is little of the reluctance to
view life in its political dimensions which characterizes many of
the countries where the bourgeoisie have been able to establish
a more effective cultural and spiritual hegemony. Although there
is a healthy mistrust of political parties, it is not rooted in
the same apathy, cynicism, and feelings of powerlessness which impede
working class self-activity in much of Western Europe and all of
North America. The ruling groups of Portuguese society have been
badly compromised by their years of collaboration with the fascist
dictatorship and its policies of colonial aggression. They are having
trouble regrouping politically, let alone establishing their credibility
as the legitimate powerholders. In fact the traditional instruments
of their legitimation such as the press and the electronic media
have become an important force in the struggle for working class
control. It is in this light that the struggle for workers' control
in the newspaper Republica and the Catholic Radio-Renaissance
should be seen.
Many events in contemporary Portugal take on spontaneous political
implications. A New Year's Eve celebration became a spontaneous
festival of the "blaze of freedom". A village discussion
of the lack of daycare facilities leads to the occupation of the
local manor house. A factory discussion on increasing the wage levels
of the lowest paid leads to an attempted takeover of production.
There is also widespread awareness of the international dimensions
of the class struggle. The liberation struggles in Africa have exerted
a powerful influence in Portuguese society. This can be seen both
in the 'models of socialism' debate and in the sentiments of indebtedness
to and solidarity with the liberation movements. Rallies in support
of the Chilean resistance and the recent sacking of the Spanish
embassy in Lisbon to protest Franco's ruthless policies of repression
are recent examples.
The revolutionary process in Portugal has been badly distorted in
a well-orchestrated campaign by the interna-tional press. The cold-war
lenses through which the wire services see the struggle for Portugal
have little to do with Portuguese realities. The scenario is familiar.
Any advances by the workers' movement or democratization of the
army are seen as part of a Moscow-run plot carried out by the Portuguese
Communist Party (PCP) to usurp the newly-won freedom of the Portuguese
people. The campaign centres in the leadership factions of the Portuguese
Socialist Party (PSP) who have become the major rallying-point for
international capital. This campaign, mostly in combination with
economic pressures from the European Economic Community, are aimed
at forcing a moderation in the process of democratizing Portuguese
society both economically and politically. The international bourgeoisie
is greatly concerned that the April elections failed to provide
a parliamentary channelling of revolutionary energies. As always
the focal points for the development of workers' power in everyday
life lie outside the field of parliamentary representation. The
'plot' theory they are using to explain Portuguese events takes
advantage of the well-known Stalinist proclivities of the PCP. However,
it is based on a vest overestimation of the Communists' strength.
This situation has been further reinforced by the Communist Party
and their allies abroad who have been quick to identify the party's
fortunes with those of the revolutionary process as a whole. This
has led to a very serious misunderstanding of the very ambivalent
role the PCP has played in this process. To be sure, the Communist
tenure in power was one marked by vast conquests of power by the
workers' movement. This is particularly true in regard to the cultural
dynamization carried out by the Armed Forces Movement in some of
the most socially backward rural areas. It is also true of the emergence
of political debate inside the armed forces and the beginnings of
the struggle for democracy there. The Gonsalves regime allowed the
breathing space for these things to take place. However, as often
as not, factory occupations, land seizures, strikes, and the building
of institutions of political power in the neighbourhoods were opposed
by the Party. The Communists plainly saw that they were losing control
of the mass movement. Things were getting messy. The movement could
not be used simply as an instrument of party policy. Working people
were developing needs and aspirations of their own. Not only that,
they were acting on them.
This is perhaps most clear in the struggles taking place in the
nationalized industries. According to the Communist Party, once
an industry had been nationalized, the workers in that industry
ceased to have any 'class enemy'.
This by now covers over 50% of Portuguese enterprises. Authoritarian
relations of production were to be allowed to remain intact even
though private property in the means of production had been abolished.
This is perfectly compatible with the bureaucratic collectivist
model of eastern Europe where both production and society are con-trolled
'for the workers' by a caste of professional politicians and bureaucrats.
However, workers in the nationalized sector, starting with the
steel industry, began raising their own demands and creating their
own forms of organization. Demands for control over work conditions,
wage equalization and a greater say in creating production policy
were all important issues to the workers. Workers' commissions and
councils were formed. These organizations and their counterparts
in the neighbourhoods, army, and rural areas, represent a very high
stage in the process of creating a self-managed socialist society.
Because they are rooted in production and the daily life of the
people, their capacity for mobilization is much greater than that
of the "Committees for the Defense of the Revolution"
envisioned by the Communists to be instruments of mass mobilization.
These committees were to have a strictly ideological function.
The 'models of socialism' debate has been an important part of the
developing political situation in Portugal. There is considerable
dissatisfaction in Portugal with both western European Social Democracy
and the eastern European model of socialism. Even the moderate 'Melo
Antunes' group of officers felt it necessary to dissociate themselves
from both these forms in their political statements. The influence
of FRELIMO and the other liberation movements on sectors of the
army has meant that their conception of socialism is one with a
heavy emphasis on popular democracy and participation. This influence
as well as the strength of several neo-Marxist currents in the Portuguese
left has made the 'models of socialism' debate a particularly lively
This debate is closely tied to the analytical controversy over what
kind of society Portugal really is. One position states that Portugal
is a 'third world' society within Europe. This analysis concontrates
on the rural nature of the country, the Portuguese workers who are
forced into the western European labour market, and the authoritarian
political forms that have dominated Portuguese society. The other
view stresses the semi-industrial nature of Portugal (Paul Sweezy
recently pointed out that only one-third of the population is in
the agrarian sector) and the European traditions of the Portuguese.
While it is not possible at this point to identify clear political
conclusions and strategies which flow from these different views,
they obviously relate to the economic and social needs and possibiIities
on which a socialist strategy will be based. One of the most obvious
issues facing any such strategy is the severity of regional disparities
in Portugal. The relationship between the 'internal colony' in north-eastern
Portugal and the industrial belt running from Lisbon down to Setubal
has been reproduced on a political level in the struggle between
the anti-Communist north and the Lisbon-area 'red' belt. Such uneven
development leaves room for much reactionary maneuvering as recent
events all too clearly show. (4)
A survey of the revolutionarv groups on the Portuguese left reveals
the success of those political organizations which have developed
a dialectical relationship with the popular movements. Those Groups
have been able to relate to and play an initiating role in the formation
of workers' councils, to help bring about the expansion of workers'
power, and to understand and even learn from the emerging needs
and aspirations of the people. The Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat
(PRP), the Left Socialist Movement (MES) and the League for Unified
Armed Revolution (LUAR) have all played an important part at different
times and in different areas in this process of developing workers'
power. In this way these groups have been able to grow and become
rooted in the working class.
Those groups which have fetishized their own organization and political
'line' and have attempted to use the workers' movement as an instrument
of their own party policy have not fared as well. This is illustrated
by the several Marxist-Leninist (Maoist) groupings which have emerged
mostly since the coup. The collapse of their politics has reached
such a point that the two largest Maoist organizations, the largely
student based Movement for the Reorganization of the Proletarian
Party (MRPP) and the Popular Democratic Union (UDP) have engaged
in gunfights with one another. The Portuguese Communist Party (M-L)
which has official Chinese sanction, has been supporting the 'Melo
Antunes' group of officers and the right wing of the Socialist Party
against Communist Party 'social fascism'. These forms of authoritarianism
and sectarianism have impeded significant growth and creative political
activity. Of these groups only the Popular Democratic Union is of
any size or consequence within the working class.
The recent rise to power of a western-backed Social Democratic coalition
has brought renewed pressure to reverse popular conquests of power.
The polarization of the army is reaching a point where the differences
between radicals and moderates are becoming clearer and clearer.
Top officers in all three services have been pushing for the exclusion
of politics from the barracks and the isolation of the soldiers'
movement from the workers' movement. Radicals in the army have shown
a high level of combativity in resisting this process. The recent
formation of a rank-and-file soldiers' organization, "United
Soldiers Will Win" (SUV), and the continued refusal of the
internal security force, COPCON, to support these repressive tendencies,
have provided poles of opposition to this 'normalization'.
The new assaults on the popular movement demand a more consistent
and co-ordinated response from the left. To this end, several organizations
including the LUAR, the MES, and the PRP have formed the United
Revolutionary Front (FUR) to improve the organization and stimulate
the combativity of the popular response. It is hoped that this will
help fill the void created by the vacillation and manipulative policies
of the PCP and the decline of its working class support and capacity
The mechanisms of international counter-revolution are by now well-known.
The economic pressures, massive misinformation campaigns, and straight
counter-insurgency efforts exert a powerful influence. Only popular
mobilization on the widest possible basis can ensure a level of
combativity necessary to defeat these forces. This can only be achieved
by organization which is a tool of working class needs and aspirations.
To reverse this and make the working class a tool of organization
can only lead to cynicism and passivity. Only a working class which
sees itself as the subject of history can ensure that Portugal will
not be the Chile of Europe.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This article was written before the recent failure of left-wing
military officers to seize power. The purges in the military and
the press which have followed this ill-planned and defensive attempt
are severe reverses for socialism and are likely to intensify the
pressures for 'normalization'.
The lack of co-ordination between the military and civilian left
and the political vacuum created by the timidity and sectarianism
of the PCP were obvious factors in recent events. The movement toward
some form of social-democratic solution with authoritarian undertones
will likely be accelerated.
There are, however, some factors that the new rulers must take into
account in the long run. The intense politicization and "revolution
of rising expectations" will create severe pressures for the
Socialist Party both internally and externally. The internal tensions
created in social-democratic parties elsewhere because of their
failure to win concessions for their working class base within the
framework of capitalism will be further intensified by Portuguese
conditions. It is unlikely that an overtly authoritarian regime
will emerge so that some room for organizing by the left will remain.
In addition, the revolutionary left in Portugal are used to working
in situations of extreme political repression, and at this point
have over 20,000 weapons stolen from the military as insurance.
But perhaps most importantly, the Portuguese working class has the
experience and confidence gained through their own creative self-activity
in struggling for control of society. This will be invaluable in
buildina a working class 'culture of resistance'.
1. On the culutral dynamization program and other articles on Portugal,
see Fred Strasser, "The Cultural Dynamization Program",
Liberation, Summer, 1975.
2. For a more detailed analysis of the creation of popular power
and the struggle in the nationalized industries, look at Portugal:
A Blaze of Freedom, published by Big Flame in England and available
through Radical America (P.O. Box B, North Cambridge, Mass.,
U.S.A.) or from the Development Education Centre (DEC), 121 Avenue
Rd., Toronto, phone 416-964-6560.
3. "Class Struggles in Portugal", Monthly Review,
4. For good background information on Portugal see Kenneth Maxwell,
"The Hidden Revolution in Portugal", New York Review
of Books, Apr. 17 and May 11, 1975.
5. For a less schematic view of the activities of different left
groups in Portugal, see People's Translation Service, 1735 Allston
Way, Berkeley, Cal., 94703, USA. Also just published by PTS, a booklet
entitled Portugal: Key Documents of the Revolutionary Process.
Also available at DEC, 121 Avenue Rd., Toronto, phone 416-964-6560.
Richard Swift is a socialist activist in Toronto. He works with
the Development Education Center (DEC). He visited Portugal in the
spring of 1975.
Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The
Red Menace, February 1976.
The Impossible Revolution (book review)
Menace home page
The - Portugal
Politics - Socialism