From International Socialism, No.77, April 1975, pp.14-21.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
THE experience of 48 years of fascist dictatorship has left the deep marks on the Portuguese working class. In the first place, there was the simple fact of intense political repression. As Deniz Correia, convenor of the Plessey workers’ council in Portugal told Socialist Worker on 1 March 1975:
‘It is difficult for workers in Britain to understand what fascism means. It means that you have no information about what is going on in other factories or the world at large. You cannot speak freely. You have no right to hold meetings. There are no such things as unions. There are spies everywhere. It is terrible. It imposes on you a complete isolation where you cannot even talk to other workers freely.’
In 1933, with the founding of the corporate state, the genuine organisations of the Portuguese working class were smashed and their leaders were arrested or assassinated. Free trade unions were replaced with corporate unions controlled by the fascist state (sindicatos), membership of which was compulsory (although not strictly enforced), whose executives were appointed by the state, and whose function was the total oppression of the workers. All labour contracts were negotiated between the sindicatos and the management, with the state as arbitrator, alternative organisations were illegal, as was forming national or joining international union federations. Strikes and all industrial action were illegal, any attempts to get organised were quickly exposed by the vast network of spies, informers, and secret police that were the mainstay of the fascist state apparatus.
Corporate unions were horizontal structures, organised on the basis of profession/trade; a machine operator therefore would belong to the metalworkers’ union, whether he worked in a brewery, car factory or airport. These bodies were also divided on the basis of sex – tailors and ‘seamstresses’ belonged to different syndicates. There were over 400 unions in Portugal when the coup took place – in some factories there were as many as 30-40. In the Lisnave shipyards there were 24 separate craft unions of which most of the 7,000 shipbuilders were members.
Approximately two million workers were divided into these bodies. In 1969 80 per cent of the unions had average memberships under 1,616 and only eight unions had more than 20,000 members. Some of them were federated on a regional basis, as for example the Union of Electrical Workers of the South. There was also the Intersindical, the Portuguese equivalent of the TUC, illegally formed in October 1970 at a meeting called by the sindicatos of shop workers, workers in the wool industry, metal workers and bank employees, which during the time the ruling class had attempted liberalisation in 1969, had managed to get left wing leaderships elected. By January 1971 the Intersindical represented 41 sindicatos.
The immediate task facing the Portuguese working class after the fall of Caetano was to recover from the years of fascist repression and unite the workers split up by the multitude of unions in a particular plant and a multitude of plants and small production units throughout industry.
The Portuguese working class took the task of unification into their own hands. In factories all over Portugal workers’ committees were elected to lead rank and file struggles, not only on a local basis but also for whole industries and throughout monopolies.
In the electronics industry a combine has been formed which has workers’ delegates from all the electronics’ firms – Plessey, STC, ITT etc. Many factories and sections of workers are regularly producing newspapers and bulletins for the rank and file. In some cases, such as the wool and textile industries, the docks and the steel industries these papers are produced for the workers of entire industries.
These are not alternative trade unions but are made up of delegates elected by the rank and file of the trade unions in the plants and designed to give a responsive, democratic leadership to the factory. The factory committees coordinate the struggles on a day-to-day basis and all policy decisions are taken by mass meetings. Negotiations with the management are reported to the rank and file.
From the start, political and economic demands have been closely linked in the workers’ committees. Saneamento meant much more than simply locking up the secret policemen. Effectively and thoroughly carried out, it means to virtually destroy the structure of the bourgeois state. Because the corporate state meant control over every level of social life, banks, churches, schools, universities, offices and factory managements, a complete saneamento would mean the destruction of the entire social hierarchy from board of directors right down to foremen.
In the big companies, multinationals especially, economic demands go with demands for the purging of all members of the management or administration that were in any way connected with the fascist regime. ‘In some places this means the sacking of them all.’ (Antonio Martins dos Santos, an official of the Lisbon Metal Workers Union, interviewed in Socialist Worker, 27 July.)
During May alone over 200,000 workers in the key sectors of textiles, shipbuilding, transport, hotel and catering, electronics and the post office, and banking were on strike for better wages and conditions as well as for saneamento.
By the end of June significant advances had been made. Saneamento, although by no means complete had resulted in the most compromised and prominent right wingers being cleared out of offices, newspapers, radio and television stations, local government structures, churches and factories throughout Portugal, the most sustained and far-reaching purging being conducted in the factories where the repression which followed the wave of strikes preceding the coup was still fresh in the memory of the class.
The provisional government had been forced to declare a national minimum wage of £55 per month. Although this was only half the average level of individual wage demands and excluded agricultural workers, domestic servants and employees of establishments with less than five workers, it still represented a considerable increase for over a third of the working class whose average wage in 1973 was £300 a year in a country with prices only slightly lower than in Britain.
‘The workers have no illusions – the 25th April was not intended to overthrow the bourgeoisie, but to save it. The 25th April was not intended to give power to the masses of workers but to serve the system by which the bourgeoisie exploit them. It is up to us, the workers, to overthrow the bourgeoisie and to destroy the capitalist system.’ (Extract from newspaper of building workers on the island of Troia-June 1974)
This was one of the valuable lessons of the post coup hey-days. Despite all the ‘left’ mouthings of the Provisional Government, the assurances that freedom and democracy had arrived to stay in Portugal, the mode of production was still capitalism.
But for a working class bound and gagged by 48 years of fascism the experience of such a mobilisation was in itself a massive step forward.
The struggles of May and June served as a stamping ground for those that were to come.
These struggles threw up new militants who had been silent under the Caetano regime. The Provisional Government, which included Cunhal, the leader of the Portuguese Communist Party, opposed many of these wage struggles, and increasingly those militants who fought for the demands of the rank and file found themselves coming into conflict with the Communist Party. The most famous case was the national strike of 35,000 postal workers on 17 June, which was fought around the demands for a minimum wage of £100 per month and for the right to form a strong trade union. The workers were subjected to a barrage of abuse in which the shrillest voice was that of the Communist Party which accused the strikers of being ‘fascists’ and organised meetings outside the Post Offices in an attempt to intimidate the pickets.
The lesson was driven hard into the postal workers, and in September when the government, still loyally supported by the Communist Party, issued a call for a ‘Voluntary Day of Labour’ in order to save the national (and capitalist) economy, the union leadership issued the following statement:
‘The CPS (Union Organising Committee) believes that the struggles of the toiling masses, led by the proletariat, must be continued. And it is for this purpose that we call on all postal workers to go to their places of work on that day. The CPS points out that taking part in this day of labour is voluntary and the workers must decide what to do according to their revolutionary consciousness. We must use this day to raise our consciousness, to improve our organisation, and to step up the struggle that we have been waging to purge the administrators connected to the old regime, to win a higher standard of living and to build the union... The CPS suggests that the workers demand that the pay rate this Sunday be the same as other days of the week, since this work is voluntary.
‘The CPS proposes that the money we get for this extra day be turned over to the union funds for workers who have been laid off and for comrades on strike. We advise all concerned that such a contribution would also be voluntary.
‘As we all know we are not used to working Sundays, so it would be natural for less work to be done. Therefore, the CPS calls for using our breaks and refreshment periods to discuss the present crisis, to sharpen our vigilance in the struggle against fascism and capitalist exploitation. Let us turn this working Sunday into a day of struggle for purging the administrators connected to the old regime, for building the union, and against fascism and capitalist exploitation.’
The idea that the day of labour should be used for union organising, that it should be paid at the normal rate, and that it was unlikely that so much work would be done as on a normal day was presumably not what the government had in mind.
The successes of the Portuguese working class, together with the deepening world economic crisis, had its effect on the government. By the early autumn the provisional government, still headed by Spinola was moving clearly to the right, and the continued struggles on the shop floor were becoming that much harder. Troops were frequently being used to break strikes and the issue was more and more frequently that of redundancy. The Labour Law, passed by the provisional government, severely restricted the right to strike and made occupations illegal, although in practice the strength of the class was such that it remained a dead letter.
Just before the attempted right-wing coup of 28 September the workers of TAP, the Portuguese National Airline, and one of the most militant sections of the Portuguese working class were involved in a battle against the government. They quickly drew the lessons of their struggle. In a leaflet published on 25 August 1974, they asked:
‘What kind of government makes laws against us the workers and does not revoke the fascist laws?
‘What kind of government represses workers who are fighting for their just demands and allows PIDE agents and the most notorious reactionaries to remain at large? What kind of government plants in TAP a lackey of Champalimaud (a huge Portuguese monopoly) who had been purged from the Siderugia (National Steel Works), when we are fighting for Saneamento?
‘This government is not on our side. It is a government which sides with the bosses. For us the workers, there are redundancies, a rise in the cost of living, repression. For the bosses, a free hand to exploit us better.’
The attempted right-wing coup of 28 September changed the picture considerably. Not only were Spinola and a number of the more obviously right wing elements driven out of the government and some actually imprisoned for a time, but the danger of the right wing staging a comeback was clear to every militant. At the same time, the Armed Forces Movement, despite its initial hesitation, finally crushed the attempted coup. The Communist Party, under pressure from the revolutionary left and rank and file militants, had also played a key role in stopping the coup. The consequence was that the AFM and the Communist Party emerged with increased power at the top and increased support and respect at the base.
THE CRISIS in capitalism which has caused a recession through Western Europe is severely magnified in Portugal.
The country is virtually a neo-colony of the advanced capitalist states of the West, and was already suffering the effects of the crisis before the coup last April; specifically, the retraction of external markets which has resulted in a steady drop in exports since July, the increase in the price of oil and raw materials, which has drastically affected the small and medium sector, the clamp down on international credit facilities caused by the withdrawal of capital within its national boundaries; the drop in remittances from the two million Portuguese who work abroad – which accounted for 10 per cent of the national budget in 1973 – many of these immigrants are losing their jobs as a result of the rise in unemployment in Western Europe; the recession in the tourist trade which is another mainstay of the Portuguese economy, bringing about four million visitors to Portugal every year. This year over a third of the hotels in the Algarve stood empty.
Other aspects of the crisis are related to the social and political upheavals which have followed the coup – the flight of capital and the clampdown on investment have been intensified – the World Bank and the IMF have refused credit to Portugal and British banks also withdrew credit facilities from Portugal at the same time as Britain was attempting to get money for the Chilean junta.
The end of the colonial war has resulted in increased unemployment as troops and functionaries return from the colonies.
For the multinationals the legislation of a national minimum wage by the government in June and the militancy with which the working class fought to enforce it and with which shop floor organisation developed meant the end of the era of super exploitation of cheap and repressed labour. Companies such as Plesseys, Timex and ITT started repatriating capital and attempted to close down their operations and move out. Many of the small and medium enterprises have gone bankrupt and closed down or simply been abandoned by their owners.
The struggle against redundancies began in June. Now with 300,000 out of work in the industrial sector alone, the harsh facts of Portugal’s capitalism continue to drive the working class to defend itself.
A new wave of very bitter redundancy struggles has been sweeping Portugal since January. In the first six weeks of this year there have been more than 250 struggles around this issue.
Strikes are no longer the main tactic being used in these struggles. Instead an ever growing number of factories are being occupied. Some, like the Nutripol supermarket chain, are being run under workers’ control, and in a number of cases workers have demanded nationalisation – in the CUF, the sprawling conglomerate that controls most major industries, and the Nefil Furniture factory where a spokesman for the workers’ committee explained the tactic as follows:
‘... we do not have any illusions in workers’ management under capitalism. We are using it as a weapon, as an emergency solution. We started to run the factory because we had to in order to survive after the management had abandoned the factory on 27 December ... we are thinking about demanding that the government nationalise the firm – under workers’ control. We do not want a phoney nationalisation which only helps the bosses.’
In the ITT-owned factory of Standard Electrica at Cascais 150 redundancies were announced out of a total workforce of 1,800, with the rest to go on short-time working. There was an immediate mass meeting, which was attended by delegates from other electronics factories, and which adopted the following demands:
The fight against redundancies in Plesseys was carried outside of the confines of the Portuguese branch of the business into its British parent.
Within Portugal itself there has been an increasing tendency for the forms through which workers carry on their fight to be broadened. Not only are more and more combine committees being set up, but in the Lisbon area at least there is a combine which links delegates from 43 factories in the area. It is called the Interempresa. In the Interempresa we can see the infancy of a very special type of organisation. With all its weaknesses it is an organisation which attempts to unite all organised workers and which attempts to lead a fight on behalf of the working class. In all of history there is only one type of organisation which does that. It is the birth of dual power. It is the embryo of the workers’ state. Interempresa – Council of Workers’ Delegates – Soviet.
It is still a small beginning, but this is how it sees its work:
For some months the Interempresa Meetings have been confronted with the problems of unemployment, redundancy and what forms of struggle to adopt. Meanwhile several factories are resisting unemployment and redundancy. The mass meeting of the workers of EFACEC/INEL (South) has called for a demonstration as a concrete form of struggle. The Workers Commission proposed the demonstration to the Interempresa meeting, which has decided in principle to call the demonstration.
‘Considering that at this moment the question of unemployment is one of the most serious facing the workers; ... Considering also that the trade unions must express the will of their affiliates and must support the initiatives taken by the workers, the Interempresa Meeting will send the text of this resolution to all the trade unions calling on them to support this demonstration on the terms already decided by the Interempresa.’
That resolution was passed on 2 February. Five days later the Interempresa led a demonstration to the Ministry of Labour. The demonstration was held in defiance of a government ban. It was opposed by the leadership of most of the trade unions. It was opposed by the Communist Party. It was supported by 40,000 workers.
THE STRUGGLE between the working class and capitalism has been the fundamental axis around which the whole of Portuguese society has revolved. The behaviour and action of the armed forces, the peasantry, the political parties can only be understood if they are seen as attempts to come to terms with the constantly shifting pattern of economic and political demands advanced by the working class.
(a) The land question. Nearly a third of the total labour force work on the land -roughly one million people still live on the land, and many of the urban working class are relatively recent immigrants to the cities. The ties between town and country are close in Portugal and the political direction of the rural poor is a vital question for the future of the Portuguese revolution.
Agriculture in Portugal falls into two distinct zones. In the south, approximately 444,000 people work on the land, but as a rural proletariat. They sell their labour to the latifundistas, the absentee landlords of the vast estates that dominate agriculture in this region, where the main products are wheat, cork and olives. Their conditions are little better than those of the peasantry. They suffer poverty and filthy living conditions – many are seasonal and migrant workers, forced to follow the harvest from estate to estate. But they have a long tradition of struggle against the regime – in 1962, 200,000 agricultural workers staged a national strike to demand an eight-hour day and won – which continued after the 25 April. In September there were widespread strikes among agricultural workers in the south.
In the north approximately 300,000 peasants scratch a miserable existence out of small plots of land they own themselves, or lease from the large estate owners – this is the wine growing region and is one of the most barren and backward areas of Western Europe – also the area where the Catholic Church is strongest and which has traditionally provided a social base for reaction. The ANP, the national party under fascism, had its headquarters in the main northern city, Oporto, as does the extreme right wing Christian Democratic Party (now outlawed).
There is little evidence of any massive movement by peasants since the April coup, although they live in conditions of extreme poverty. Indeed reports speak of peasants preparing to shoot ‘the Communists’ as soon as the opportunity arises. It is here that the right wing will seek its mass support if it can organise a powerful movement against the revolution and it is here that the most urgent political task of the working class lies. The peasants can be won for a fight against the monopolies which profit from their endless labour in the fields, but unless the working class can begin to meet the needs of the peasant they will be easy victims to the right.
(b) The extent of Saneamento. Outside of the Armed Forces, there has been a constant and continuing campaign to clean up the supporters of the old regime. The best known cases are those of the journalists firing the old editors who had loyally supported the dictatorship and taking the running of media into their own hands. There are, however, other less well publicised actions which demonstrate how the demand for saneamento has penetrated into every layer of Portuguese society. In June 500 Catholics met in Oporto and voted that a proper saneamento in the Church would involve the sacking of all bishops in Portugal. The theological colleges have been disrupted. Recently the Catholic radio station Radio Renascenca was occupied by workers demanding the re-instatement of sacked employees and an end to the transmission of ‘highly reactionary and provocative programmes’.
‘Two weeks ago I was on a demonstration against the arrest of two socialist officers outside the Campo Grande Barracks in Lisbon. There were threats that the whole barracks would be brought to a standstill so that the soldiers could join the demonstration. The authorities took it seriously enough to confine all ranks to quarters to shut the barracks completely, and to mount two tanks outside the gates, with their cannons facing inwards. As we marched past the barracks there were soldiers hanging out of the windows giving the clenched fist salute. Sights like that have probably not been seen in Europe for 40 years.’ (Bob Light, Socialist Worker, 13 July 1974)
LEAST OF all could an army, the vast majority of whose ranks are conscripted workers and peasants, have remained outside the class battle. It was inevitable that the mass waves of working class action would affect the soldiers whom workers on strike and on demonstrations addressed as the ‘sons of the people’, that the questions of control and democracy that were being posed in the factories would be echoed in the barracks, that saneamento was as necessary in the armed forces as in any other of the state structures. But although saneamento was one of the main demands in the programme of the Movement of the Armed Forces, it has proved to be the task the MFA has been least able to carry through within the 10,000 strong officer corps. Only in the navy, traditionally the ‘liberal’ wing of the forces did any significant saneamento take place – on 29 April a meeting of 700 naval officers voted support for the programme of the MFA and sacked over 80 Admirals and Vice Admirals. The purge was supported by mass meetings held throughout the fleet and since then Soviets including career and conscript officers have been formed on a number of ships.
After the coup the MFA had a list of at least 400 senior officers of known fascist sympathies, but under pressure from the right wing it decided not to sack them. It also left intact two major organs of fascist repression – the paramilitary PSP (riot police) and the GNR (the National Guard). To counterbalance these right wing forces it created its own special military force – COPCON – Continental Operation Command – from the most reliable units in the army, and as unrest spread in the barracks it was COPCON and not the regular soldiers who were used against strikers. Just as complete saneamento in the factories would have dismantled the economic power structures, saneamento in the armed forces would have dismantled the military structures of the State. For a group of officers that was increasingly coming to see itself as the state this was an impossible step to take. The MFA sees its powers as lying in the maintenance of the conventional military hierarchy in the lower ranks of the armed forces, if not at the top.
To maintain its powers it therefore had to retain control over the officer corps. The officers are not a heterogenous group. In class terms they are petty bourgeois and although there are undoubtedly revolutionaries among them, like the two who refused to break the post office workers’ strike in the summer, the right wing majority became more vociferous (although it did not hold positions of power), as the class struggle polarised. Most of the officers are conscripted, but the most influential group within the middle ranks are the career captains, who form the MFA.
Part of the MFA’s ability to control officers, and to appease the ruling class, lay in the extent to which it could exert influence and control over the working class.
With the fascist state dismantled the bourgeoisie could see no immediate alternative to fulfil this function but the MFA, and the Communist Party, to whom the most radical officers in the political leadership of the Movement were aligning themselves. But as it became apparent that neither the MFA nor the CP were able to keep the working class to heel, the ruling class began to resort to more desperate measures, the coup of 28 September for example. The shift to the right in the officer corps as a whole, exacer-
bated divisions within the MFA. The most radical elements were being forced out on a limb, major issues threatened to split the Movement apart and immobilised it at key junctures. At the same time the MFA was steadily increasing its intervention in economic and political spheres – it drew up a programme for economic reform which proposed limited state intervention into key industries. It announced its intentions to continue in existence after elections had been held ‘as a watchdog’ of the revolution.
Just as the MFA was unable to control the officer corps, so its control over the rank and file of the army was slipping. Military discipline was increasingly difficult to enforce, troops were joining demonstrations, refusing to take action against workers and when the Interempresa demonstration marched to the Ministry of Labour, the soldiers who had been sent to guard the buildings turned to face the crowd and gave it the clenched fist salute!
THE INCLUSION of a strongly pro-Moscow Communist Party in a rubber stamp body for Portuguese capital and western imperialism (the first provisional government was little more than this; it was appointed by and ruled through decree laws promulgated by the Council of State, on which big business and members of the upper hierarchy of the military with NATO connections was strongly represented) directly reflected the need of the ruling class to curb the workers to make sure that their attempted transition from the crudely repressive and restraining structures of fascism, to a bourgeois democracy, was not threatened by working class action.
Lacking any established structures to fulfil this task, they looked instead to the Portuguese Communist Party. After 25 April, the Portuguese CP was the only political party organised on a national scale. It had a significant base in the working class, and an estimated membership of 5,000, and the credibility and respect earned by consistent opposition and action throughout the years of fascist rule. The CP weekly Avante was the only clandestine newspaper to come out regularly during those 48 years, and many Party militants were imprisoned and killed for their part in working class opposition to fascism. After the coup the PCP alone was in a position to give leadership and unite the struggles that developed. Instead it set about establishing bureaucratic control over the trade union structures in their existing fragmented form – CP members were elected, or replaced fascists, in the leaderships of most of the trade unions and in local government structures, and reformist control over the Intersindical, the Portuguese version of the TUC, was firmly consolidated. Party building was executed through mass recruiting meetings, not at the point of production, but in the town centres and the countryside and the CP soon claimed a membership of 100,000 – a massive influx, but of largely petty-bourgeois extraction.
In the provisional government the Communist Party initially shared power with the Socialist Party and the PPD (Popular Democratic Party), the parliamentary expression of Portuguese capitalism, and eventually with the Movement of the Armed Forces. To maintain and justify this position it faced an enormous contradiction – on the one hand to retain its influence it had to retain its base within the working class; on the other hand it considered that a powerful offensive from the masses would threaten its position in the government and therefore its ability to carry through the ‘democratic’ as opposed to the socialist stage of the Portuguese revolution. The CP therefore performed a balancing act – between supporting some but not all the major struggles that took place.
It also supported governmental attacks on the working class, such as the strike law and the use of COPCON to break strikes, like the one in Jornal do Commercio and the TAP, and on the revolutionary left, who the CP denounced as ‘pseudo-revolutionaries’, ‘paving the way for reaction’. At its November Congress, it eradicated the dictatorship of thne proletariat from its programme, although it took the offensive on the land question, calling for the expropriation of uncultivated estates, and against the monopolies. Both these measures were consistent wizh its orientation towards winning sections of the peasantry and the petty bourgeoisie. However whilst national capital was attacked, the doors were to be opened to the international bourgeoisie – Cunhal declared that foreign investment was welcome in Portugal. The rightwards shift within the Socialist Party coupled with the fact that the Socialist Party also withdrew from the MDP (the Popular Democratic Movement that also included CP members who had blotted their copy books, the PPD and the non-governmental Movement of the Socialist Left), forced the CP to abandon the Popular Front and to increasingly identify itself with the political leadership of the Movement of the Armed Forces – the ‘Unity of the people and the MFA’ was to be the instrument of democratisation – it strongly supported the growing degree of military intervention in the state structures, urging the MFA to become a political organisation and contest the elections. Effectively it fostered and encouraged the Bonapartist ambitions of the MFA.
At the end of January legislation on trade unions which legalised reformist control over their bureaucracy was pushed through the government by the CP and the MFA in the face of strong opposition and considerable watering down from the right wing, the Socialist Party and the PPD. To strengthen its hand on this issue the Intersindical and the CP mobilised one of the biggest demonstrations to take place since May Day (when over one million people thronged the streets of Lisbon). But although the demonstration was called to support the trade union law, many of the 500,000 workers who marched raised slogans such as ‘Down with Capitalist Exploitation’ and demands for the right to work, for solidarity with workers in struggle.
The CP is much more effective when it follows the workers – hence the mass demonstrations after 28 September and around the trade union law – the fact that by November the Intersindical was calling for the repeal of the strike law, which the mass of the workers had refused to recognise. These mobilisations, the support for land occupation, and the anti-monopoly line were sufficient to raise anti-Communist hysteria in the national and international bourgeoisie. But on the other hand the strident denunciations of strikes, demonstrations and occupations resulted in large numbers of workers swinging away from reformism. CP candidates were defeated in elections to trade union leaderships by slates put up by the revolutionary left in the post office, the chemical workers union and significantly in the bank workers union in Oporto, a traditional stronghold of the CP, whose leader, Avelino Goncalves, had been Minister of Labour in the first provisional government.
The Socialist Party had only a few hundred members before 25 April, mainly lawyers and academics, but like the Communist Party recruited massively after the coup. Its leader, Soares, is Foreign Minister in the Provisional Government and as such claimed the credit for the decolonisation process.
The Socialist Party has strong links with the social-democratic parties of western Europe and particularly with the British Labour Party, which it has used in an attempt to gain western investment and closer links between Portugal and the EEC. Although on certain issues, such as ‘freedom of speech’, the SP has appeared to be to the left of the CP, overall it has moved steadily right, and now has a pronounced right-wing character. The semi-autonomous left wing split in January to form the FSP (Popular Socialist Front). The other party in the provisional government, the PPD (Popular Democratic Party) represents the interests of the bourgeoisie and is the parliamentary focus for the right wing.
Although in the summer it was insignificant, with virtually no following, by November it was able to mobilise 10,000 to rallies and sported an organised youth wing. Its growth results from a move to the right in the urban middle class and other sections of the petty bourgeoisie, but a more dangerous focus for the right wing is the CDS (Social Democratic Centre). The leadership of the CDS are men who held high offices in die fascist regime. The organisation has an extensive, well financed network throughout the country, with links through the church and the local authorities, and is particularly strong in the north.
The CDS is the most extreme of the ring wing parties that operate openly in Portugal; it was used by Spinola to mobilise support for the attempted coup on 28 September. It also has strong links with the right wing in western Europe – with the British Conservative Party for example. Three MPs from the right-wing aggressively pro-European section of the party were delegates to the CDS Congress in January, that was broken up by left wing demonstrators.
AS YET there is no organisation in Portugal to the left of the Communist Party in a position to unite and lead wide sections of the class.
There is a strong tradition of Maoism in Portugal and a large number of Maoist organisations, including the MRPP, the AOC (both now outlawed) and the UDP, which has recently played an important role and has a considerable industrial strength. Outside the Maoist groups, are the LCI (Liga Communist International), the sympathising section of the Fourth International, the PRT (Revolutionary Workers Party) which is a coalition of all other important Trotskyist groups.
The PRP (Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat) was formed in the wake of the massive student and worker mobilisations in the summer of 1973 – its ideological base line is an amalgam of Lenin, Trotsky and Luxemburg, with some anarcho-syndicalist tendencies. Just after the coup the PRP joined with the Brigadas Revolucionarias, one of the most successful armed organisations to operate under fascism. Although the PRP-BR paper Revoluçao has a circulation of around 60,000 the group has retained its tightly knit cadre structure. However its militants have been elected to the workers’ councils in key plants in the Lisbon area and several PRP-BR industrial cells have been formed.
The MES (Movement of the Socialist Left) is not strong enough to successfully oppose the CP at factory level; it is forced into a tactical alliance with the LCI and PRP over questions of trade union and workers’ council elections, mobilisation, and it has held joint meetings with these groups. But at the level of national politics it supports the CP, and it also refused to join a united slate proposed by the LCI to contest the elections. Apart from the PRP all these organisations are fielding candidates in the elections.
The revolutionary left is suffering the effects of years of isolation from the working class, and not one of them has an organisation that can match the Communist Party machine.
But as the mass of workers move towards revolutionary ideas, the role of the revolutionary left could be of immense importance in posing a clear working class alternative to the present state of affairs.
Throughout January and February it was becoming clear that the ruling class was rapidly losing control of the situation. Neither the CP or the MFA appeared able or willing to curb the level of struggle. And the wave of action had spilled over from the factories, involving massive sections of the population. School students throughout the country were on strike. Buildings were being taken over by the people who live in the sprawling slum areas around the big towns, workers were taking over the land. Added to this, the most powerful right wing organisations, the CDS and the PPD were having their meetings broken up. And in the forefront of this mass movement, the fight against redundancies, and against the closure of workplaces, closely linked to the demand for saneamento was generalising into a major working class offensive. Every new confrontation could become a direct political challenge to the ruling class, whose ‘April dream’ was rapidly taking on the proportions of a nightmare.
ON 11 March a group of right wing officers around Spinola who had been living in the countryside outside Lisbon since the failed coup of 28 September which lost him the Presidency of Portugal, backed by leading businessmen, put into action a plan from the Tancos airforce base 100 miles north east of Lisbon that should have involved a simultaneous uprising of military units in and around the Lisbon area, and, barely a month before the scheduled election, restore the right-wing to power. The plan was a disaster, miscalculated and mis-timed and virtually unsupported – two Fiat T-6 fighters and two heli-
copters bombarded the RAL 1 barracks just south of Lisbon, backed up by a ground force of paratroopers. Two hours later the third attempt since 25 April last year had fizzled out. While the bewildered paratroopers fraternised with the RAL 1 soldiers, explaining: ‘We are no fascists – we are your comrades,’ Spinola was fleeing to Spain and the rest of the conspirators were being rounded up.
The coup was not unexpected, it had been rumoured for at least a week beforehand, and Otelo Carvalho, Commander of COPCON and military commander of Lisbon had already stopped all fuel supplies to the military region around Tancos. But, just as on 28 September, when the uprising began it was workers and people in Lisbon and throughout the country who took decisive and immediate action against the right wing, in advance of the military. Barely two hours after the attack on RAL 1, barricades had been set up around Lisbon sealing off all main roads, manned by workers from adjacent factories. Many were armed and they used everything they could lay hands on as reinforcements – bulldozers, lorries and cement were expropriated from factory yards – agricultural workers armed themselves with spades and hoes, the banks were occupied, closed down and encircled by pickets – so were factories, schools, offices and shops were similarly closed down. Workers in the press and radio issued continuous news bulletins, newspapers printed special editions and used lorries to distribute them to those manning the barricades.
Trade unions and workers’ committees throughout the country issued leaflets. From the Union of Office Workers in the Oporto District:
‘Comrades, In defence of democracy – stop all work immediately, and set up pickets around workplaces, seize control of all communication between sites (telephones, telexes, etc.) ... those workers not needed to guard buildings should go to the streets to demonstrate ...’
And significantly, Carvalho, who after 28 September had complained to the Diario de Lisboa: ‘We were bypassed by the people. This is extremely dangerous in my opinion ... it is impermissible that the peoples’ forces came to take over a task that belonged to the forces of order,’ himself exhorted the masses to further action, to vigilance and unity against the forces off reaction.
The role of the revolutionary left was far greater than during the September events. Revolutionaries joined the barricades alongside the workers and Communist Party militants, seized control of the 25 April bridge, which spans the river Tagus, and the ferries that ply across the Tagus between Lisbon and Cacilhas, the headquarters of the extreme right wing PDC (Christian Democrats) and the CDS and the GNR and Spinola’s house were ransacked, the UDP, a coalition of three Maoist groups formed last September, broke into GNR and PSP posts in Lisbon and seized the arms and immobilised these bodies. Although the CP and the Intersindical were also involved, their role and influence appeared considerably less than that in September.
Two weeks before the coup the results of elections to the airforce, army and navy councils of the Assembly, of the Movement of the Armed Forces showed a decisive swing to the right among the officer corps at grass roots level. Key members of the Co-ordinating Committee such as the commander of COPCON, Otelo Carvalho, lost their positions. These men are no ‘extremists’, Carvalho himself was courting the centre within the officer corps. The results of these elections probably led the ruling class and the right wing generals grouped around Spinola to judge the time ripe for striking, to believe that the current of reaction within the lower hierarchy of the military was sufficiently strong to carry the right wing back to power. They completely misjudged their hand. The right wing tendency within the officers was not consolidated, these men did not have the confidence to challenge the leadership of the MFA on the one hand, or the confidence in their own control over the rank and file of the army on the other. For some of them, to order their soldiers against the workers would have been tantamount to suicide. And instead of leading the army against the working class, the coup resulted in radicalising the rank and file.
In many units soldiers simply refused to carry out the orders of officers known to be right wing, and in those units whose officers were loyal to the leadership of the MFA, the orders were surpassed by the rank and file. Soldiers openly fraternised with workers manning the barricades, some handed over the arms demanded by the workers. And for the first time ever mass meetings of officers and soldiers were held. In the bullet-ridden barracks of RAL-1, the following resolution was passed unanimously by such a meeting:
The second communique of the soldiers and officers of RAL-1:
‘TO ALL THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS, WORKERS AND PEASANTS TO ALL ANTI-FASCIST AND DEMOCRATIC OFFICERS
‘While the PIDE agents.continue to be treated with gentleness, while the fascist parties continue to exist legally, while the people are fired on in Setubal, while the soldiers and all the officers in struggle against fascist repression in the barracks are imprisoned, the people will continue to be oppressed with more ferocious exploitation and oppression.
‘The soldiers are the sons of the people. Thesoldiers and the anti-fascist officers will turn their arms against the bourgeoisie and against the fascist and reactionary officers and will place themselves at the side of the people.
‘The soldiers and all the officers of RAL-1, who up until now have struggled against fascism and its accomplices, will continue and intensify this struggle against the exploiters and the oppressors.
We demand the immediate execution of fascists and their accomplices, whether or not they are officers, whether or not they are generals.
‘DEATH TO FASCISM, POPULAR JUSTICE
IMPERIALISTS OUT OF PORTUGAL
IMMEDIATE EXECUTION OF THE FASCISTS
THE SOLDIERS ARE THE SONS OF THE PEOPLE.’
Immediately after the coup the MFA dissolved the existing centres of power within the armed forces – the Council of State, the Committee of 20 and the Assembly of 200 and the Co-ordinating Committee which were replaced by a single Revolutionary Council of 20 of the most radical members of the officer corps. At the same time the MFA rounded up over 100 generals and civilians – just as after 28 September the list read like a Who’s Who of the Portuguese bourgeoisie. Other measures were taken against the right wing – the PDC (Christian Democratic Party) the most extreme right wing organisation, was banned from participating in the elections, so were two Maoist groups, the MRPP and the AOC, which had gained some following among the rural workers, and controlled the leadership of the chemical workers’ union. However no measures were taken against the CDS – an extremely dangerous focus for the right.
One of the first acts of the Revolutionary Council was to carry out the workers’ demands for nationalisation of the Portuguese banks and the insurance companies. The military officers also took up the CP’s position and came out firmly against the Portuguese (but not the foreign) monopolies.
The nationalisation of banks and insurance companies will give the government/Revolutionary Council some breathing space to counteract the internal clamp down on investment and credit, and they intend to follow the CP’s anti-monopolist position to give aid to the economically crippled small and medium sector industries.
However, these industries are in crisis not only because of the big banks’ refusal to grant them credit but also because of the steep increases in the prices of oil and raw materials – something which is beyond the control of the government and also because for many of them the payment of the national minimum wage meant a doubling of their total wages bill – under fascism these industries survived, whereas the bigger ones profited, on the low wages. The fact that growing numbers of workers will inevitably be forced onto the offensive against the continued erosion of their standards of living – inflation is currently running at 45 per cent – is going to put critical strains on the alliance of the People and the MFA that is alleged to be carrying through the democratic revolution in Portugal. State aid can only artificially shore up this huge sector of Portuguese industry – one of the fundamental reasons for the severe difficulties Portuguese capitalism has encountered is that it attempted to reconvert at the same time that the rest of Western Europe was plunging headlong into recession.
The Revolutionary Council is obviously aware of this – hence their reiteration of their adherence to the NATO treaties, and the fact that as yet they haven’t proposed nationalisation of foreign industrial and finance capital. And in the wake of the coup the Communist Party has intensified its efforts to find a basis for unity with at least the Socialist Party. For the CP, the resurrection of the Popular Front is an open effort to reassure the international bourgeoisie to cool down the threats of intervention and bring western investment into Portugal.
But in a situation where workers and soldiers raise slogans of ‘Down with Imperialism, Down with Capitalism’, where, for example, the Union of Psychologists holds a mass meeting and sends an open letter to the Ministries of Social Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Finance and the Secretary of State for Health, denouncing the ‘real dangers’ that could result from the offer of the government of the United States to subsidise a health centre in Oriras and hospitals in Lisbon, Oporto and in the south, because they consider that ‘north American support serves as a cover for CIA infiltration’; in such a situation it is not unrealistic to foresee the ‘open door’ policy towards foreign investment and foreign firms in Portugal, being firmly slammed shut by the workers.
To prepare the ground for investment and to maintain their own position the MFA has to reinforce social and political order. A call for order has been made both by the Central Committee of the CP; (extract from communiqué issued 11..3.75): ‘The PCP realised and warned that the anti-communist campaign, the increase in economic sabotage, the wave of slanders, violence and provocation, the disruption in the schools, trade unions and the artificial exacerbation of social conflicts, the attempts to use strikes to paralyse important sectors of economic life, that this is all part of a process of deterioration of the political and social situation, preparing the ground for a reactionary coup’ and by leading members of the MFA. Vasco Goncalves, in a speech given the same day, made the same points; for the necessity for order and ‘unity’:
‘The unity of the working masses is indispensable for the consolidation of the Portuguese democratic revolution. At the very moment we were being attacked, a strike was being prepared in TAP. It is necessary that the workers of TAP, for example, among others, pay good attention to the dangers that arise from splitting themselves instead of binding themselves to the MFA ... the political parties must also draw the lessons of the situation which we have just seen. Instead of fighting each other, of dividing themselves, they must unite. They must unite under the revolutionary flag of our country, with the revolutionary ideas that make up the Programme of the Armed Forces.’
These are clear warnings that the MFA will attempt to take a firm stand against the working class, and that the Communist Party will use their influence to support the MFA. The nationalisation of the banks and insurance companies was a dramatic shift to the left from the original economic programme but it is not to be paralleled by a leftward shift in the MFA’s attitude to the working class militancy: the provision of the original plan still stands,
‘demands are legitimate, but workers must take account of the particular historic situation we are in. The working classes can turn their own weapons against themselves if they ignore political realities.’
THERE IS no doubt that in the wake of 11 March, power shifted from the control of the MFA and the government, that growing numbers of workers came to realise that they could not trust a group of officers or a government which consistently came down on the side of capitalism, to act effectively against the right wing.
For example, the draughtsmen’s union, who stated that the coup had been staged ‘to a great extent because of the lack of revolutionary action from the provisional government’; the Post Office Workers union,
‘The move by the reactionaries was only possible because the process of purging was not completed, so that many PIDE ‘agents, legionaires and other reactionaries remained not only in our industry but in many others. And they did so with the benevolence of various government bodies, despite the many workers’ strikes and demonstrations aimed at expelling from the workplaces individuals linked with fascism’,
and from the executive of the union of electrical workers in the south,
‘There is one lesson to be learnt: it was the hesitation of the organs of power that gave the fascists an opportunity to reorganise.’
However whilst advanced sections of the working class, like the TAP workers in Lisbon airport will only ‘Support the Armed Forces Movement as long as they are on the side of the workers’, large numbers of workers are still confused about the nature of the MFA, and might be prepared for a short time at least to continue to support the MFA, even to the extent of allowing army officers to replace factory and office managements. Should this happen, should the military intervene to this extent in running the capitalist economy, it will inevitably result in increased conflict directly between the military and the working class.
The coup bore witness to the combativity and the political maturity of the mass of workers, and the level of militancy has continued to rise. Workers have taken over the Gas and Electricity companies, in the banks and insurance companies, workers’ control is being demanded – the number of factory occupations has increased sharply. In Lisbon hotels, foreign journalists are obliged to have their dispatches checked by the workers before they are sent abroad. In Lisbon airport TAP workers check all outgoing passengers against a ‘wanted list’. The press and media have been wrested from the control of the bourgeoisie
The elections for a Constituent Assembly have been postponed yet again. If they do take place they will be contested by most of the political parties, including the Revolutionary left, except for the MRPP which has now been banned from participating, and the PRP. The elections are unlikely to fundamentally affect the polarisation between the classes. Two forces exist in Portugal both vying for power on behalf of the opposed classes. And straddling the divide, attempting to control the social force is the most influential section of the MFA, a few officers with Bona-partist ambitions, whose identity of interests lies neither with the working class or with the ruling class.
They have maintained their position so far by a skilful balancing act. So long as they continue to hold sway over large numbers of workers, to hold an influence built on their role in overthrowing the dictatorship, the MFA will continue to be seen by the ruling class and the majority of officers as the only way to prevent an increasing tide of militancy. But the armed forces themselves are being drawn into the class conflict, and as this conflict sharpens the political leadership of the MFA will be pushed further out on a limb, will be forced into the fray, will mirror the divisions between the forces they are attempting to reconcile. When that happens the working class will be forced to realise that the ‘Unity of the People and the Movement of the Armed Forces’ is not a revolutionary organ, is not an organ of class power; that the only alliance that can win and defend the revolution is the revolutionary alliance of the workers and soldiers, expressed as democratic councils.
In this situation it is crucial that the struggles of the working class are united and spread; that the enormous power which is being wielded in the factories which has emerged in some barracks, is welded together and co-ordinated in a centralised body which can present a clear alternative to the masses of workers and soldiers. In the Interempresa lie the roots of such a body. It played no direct role in the mobilisation which followed the coup, perhaps because it has just been formed and has not yet established the lines of communication needed for such a response but, the factories which it unites took part spontaneously. The development of the Interempresa could be crucial; its ability to become a . central focus through which the class can pose the question of power could now be the decisive factor.
The ruling class has not yet been smashed. It has been weakened, it is disorganised and temporarily cowed but it still has the power to smash the working class. The social base for fascism exists in the peasantry, the middle classes, the officer corps, the focus for a fascist regroupment still exists – the CDS which is still operating legally, and the PPD, could be the rallying point for the ruling class and the thousands who are ready to support it. Desperate as they are they will seize any opportunity to regroup. Any wavering, any hesitation in the working class offensive could provide that opportunity.
Last updated on 21.3.2008