Revolution and Counter Revolution in Portugal
All Kerenskyist or popular-frontist regimes are made up of three elements: on one hand, the bourgeoisie; on the other, the petty-bourgeois or bureaucratic representatives of the workers movement; and in the middle, the mediator or conciliator.
This is the role that Kerensky played in the Russian revolution.
Half Kadet and half Social Revolutionary, Kerensky was not a representative of the soviets in the government, like Tseretelli or Chernov, but a living tie between the bourgeoisie and the democracy. Tseretelli and Chernov formed one side of the Coalition. Kerensky was a personal incarnation of the Coalition itself. (History of the Russian Revolution, op. cit., Vol.2, p.139.)
It is true that there is no Kerensky in the Portuguese government. It lacks this personal trait that Kerenskyism shares with Bonapartism. This circumstance does not stand in the way of the preciseness of the definition that we have formulated. When the Trotskyists defined the Hindenburg government as Bonapartist, the objection was raised that this old marshal was the very negation of Napoleon, psychologically as well as socially. Trotsky quickly disposed of the question: He made it clear that the definition did not refer to the individual, but to the sociopolitical role that he played. Hindenburg’s Bonapartism was an institution, not an individual. Going beyond his personal characteristics, he was a symbol of the historic role played by Bonapartism in Germany.
We can apply the same criterion to the government of the MFA. Kerensky arose from the great petty-bourgeois Russian party, the Social Revolutionary party; but, at the same time, it had always been tied to the liberal bourgeoisie. And it was only from this party that a“conciliator” could emerge able to mediate between the bourgeois counterrevolution and the proletarian revolution. Almost fifty years of apoliticalness in Portugal prevented the rise and consolidation of a petty-bourgeois party (and within it, figures closely linked to the bourgeoisie): This is the vacuum that the MFA fills, willy-nilly. And in this way makes up for the nonexistent conciliator.
The parallel between Kerensky and the MFA is note worthy. The discussion of Bonapartism in the preceding pages could have taken place, in almost identical terms, in 1917. Trotsky points out the strong Bonapartist tendencies of Kerensky, tendencies that cannot be imposed owing to the victorious rise of the mass movement, which culminates in the taking of power. And, precisely because of this, because the Bonapartist tendencies are not able to impose themselves, the government is not Bonapartist, but another type of government: Kerenskyist, as we have already mentioned.
Another trait Kerensky and the MFA have in common is the lack of sympathy and confidence the respective bourgeoisies feel for their “saviors”: “Their understanding that the régime of Kerensky was the inevitable form of bourgeois rulership for the given period, did not prevent the bourgeois politicians from being extremely dissatisfied with Kerensky, nor from preparing to get rid of him as quickly as possible. There was no disagreement among the possessing classes that the national arbiter put forward by the petty bourgeois democracy must be opposed by a figure from their own ranks.” (Ibid., Vol.2, p.157.)
It is the decline of the workers and mass movement that elevates and keeps the Bonapartist government in power. The exact opposite occurs with Kerenskyism—each advance of the workers and mass movement elevates it more and more:
The dialectic of the compromise régime, and its malicious irony, lie in the fact that the masses had to lift Kerensky to the very highest height before they could topple him over. (Ibid., Vol.2, p.140.)
This is exactly what is occurring with the MFA. After the fall of Caetano, it obtained only a few secondary ministries in the first provisional government. In a short time, the colonial movement and the mass struggles in Portugal confronted Spínola because of the delay in granting independence to the colonies and in calling a Constituent Assembly, causing the fall of the prime minister Palma Carlos. The MFA then imposed one of its men (Col. Vasco Goncalves) as prime minister. When the mass mobilizations caused the fall of Spínola, the MFA was able to gain total control of the cabinet. The defeat of the March 11 “putsch” enabled the MFA to get the big workers parties and the most important bourgeois party to sign the “Pact-Program,” which recognized the right of the MFA to control the government for a period of three to five years. It is along these same lines that Trotsky says, “The July government of Kerensky had been endowed with unlimited powers.” (Ibid., Vol.2, p.153.) But as in the case of Kerensky, this elevation above the classes and the different parties has little practical value, since the MFA does not have the power necessary to impose its decisions. Trotsky says that “without Kerensky compromisism would have been like a church steeple without a cross.” (Ibid., Vol.2, p.140.) The MFA also crowns the building of the impossible conciliation of classes in the midst of the revolutionary storm.
Finally, let’s take a look at another trait that the MFA has in common with Kerensky: his disorganizing, anarchist role. Everything it wants to put in order it puts in disorder, everything it wants to construct, it destroys. This is just the opposite to Bonapartism, the regime of law and order par excellence although everyone (except the revolutionists) would like to see the MFA achieve this goal. In spite of this desire shared by all of the bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie, and the reformist working-class parties, and the efforts they make along these lines, their objective is far beyond their reach. Order can only be the product of the triumph of the workers revolution or the bourgeois counterrevolution, and Kerenskyism is an intermediary between these two gigantic forces, and at the same time, their prisoner.
When the Militant draws its analogy between the Russian and Portuguese revolutions, it forgets that in the former the Social Revolutionary party and Kerensky existed, representing the petty bourgeoisie and fulfilling the role of intermediaries between the masses and the imperialist bourgeoisie. What parties and organisms in Portugal reflect the petty bourgeoisie, mainly the modern middle class, the way the Russian Social Revolutionaries did? Or is the Portuguese revolution the first in which the petty bourgeoisie has no representation? And is the present government a class-collaborationist government without an intermediary or conciliator like Kerensky?
If we observe the Portuguese political panorama, we find that the bourgeoisie as well as the working class are clearly represented. The bourgeoisie, in its various wings, by the reactionary officers, Spínola, Costa Gomes, and the bourgeois political parties. The working class has two petty-bourgeois, or bureaucratic, representatives: Socialism and Stalinism. On the other hand, the petty bourgeoisie apparently has no specific organization that represents it. This is no accident: All the Portuguese parties are, in a certain sense, new because fifty years of fascism gave them no opportunity to test their cadres and leaderships. This is doubly so in the camp of the “people.” The CP and the SP based their ideology and apparatus on external factors: first, Moscow and European Stalinism; second, the European Social Democracy. It is not in vain that they are representatives of an international class—and of its deformations. But the Portuguese petty bourgeoisie is not an international class. And its petty-bourgeois representatives are—they are obliged to be—the most genuine, most backward national product, with no ties to international apparatuses. These, too, were the characteristics of the Russian Social Revolutionaries.
It seems to us that the Portuguese petty bourgeoisie, for lack of historical time, had to improvise its political representation, dividing it among various organizations, not specifically. This division of its representation fell to the Socialist Party and to a lesser degree to parties in the orbit of Stalinism. This vacuum forced a specific political organization to be improvised within the army, fundamentally to represent the modern middle class, the MFA. In Russia, the “progressive” low-ranking officers joined or responded to a big petty-bourgeois party, the Social Revolutionaries, organizing themselves in the army in cells or branches of this party. In Portugal, the absence of such a big party of the middle class fragmented the representation of that class into two or three political sectors, but obliged it to organize itself in a united form within the army.
In view of the fact that the Portuguese government is supported on two bases: the officers and structure of some armed forces in crisis, and the agreement and support of the reformist parties, a division of tasks has developed between these forces and the MFA. It is the same division that occurred in Russia between the Mensheviks and the Social Revolutionaries on the one hand, and Kerensky on the other. The Portuguese reformist parties placate the masses and try to demobilize them, as did the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries in Russia. The MFA-Kerensky acts as a conciliator-bridge between them and the political and bourgeois-military organs (parties, high commands and officer corps).
The MFA plays this role because of the lack of “traditional” political personalities or organisms that could do it and because of the peculiar characteristics of the Portuguese “February.” It is no accident that Kerensky came from the right wing of the Social Revolutionaries, practically from the border between them and the liberal bourgeoisie. He was the man whose political practice formed a bridge between the revolutionary masses—represented in their time by the various nuances within their party—and the liberal bourgeois Kadets. But in Portugal fascism brought about a “February” without the existence of big historic parties representing the different classes. This is one of the reasons why April 25, the Portuguese February, did not find its expression through the Portuguese “Social Revolutionaries” and “Kadets,” but through its military substitutes. If the April 25 “putsch” was basically military, its personalities and organisms should likewise be military. And, if the lower-ranking officers who organized the MFA played the role of the Social Revolutionaries and Spínola that of the Kadets, Vasco Goncalves, along with the MFA itself, replaced Kerensky. It is no accident that Vasco Goncalves is a lieutenant colonel, and not a member of the lower officer class. His function as a bridge between it and the generals, his location on the border, the limit, between one and the other placed him in a position that could not be improved on to play the role of intermediary. And as intermediary in the sector in which the crisis broke out, the armed forces, just like Kerensky in the broadest framework of the relationship between the parties of the Russian revolution when the social crisis broke out. From there to rising to the position of a Kerensky among the Portuguese parties, classes, and military factions as a whole, required only a single step. A step that was taken by the MFA and its leader Vasco Goncalves. As a result of this role as intermediary, the MFA itself became an echo chamber for its speakers, thus becoming polarized in different tendencies and living from crisis to crisis as a result of these antagonisms.
This class character and function is the only coherent explanation of the history, ideology, and politics of the MFA. The other definition, upheld by many comrades, that the MFA is the direct organ or representative of the imperialist bourgeoisie, is wrecked by insoluble contradictions. How do you explain the frictions and struggle between Spínola, who gathered around him the bourgeoisie after the April 25 coup, and the MFA, which represented that same bourgeoisie? Are there two wings of the same bourgeoisie that confront each other in attempts at civil war, that hit at each other with “putschs,” that battle each other, that persecute each other, and, while one flees the country, the other “carries on demagogy”? It all looks like a game of chess played by a single person: the imperialist bourgeoisie. But these insoluble contradictions are resolved (and the character of the MFA, its history of oscillations between the bourgeoisie and the revolution, with clashes in both directions, becomes crystal clear as soon as we consider it as the political representation of the modern middle class within the army, elevated so as to have to play the role of conciliator between the ongoing workers and colonial revolution and the Portuguese bourgeoisie and its political and military representatives.
This class definition does not in the least mean that we place any confidence whatsoever in the MFA. On the contrary, the analogy with Kerensky is all the more useful. Like him, the MFA is the representative of the imperialist middle class, which has thrived upon and will continue to thrive upon the exploitation of the colonies, just as the Russian Social Revolutionaries wanted to continue the predatory war of Russian imperialism “up until the final victory.” They have likewise thrived upon and want to continue to thrive upon the exploitation of the working class; they are, thus, doubly reactionary.
The contradictions shaking the MFA simply express the contradictory character of the class it represents: With its plebeian, “socializing” methods, it is the most formidable tool that the Portuguese imperialist bourgeoisie has now. If it fulfills such an outstanding role in the bourgeois strategy, this is owing to the extreme weakness of the bourgeoisie and of the empire it is defending. This weakness, which caused the crisis in the army, has left the imperialist middle class as the only obstacle facing the revolution, not only in Portugal, but also in the empire. The imperialist bourgeoisie will have no better instrument until it is able to discipline the army and develop a fascist movement.
Many are the interpretations that have been given of the MFA phenomena, some of them extremely dangerous.
There are those who maintain that it is “a new phenomenon.” It is true that the MFA, like any phenomenon, has something new about it, but it is very grave to assert that something is new simply to evade making a class analysis. It is precisely from the angle of the relationship between the classes that the MFA is not essentially new: It must be explained by the revolutionary impact and the dynamic of the three main classes of society within the armed forces. These comrades become confused in face of the real crisis and the dual power in the Portuguese armed forces, and they ascribe this situation to the MFA, when in reality, the MFA is the expression of the situation. Just as many “leftists” were in favor of a republican Spain and its government, or of the “February revolution in Russia” and its government, going onto ecstasies over the revolution as a whole, including dual power, some comrades do the same with the Portuguese revolution, placing an equal sign between the MFA and the gains of the masses. In this way they hide the clear and precise functions of the MFA: to be the conciliating agent of the imperialist counterrevolution. In the certain fact that without a workers revolution and dual power in the army there would be no MFA, they dissolve the equally certain fact that the MFA is the petty-bourgeois counter revolutionary instrument of the imperialist bourgeoisie to block the revolution inside and outside the army.
But there is an opposite interpretation, also incorrect and dangerous: the one given by those who state that the MFA and imperialism are one and the same, that is, that the MFA is the expression within the army of the Portuguese imperialist bourgeoisie. This definition has one merit: It is a class analysis. But it has one defect; contrary and symmetrical to the former one: It also begins with the true fact that the MFA is part of the officer caste of a bourgeois and imperialist army and that its government is imperialist, but it dissolves this generality into the equally true fact that it is not the imperialist bourgeoisie but a petty-bourgeois agent and that it is part of a class collaborationist government in which it acts as an intermediary between its bosses and the workers and colonial movements.
Trotsky has pointed out repeatedly that the armed forces express in an extremely succinct form the character of the society in which they exist. Portugal does not escape this rule. The Spínola wing of the army represented, without a doubt, the Portuguese bourgeoisie. Today, the reactionary officers who continue to be the majority and who — according to the Trotskyist soldier—are organized and distributing leaflets in the barracks; continue to represent it. They will continue to exist and respond to the imperialist bourgeoisie. Another wing of the bourgeoisie has accepted collaboration with the MFA and the workers parties to halt the revolution. We believe that the person who best reflects this very weak wing, formed more by ideologists than by big bourgeois figures as such, a true “shadow of the bourgeoisie,” is Costa Gomes, Spínola’s friend. It is Costa Gomes himself who is in charge of establishing the connection between this sector and the MFA. Maybe there are some officers who respond to Costa Gomes. If this is so, we have not heard that they constitute an important sector nor that they are organized. They would be something like the “military shadow” of the “shadow of the bourgeoisie” represented by the present president of Portugal.
The MFA is distinct from the officers who are openly Spínolists, reactionaries, and representatives of the bourgeoisie, and it is distinct from the Costa Gomes wing. Horowitz, in the article already referred to, recognizes this when he tells us: “Despite the MFA’s policy differences with the dictatorship, and despite a vaguely populist or radical ideology on the part of some MFA officers, the MFA was not a genuinely independent formation. The officers of the MFA comprised one wing of the Portuguese imperialist army. They did not even have the goal of breaking completely with the reactionary senior officers.” (Emphasis added.) It is a good portrait or description, but it does not make a profound analysis. It does not say what class interests the different wings represent, including the MFA.
In our opinion, nothing can be understood if we do not begin from the fact that the MFA is a product and at the same time the detonator and accelerator of the crisis of the imperialist army defeated in a colonial war, that is, a manifestation of the class struggle. Starting from this point we can advance. Everyone agrees that it is an organization of the lower-ranking officers (with a few senior officers), and that there are three tendencies within it: the pro-Stalinists, the pro-Socialists, and the independent Socialists. Despite this, some insist that it is a mere agent or direct representative of the high command or of the imperialist bourgeoisie. But this definition does not explain, among other things, why they fight with the Spínola wing, which also represents the imperialist bourgeoisie. We believe that Trotsky gives us the answer when he describes the impact of the Russian revolution on the army:
... the Petrograd garrison followed the workers. After the victory it found itself summoned to hold elections for the Soviet. The soldiers trustfully elected those who had been for the revolution against the monarchist officers, and who knew how to say this out loud: these were volunteers, clerks, assistant-surgeons, young war-time officers from the intelligentsia, petty military officials—that is, the lowest layers of that new middle caste. All of them almost to the last man inscribed themselves, beginning in March, in the party of the Social Revolutionaries, which with its intellectual formlessness perfectly expressed their intermediate social situation and their limited political outlook. (The History of the Russian Revolution, Vol.I, p.167. Emphasis in original.)
For Trotsky, then, the entire lower officer class reflected “the lowest layers of that new middle caste ...,” and it inscribed itself in the petty-bourgeois party par excellence, the “Social Revolutionaries,” in which some high-ranking officers of the staff also inscribed themselves. We believe that this definition is adapted very well to the MFA phenomenon. It is an organ of the lower-ranking officers, composed of “petty military officials” and—in this respect the similarity is notable—by “young war-time officers.” The big difference, as we have already seen, lies in that, because of the absence of a big party of its class, they organized themselves in a faction within the army. But this “socializing” faction also corresponds through its “intellectual formlessness” to an “intermediate social situation” and the “limited political outlook” of those comprised in it.
Those who insist on comparing the MFA to the high commands and the imperialist bourgeoisie do not carry this definition to its ultimate consequences: They should say that the MFA is similar to the Kadets of the Russian army during the revolution. But they do not dare go so far and chose instead a more ingenious comparison: They compare it with the republican officers in the Spanish civil war. Despite the fact that this case involved building a bourgeois army and in Portugal of reconstructing it, the comparison seems to us to be accurate. If it is meant to refer to the improvised officer structure of the militia, the comparison is correct. The officers of the Fifth Regiment, of the POUM, of the SP, made an effort to impose a military discipline that would enable them to reorganize a viable bourgeois army. Meanwhile, the parties to which they belonged were dedicated to halting the revolution outside of the army. But these officers could fulfill the function of convincing, organizing, disciplining the militia because they were Stalinists, Socialists, or POUMists; that is, because they were not directly bourgeois officials, but the petty-bourgeois representatives of the working class.
They represented popular frontism, class collaborationism in its pure form within the army. The officers belonging to the working-class parties disciplined the militia so they would submit to the military shadow of the Spanish bourgeoisie that had remained in the republican camp: Miaja and company. The MFA is playing the same role, except that as we have already seen, it shares this task with the reformist parties: The latter act on the mass movement, the former on the army.
But we do not believe that the comparison refers to the officers of the Spanish militia. Nobody can maintain that the POUMist, Socialist, and Stalinist officers were the same as the high command of the Spanish army or the Spanish bourgeoisie. Without doubt the reference is to the officers of the Spanish army who remained on the side of the republic. If this is so, the analogy is absolutely false. The republican officers were not politically organized nor were they part of an army in crisis. They were segregated from the Spanish army, which, under Franco’s command and with no internal crisis, fought the republic. The republican officers were not a sociopolitical phenomenon, nor are their counterparts in Portugal, those who might agree with Costa Gomes. They were individual exceptions: the military shadow of the political shadow of the bourgeoisie that existed in the republican camp. The MFA, on the other hand, like the militia officers, is trying to reconstruct the bourgeois army to put it under discipline to the bourgeois government, and within the army, to the high command.
Those who defend the characterization of the Portuguese regime as Bonapartist run into an insoluble contradiction. Bonapartism is, by definition, a regime of law and order, capable of playing the role of arbiter between the different social sectors and enforcing its decisions. Nothing can appear further from this than the MFA, which lives in a state of permanent crisis, and which in little more than a year has undergone four or five crises. In general, our authors have given up characterizing the political significance of these crises, limiting themselves to saying that they existed and were overcome. Trotsky’s law, which states that changing from one regime to another provokes a political crisis, was not taken into account by these comrades. They did not ask themselves this simple question: What kind of regime or projected regimes entered into conflict, provoking these crises? Some are still more curious, since they are of the opinion that Spínola’s attempted coups were ... Bonapartist. If we go by the laws of logic, we should arrive at the conclusion that they were Bonapartist coups intended to topple one Bonapartist government to replace it with another, likewise Bonapartist government.
We cannot avoid an embarrassing comparison. Third Period Stalinism defined all governments and bourgeois parties as fascist. Trotsky pointed out again and again the absurdity of the Stalinist portrait of fascist governments fighting against the attempted coups of fascists.
It would have been farcical if it had not been tragic: The Communist militants could not understand what it was all about; and as a result, they were incapable of combating genuine fascism, which they could not even distinguish from the other bourgeois parties and the Social Democracy. Unfortunately, this method which was responsible for the big defeats suffered by the workers movement forty years ago, is in vogue again within our ranks. Everything is Bonapartism: Spínola’s coup attempt as well as the government against which he directed this attempt. Thus, our parties and militants are disarmed when it comes to confronting the real danger: in his time, Spínola; today, the course the MFA government is following.
The chronic crisis of the MFA government and its increasingly acute crises clearly demonstrate that this is not a Bonapartist government. And, in addition, they point without ambiguity in the right direction. There is only one form of bourgeois regime that has this characteristic as an essential trait (not episodic): Kerenskyism.
This is so because Kerenskyism is a form of “abnormal” bourgeois government, a result of the rise of the proletarian revolution and its own impotence. In every normal capitalist regime, the mobilized masses play no role whatever. In a parliamentary-democratic regime, they intervene only indirectly, through the vote they register from time to time. The first thing the more democratic bourgeois constitutions lay down is that the people govern only though their “representatives.” In Bonaparatist and fascist regimes in general they even do without the fiction of the government being “representative,” and the government rules directly through the bureaucracy. In both cases a passive role is reserved for the masses: The Peronist “sui generis” Bonapartism coined a very illustrative phrase: “From home to work and from work to home.”
The revolutionary tide turns this upside down. The masses take to the streets and intervene fully in the political life of the country, creating with their mobilizations a de facto power parallel to that of the bourgeois state. This working-class power has not yet been able to give rise in Portugal to soviet-type organisms, but despite this, as spontaneous and molecular as it still is it keeps the bourgeois power constantly in check.
Two powers confronting each other cancel each other out (at least, to a large degree). The result is a political vacuum that the bourgeoisie cannot tolerate. Kerenskyism is a regime whose normal state of being is disorder: That is why it cannot last very long. A new bourgeois order must replace it (parliamentary, Bonapartist, or fascist) or the socialist order of the proletarian revolution.
This explains the concern and the urgency displayed by the bourgeoisie in its efforts to reconstruct a normal bourgeois regime. The crises of the Portuguese government are the result of these attempts. We have already quoted Trotsky: “The passage from one system to another signifies the political crisis.” Each crisis of the Portuguese regime was an expression of the counterrevolutionary attempt to change “from one system to another,” which the masses were able to prevent and which, contradictorily, strengthened the revolution and weakened the counterrevolution, sharpening the Kerenskyist characteristics of the government. It is no accident that the most serious crises, up to now, were those of September and March, when Spínola tried to impose a change of regime.
The crisis detonated by the internal struggle that is developing today between the MFA and the PCP on one hand, and the SP and PPD [Partido Popular Democràtico—Democratic People’s Party] on the other, is the result of another similar attempt: the attempt of the Bonapartist wing of the MFA (with the support of the CP) to overcome Kerenskyism through the imposition of a Bonapartist regime.
We have already pointed out how the first attempts by the Portuguese bourgeoisie in the proper sense of the term, to rapidly overcome the Kerenskyist regime were Spínola’s three attempts to impose a strong government. Even if his political project was Bonapartist, it is quite probable that it was oriented objectively toward fascism, in that it sought a counterrevolutionary mobilization of the petty bourgeoisie, appealing to the famous “silent majority.”
The disaster suffered by this plan through the defeat of Spínola and the flight from the country of a large number of capitalists has taken the plan from the eminently political arena — there is nobody with enough strength to execute it—and shifted it to the economic arena. It is a matter of economic sabotage by means of the disorganization of the economy, the flight of capital, the closing of factories, layoffs, rising prices, etc. All of this, combined with the economic isolation to which Portugal has been subjected by imperialism, has created a chaotic and unbearable situation, which, in turn, creates the conditions for the rise of fascism, to the extent that it begins to foster desperation in the ranks of the petty bourgeoisie. At the same time, the return of the colons who are fleeing the revolution in the African territories will add new contingents to the possible mass base of fascism, and this can occur to a smaller degree with the unemployed workers.
This does not mean that fascism is inevitable, although it will become more probable with prolongation of the crisis because of the lack of a revolutionary alternative for the working class. The MFA, as we already saw, opposed the Spínolist attempt, and for the present, it has not embarked on a fascist-type course. But the possibility cannot be discarded that like all petty-bourgeois movements, a wing of it will arise that will orient in that direction, reflecting precisely the turn toward the fascist counterrevolution by sectors of the middle class, in the event this should occur. In any case, this is not the perspective for the immediate future.
Spínola was confronted not only by the masses, but also by the governmental MFA-CP-SP bloc. This bloc of the democratic petty bourgeoisie was opposed to Spínola’s attempts to prevent the Constituent Assembly and the negotiation of political independence for the colonies. But, in opposing the candidate for dictator, each of the components of this bloc defended its own specific interests and from different points of view:
The Communist Party, main opponent of Spínola, had no possibility at all of continuing to participate in a government based on the defeat of the workers movement. On the other hand, Spínola’s policies of immediate negotiations with the European Common Market made the possibility of participating in his cabinet even more remote. But there was also another profound reason, perhaps even more weighty than the loss of posts in the ministries. Had Spínola triumphed, Cunhal’s retirement from the cabinet would not have been as placid as the retirement of Thorez and Togliatti from the French and Italian cabinets after the war. Cunhal would not have been able to play the role of “opposition to His Majesty” in a tranquil parliamentary regime. On the contrary, Spínola’s victory would almost certainly have given the green light to the “silent majority” — that is, the reactionary petty bourgeoisie—to launch a “witch-hunt,” especially against the Communists, which would have meant a regime with at least fascist traits.
The Socialist Party for its part needed—and needs—a parliament and elections just as much as lungs need air in order to breathe. The SP is nothing without a parliamentary regime. Because of this, despite agreeing with Spínola with regard to speedy admission to the European Common Market, it did have a tactical difference with him—the parliament—which, for a reformist party, is a matter of principle.
Finally, the MFA—although a majority under the leadership of Vasco Goncalves—accepted an agreement with the reformist parties, it had within it a Spínolist tendency of a certain importance. Once again, the similarity with Kerensky stands out. It is well known that Kerensky, up to a certain point, played Kornilov’s game. The same thing occurred with the MFA and Spínola. These doubts and oscillations of the MFA between the reformist parties and Spínola are part of its nature. They are doubts over the bourgeois-democratic or Bonapartist variants of putting a brake on and defeating the revolution. Spínola’s “putschs” and the colossal mass mobilizations that were unleashed against them, turned the MFA toward a united front with the reformist parties, but without abandoning its pursuit of a Bonapartist plan to bring the mass movement under control once and for all.
During this entire period of unity in the petty-bourgeois MFA-CP-SP bloc, the common program and ideology were bourgeois-democratic. The objective was to achieve a parliamentary system, beginning with the Constituent Assembly, which would channel the rise of the mass movement into the blind alley of bourgeois democracy. Bourgeois-democratic institutions are not progressive, taken as absolutes. They are progressive so long as the mass mobilizations have not reached a revolutionary level nor created organs of power. They cease being so, and become relatively counterrevolutionary or relatively progressive, when the class struggle has gone beyond the bourgeois-democratic limits. This is the case in Portugal today, with its organs of dual power: the workers and soldiers commissions.
This counterrevolutionary parliamentary plan is supported, as Horowitz correctly points out, by the most lucid sectors of the bourgeoisie, which see it as the best possibility for freezing the mass movement without resorting to bloody methods, which, in addition, they are in no condition to apply and whose results would be unforeseeable, a game of take all or lose all. It is a plan similar to the one applied to block the revolution in Western Europe after the war. But it is incomparably weaker despite the fact that those parties that are strongest in the electoral arena, the SP and the PPD, have given it unconditional support.
The weaknesses of this plan lie in various factors. One of these is that unlike Western Europe after the war, the Portuguese bourgeoisie does not have the guarantee that the presence of Allied occupation troops signified, especially the U.S. army, which was victorious, disciplined, and without the slightest trace of an internal crisis, exactly the opposite to the present Portuguese army. Also lacking in Portugal is the strong parliamentary tradition of Western Europe. But these are not the only elements of weakness in the parliamentary plan. There are others.
In the first place, there is the strength of the revolutionary upsurge of the movement of the workers and the mass movement. In the second place, there is the absence of strong bureaucratic organisms of the workers movement like the ones that existed in France and Italy, in which Stalinism was able to exercise iron control. In the third place, the fact of being the major working-class parties in those countries made the CPs favor parliamentarism; the opposite is occurring in Portugal today. Finally, there are two more factors that weaken still further the plan for a parliamentary counterrevolution. These are, on the one hand, that any bourgeois-democratic regime would weaken still more the already weak Portuguese bourgeoisie in face of a sudden attack by the big imperialist powers, and, on the other hand, that the general crisis of imperialism makes less and less viable these types of regimes, which in order to maintain themselves need a minimum of social and economic stability.
Because of all these factors, a parliamentary counterrevolution could place the bourgeoisie itself in jeopardy: The movement of the workers and masses, impelled by a dizzying revolutionary upsurge, could utilize for its own purposes the democratic-parliamentary opening, escaping all electoral control thanks precisely to the weakness of the bourgeoisie and its own bureaucratic apparatuses.
Faced with the weakness of the bourgeois-democratic plan and the intensification of the workers and colonial revolutions, the MFA has begun to turn toward a counterrevolutionary Bonapartist policy. It is thus at tempting to impose a Bonapartist government whose fundamental objectives are the following: to eliminate all the germs of dual power; take away from the masses the democratic rights they have won and block the conquest of new rights; continue to control the empire under a neocolonial form (especially Angola); guarantee an upward trend in capitalist production; and negotiate from a position of strength their partnership with the senior imperialist powers.
The fundamental reason for this change in the MFA resides in the extremely acute contradictions that reign in Portugal, which make it even more imperative for the MFA to transform itself into a strong government able to “rise” above them. In government, the MFA has to contend with a colossal upsurge in the movement of the workers and soldiers crystallized in embryonic forms of dual power, and with the Angolan colonial revolution. In addition, because it is a senile, backward imperialist power, Portugal has to face and negotiate with stronger imperialist powers, which try to utilize its crisis and decadence to become its senior partners. These contradictions—at one pole the workers and colonial revolutions, and at the other the pressure of the big imperialist powers—have divided the Portuguese bourgeoisie and its petty-bourgeois agent, the MFA, into different sectors, troubled by different problems. How to stop the workers and colonial revolutions? How to keep losses to a minimum in the negotiations with the big imperialist powers?
This turn toward a Bonapattist policy manifests itself in a clear counterrevolutionary ideology. The MFA has ceased making any statements in favor of democracy and pluralism of parties, characteristic of the past year when it confronted Spínola, and has begun to speak of “direct democracy” and of the organs of power that emerged from the mass movement against formal parliamentarism. All of this is seasoned with the “march toward socialism.”
The goal is obvious: Unable to come out against the democratic rights of the movement of the workers and the masses, the MFA is attempting to pit proletarian democracy against them, utilizing for this purpose criticisms of bourgeois democracy taken from the arsenal of Marxism. They have not invented anything new: Bonapartism and fascism have always opposed bourgeois democracy, and have demagogically used our criticisms of it to justify their counterrevolutionary and antidemocratic politics. Part of this demagogic maneuver is the attack on the Socialist Party and the reactionary bourgeois parties which are demanding democratic rights. A Marxist truth is thrown against them: All of them are agents of the counterrevolution. But this truth, separated from another, much more important one—the main counterrevolutionary agent at present is the government of the MFA with its Bonapartist plan—is transformed into a demagogic lie, designed to restrict democratic rights.
The other campaign is the so-called battle for production. According to the ideologists of the MFA, the problem is to increase production in order to build socialism, or come closer to it, not in favor of the bourgeoisie, but in favor of the working class. As part of this demagogic campaign, the better to deceive them, the masses are told that the progressive measures adopted under pressure of the struggles of the movement of the workers and the masses—the nationalizations for example—are also measures in the march toward socialism.
Combining the two most urgent needs (to deceive the working anci colonial masses in order to put a brake on the revolution and to resist the European Common Market so as to strengthen the indigenous imperialism), the Bonapartist wing of the MFA raises as its dominant ideology “anti-imperialist nationalism,” attempting to copy the forms of the nationalist movements of the colonial and the semicolonial countries. By doing this, Portuguese imperialism, through its petty-bourgeois agents of the MFA, continues in the old imperialist tradition: masking its plundering with an attractive ideology, to mobilize in its behalf the opinion of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie.
Since it came into being, imperialism has hidden the genuinely bandit character of its colonialization under guise of “civilizing” the backward countries. Later on, when England, France, and the U.S.A. were enjoying to the full their colonies and power, they raised the slogan of “defense of democracy” against their rivals who came late to the division of the booty. These countries—Germany, Italy, Japan — promoted in turn the ideology of the “superior race” and other such stupidities in order to deceive the masses and lead them to the slaughter. They were expanding imperialisms that wanted to take the colonies away from the old empires, surfeited with subjugated countries.
But Portugal is not even a shadow of the old imperialisms, nor was Nazi Germany or Japan. It cannot raise the banner of democracy, because it is used by its enemy-partners of the European Common Market. Nor can it utilize the slogan of the “superior race,” because it is not expanding, but decaying and crisis-ridden, and its economic power would not enable it to conquer even the Republic of Andorra. It has to be content with saving whatever it can of its old empire from the colonial revolution and from the attack of the big imperialist powers. To do that it has had to invent a new ideology. What is better than disguising itself as nationalist, as anti-imperialist? If the masses believe it, then their main enemy is not their own imperialism but other, stronger imperialisms.
The ideology of the MFA is like the counterrevolutionary nationalist ideologies of other small or decadent imperialisms. When the tsarist empire was falling, the Russian Social Revolutionaries discovered that it was necessary to continue the imperialist war so that “revolutionary” Russia would not be subjugated by the Prussian imperialist barbarism. It is similar to the anti-American Canadian nationalism and to the sector of the British bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie who voted against entering the European Common Market.
Like those nationalisms, the nationalism of the MFA is not in the least progressive; it is reactionary no matter how you look at it. To avoid confusion, it is requisite that we resort to the clear distinction that Marxism makes between the nationalism of colonial and semicolonial countries and that of imperialist countries. The former is progressive; it weakens imperialism. The latter is counter revolutionary; it favors imperialism precisely because it is the nationalism of an imperialist country. For this reason we Trotskyists defend backward countries against attack by an imperialist country, but favor defeat of the imperialist country in a war with another country, whether that country is imperialist or not. For a consistent Marxist the best is always “defeat of the imperialist country,” no matter whether it is backward, senile, young, or surfeited with riches and colonies.
Logically, as the weak imperialism that it is, the MFA’s imperialism will be very careful not to touch the property of other imperialisms. It will be content with nationalizing the businesses of the Portuguese oligarchy and the property of those who abandoned the country, but in order to place them at the service of the bourgeois imperialist state, to remove them from workers control. Thus they can use them as their trump card in negotiating with the colonies and other imperialisms, in the interests of Portuguese imperialism. Because of this, if a financial and commercial war breaks out between the imperialist bandits of the MFA and European imperialism over control of the Portuguese colonies, our mission would not be to come out in favor of the poor imperialism against the rich one. We should wash our hands, “the lesser evil is the defeat of your own country.”
In its counterrevolutionary politics, the MFA’s best ally, or better said, its ally come what may, has turned out to be the Communist Party.
We have stressed the relatively progressive role that the Communist Party, and to a lesser degree the MFA and the SP, played in calling upon the workers to oppose the demonstration prepared by Spínola in attempting his first frustrated coup. We have pointed out that this was one face, the positive one, of the contradictory politics of the petty-bourgeois democrats: to stop the Spínolist counter-revolution. We also said that the CP as well as the SP and MFA fully presented the other face, the negative one: to likewise stop the workers revolution by demobilizing the masses. Finally, we maintained that this policy of the petty-bourgeois democrats began to change, provoking internal divisions as the workers upsurge intensified and the immediate danger of a bourgeois counterrevolution subsided: The MFA and the CP turned toward a Bonapartist counterrevolution; the SP and its ally the PPD remained in the camp of bourgeois democracy. Let us examine the reasons.
Already before Spínola’s coup, this wing of the petty-bourgeois democracy, the MFA-CP, in face of the deepening workers upsurge, began to orient toward the counter-revolution. It attempted to halt and smash the mass movement, taking away from it the big concessions already obtained, especially the Constituent Assembly, through the famous “Pact,” and trying to bar the conquests placed on the agenda by the factory occupations and the development of workers commissions. It was then that the CP and the MFA came closer together, agreeing to impose on the rising workers movement a Bonapartist government based on the MFA-CP-Intersindical combination. The correspondent of Le Monde Diplomatique, already mentioned above, testifies: “No one has been able to control successive waves of the social movement during this period except the Portuguese Communist Party, which, changing its strategy en route, has made an effort to contain and control the occupations in Alentejo, a region traditionally considered Communist or Communistic.”
From that moment on, the MFA government reinforced the agreement reached with the CP at the opening of the year when the workers upsurge began. The more advanced and profound character taken by the upsurge since the frustrated “putsch” explains why, according to the same correspondent, “March 11 brought about a temporary improvement in PCP-MFA relations.
In combination with sectors of the MFA, the CP has become the transmission belt within the workers movement for a new Bonapartist plan; such is the character of the political counterattack of the petty bourgeoisie that we pointed out.
This counterrevolutionary plan is not the same as Spínola’s plan of delivering a single definitive blow to the revolution. The extraordinary strength of the movement of the workers and the masses compels them to use other methods: to proceed by dealing blows a little at a time and smashing the movement by sectors. Also, instead of openly doing away with their gains, they recognize some of them in order to transform them into counterrevolutionary weapons with which to attack other gains. To rule, one must divide.
If the SP-PPD bloc has severed relations with the Bonapartist wing of the MFA-CP, it has not done so logically, out of concern for the democratic rights of the workers movement. It has been and still is a counterrevolutionary bloc, a mortal enemy of the factory occupations, of the seeds of dual power, of the nationalizations, and of the workers revolution. It is the continuer of the counterrevolutionary plan of the MFA-CP-SP prior to March 11, of the Constituent Assembly and parliamentary plan to ward off the revolution. The present opposition of the SP-PPD to the MFA-CP stems from their differences over which is the best counterrevolutionary tactic. But this alone does not explain why the rupturing of the previous front was so violent. We believe there are two weighty reasons that made this break or clash inevitable. The first is that, as we pointed out above, for the SP (and possibly also for the PPD) the existence of a parliament is a matter of life or death, because without a parliament it ceases to be what it is, an electoral party. The second reason stems from its role as an agent of European imperialism and of the strongest sectors of Portuguese imperialism that believe their only way out is through association with the European Common Market.
We have seen that the MFA has become divided over and is oscillating between two plans: Bonapartism and parliamentarism. Its big ally in backing the first plan is the Portuguese Communist Party.
Horowitz explains this alliance of the CP and the MFA as resulting from the MFA’s need of the CP to control the workers movement. He forgets that the CP is also almost indispensable for the MFA’s neocolonial maneuver because of the influence of world Stalinism over the nationalist movements and especially that of the Portuguese colonies. In other words, the MFA needs the CP to halt the workers revolution in Portugal and the colonial revolution in the empire. But if this explains the MFA’s policy toward the CP, it does not explain why the CP does not accept the parliamentary game nor why the CP clashes with the SP. There must be profound reasons for this Stalinist game.
Bourgeois journalists counterpose the policy of the Italian and French Stalinists to that of the Portuguese Stalinists. However, although they are formally different, they are not so in terms of content. All world Stalinism, and particularly European Stalinism, has a common feature: They are agents of the Soviet bureaucracy. They are tied to it not only ideologically but—and this is the essence—as appendages of an extremely powerful apparatus. They faithfully serve the diplomatic needs of the Kremlin, that is, they adjust their politics to the concrete circumstances of each country the better to defend the bureaucratic apparatus of which they are a part, and whose head and heart is to be found in Moscow.
That is the key to the question. Stalinism does not at present carry out everywhere in the world the popular frontist policy it applied between 1935 and 1947 of total and absolute subordination to “democratic” imperialism against fascism. Today the Soviet Union is the second world power, and it defends this situation with a policy of maintaining the “status quo.” This policy has two sides:
One is to stop the world revolution, and the Kremlin agrees with imperialism on this point; the other is to try to impede the strengthening of imperialism, which it does by trying to add to the “neutral countries,” that is, those relatively independent of the big imperialist powers within the capitalist world. This second aspect of the Kremlin’s policy manifests itself essentially through diplomatic maneuvers of support, plus the support of local Communist parties, to the regimes in semicolonial countries that take relatively independent positions in relation to imperialism. Such is the case with India, Peru, Egypt, Bolivia under Torres, Chile under Allende. This neutrality, in the final analysis, winds up benefiting U.S. imperialism by halting the revolution. Examples: Chile, Egypt, Bolivia.
Portugal is not a semicolonial, but an imperialist, country. However, it is an imperialist country that, although weak, is for the time being autarchical, relatively independent of the big imperialist powers. And the Kremlin wants this to continue as long as possible, since Portugal’s “neutrality” strengthens its policy of negotiating with imperialism in containing the world revolution, but from a position of strength, not of complete subordination as during the period from 1935 to 1947. (This does not reject the hypothesis that, in the final analysis, the Kremlin and the Portuguese CP are playing a game in behalf of the United States. Alvaro Cunhal’s statements are extremely friendly and suspicious when he refers to U.S. imperialism; so are Kissinger’s statements, when he refers to Portuguese imperialism.)
These basic considerations should be the framework of our interpretation of the political “differences” between Portuguese, French, and Italian Stalinism. All three serve the Kremlin but must adapt their politics to their respective national realities. The CPs of France and Italy are the reformist parties that receive the highest vote in a relatively stable parliamentary regime. The Portuguese CP finds itself under heavy pressure in a revolutionary situation of dual power, in which it is a minority in the electoral arena. Electorally, the Portuguese Stalinists cannot pressure the bourgeoisie to accede power to them and thereby safeguard capitalism and strengthen the Kremlin’s diplomacy.
That is, the CP does not in a major way serve the plan of the parliamentary wing of the MFA, linked to the European Common Market. But, because of its centralism and its cadres, the Portuguese Stalinists have the only organization that can collaborate with the counterrevolutionary Bonapartist plan of the MFA. The CP is, in fact, the only party that can control the unions and maybe, with time, the organs of dual power.
The different structure and technique of the CP, its “Bolshevik” inheritance, its daily work in the mass movement (although with a reformist or counterrevolutionary policy), the creation among the masses of specific organizations, cells or fractions under iron centralism, all make it, unlike the SP, indispensable to the MFA. The SP, with an exclusively electoral organization, lacking a base structure and discipline, formed as an electoral movement rather than a centralized party, is not indispensable to the MFA. It is because of this that the CP, rather than the SP, is considered an essential ingredient in counterrevolutionary politics as a whole at this stage of dual power.
In principle, we can point out that this tendency of Stalinism to collaborate with Bonapartism or Bonapartist projects is not an isolated phenomenon limited to Portugal. It has been repeated in other countries where the CPs were in a minority in the electoral arena as, for example, in Peru. But although their electoral weakness may be the immediate explanation for such policies, we believe that it is a more generalized phenomenon than may appear. In Uruguay, it continually urged the “Peruvianist” military figures to take power by means of a coup d’état, and it does not appear to us to be accidental that General Seregni was the head of the electoral coalition, the Frente Ampho.
Even in countries where Stalinism is a real electoral power, it has shown a tendency toward Bonapartism. In postwar France it was the champion of the reorganization of the bourgeois army, and, in the beginning, it decidedly supported de Gaulle. In Italy during the same period, Togliatti, faced in a referendum with deciding between a monarchy and a republic, came out in favor of the former, and only repudiation by the Stalinist rank and file obliged him to change his mind.
In the case of Portugal there are two very significant historic examples that can serve to illustrate this permanent trait in Stalinist politics in revolutionary situations. In Chile under Allende, the CP argued for the participation of the military in the cabinet and for a rightist bourgeois policy against the proposals of the Socialist Party.
In republican Spain, this extreme-right policy was applied to the bitter end. The Stalinist CP imported the counterrevolutionary police methods of the GPU to Spanish soil to help implant the semi-Bonapartist regime headed by Negrin, which clashed not only with the POUMist and anarchist currents, but also with the SP of Largo Caballero.
There must be a Marxist interpretation of these phenomena, a law to explain them. Our hypothesis—and we stress that it is a hypothesis, a line of investigation not a conclusive opinion—is that the Bonapartist tendencies of the CP have a fundamental reason: They are part of the Soviet bureaucracy’s apparatus; this factor exerts its influence in a dual way. In the first place, the Communist parties do not have a direct relation with the proletariat and the masses of the countries in which they operate, but do have a direct relation with the Kremlin’s apparatus, which permits them—unlike the Socialist parties—to operate much more independently of the feelings and desires of the broad masses.
In the second place, the apparatus on which they depend is Bonapartist, it is the Bonapartist dictatorship of the Soviet bureaucracy that “infects” all of the Communist parties.
The CPs are, in their own way, “Bonapartist,” totalitarian to an extreme degree. The reason for their discipline and politics comes from the bureaucracy, from their own international and national “apparatus.” This explains their bureaucratic or “Bonapartist” centralism. This gives them the ability to collaborate with the bourgeois Bonapartism of this or that apparatus.
The Socialist parties are a different case. These can exist only under the conditions of bourgeois democracy. To this should be added their better connection with the masses—which obliges them to reflect more directly the needs and aspirations of the masses; the lesser weight of the party’s bureaucratic apparatus; and on an international level, the fact that they do not form part of a great world apparatus whose axis is the bureaucracy ruling the Russian workers state, the second world power.
All of these objective aspects should not lead us to forget the content of Stalinist politics. Stalinism, as a current in the workers movement, is a result of the counterrevolutionary influence of the subsidence of the first triumphant workers revolution. It is not the same as the Social Democracy, which arose from the upsurge of the workers movement under the bourgeoisie in the highly favorable circumstances of bourgeois democracy. This makes the Stalinists much more alert and responsive to the needs of counterrevolutionary Bonapartism, which will use it as an agent, than the Socialist parties, which are tied a little more closely to the needs of its rank and file, and above all, to bourgeois-democratic rights.
If the CP is the great ally of the MFA in its counterrevolutionary Bonapartist plan, the SP is the ally of the PPD and Costa Gomes in the equally counterrevolutionary semiparliamentary plan.
According to Livio Maitan, “... a large part, perhaps the majority, of the working class has seen the PSP as the instrument of its struggle. This may be regarded—and correctly—as a result of the insufficient experience of the Portuguese workers with Social Democratic reformism and a lack of clarity about the roles actually played by the various formations in the workers movement. But, at the same time, it must be understood that the PSP has been able to take advantage of the revulsion of sections of the proletariat against the PCP’s bureaucratic methods, its open opposition to a series of struggles, and its seizing the leading positions in the unions by maneuvers at the top. Moreover, the PSP has been able to take advantage of the general demand for the right of democratic expression, which, after all, is natural in a working class that has emerged from nearly a half century of dictatorship. Certainly at least some of the strata of the proletariat did not take favorably to the famous pact imposed by the MFA, which made the Constituent Assembly virtually a dead letter.” (Livio Maitan, The MFA or Revolutionary Workers Democracy, Intercontinental Press, June 9, 1975, p.759.)
As an explanation of the way in which the PSP came to be the largest current—without a “perhaps”—in the workers movement, it is totally correct. But this does not exhaust the analysis of the PSP, since it does not take into account its leadership nor its program.
For his part, Horowitz makes different mistakes. The first is that in his entire article he mentions this party only once, despite its being the majority party in the working class. The second is that, like Maitan, he does not denounce the SP as an agent of European imperialism. This is surprising, since this characteristic is blatantly proclaimed by its top leader. “My party,” says Màrio Soares in Le Monde Diplomatique, “is democratic. It is the largest Portuguese party. I do not deny that it had a democratic parliamentary and reformist plan that would have enabled it to avoid the great commotion that broke out over the linking of Portugal to the Europe of the Common Market.” Horowitz’s third mistake juts out when he says that “the Communist Party’s policy can lead the Portuguese working class into a terrible tragedy, for it can disarm the workers in face of the future danger of a major violent repressive attack by the ruling class.” (Emphasis added.) And doesn’t the Socialist Party have any responsibility in “disarming the workers” in face of the “ruling class,” inasmuch as it is the majority working-class party? Not to denounce the SP’s politics, not to clearly and unmistakably point out the “division of labor” with the CP in “disarming the workers,” is to unconsciously play the game of reformism. In justifiable eagerness to defend the democratic rights of the SP from the attacks of the MFA-CP, some underline its character as the majority working class party. But, when the time comes to assign responsibilities for disarming the revolution, this characteristic seems to vanish. However, the SP has been the permanent ally of the MFA-CP in the struggle against the workers revolution. It is not accidental that it remains intimately linked to Costa Gomes, that it signed the antidemocratic “Pact,” and is opposed to the nationalizations and factory occupations.
Summarizing then, there is an acute contradiction within the SP, which is all the worse because, with the exception of its leadership cadres, who were educated by European Social Democracy, it is a new party in the process of being built, lacking older cadres. It is more a movement than a solidly structured party. Its strong rivalry with the MFA and CP stems from its dual character: an ambiguous and unclear expression of the highly positive feelings of the movement of the workers and the masses toward winning and defending democratic rights; a transmission belt of European imperialism (it is necessary to study whether this last aspect has been reinforced by a certain sympathy toward the European Common Market by a part of the large sector of the populace that benefits from money sent by workers who have emigrated to some of the countries within it).
Go to Part V
Last updated on 30.12.2002