Tony Cliff

Portugal at the crossroads

The workers’ parties

The Communist Party supports Spinola’s government

Straight after 25 April the Communist Party joined Spinola’s government. The government was set up under the premiership of Palma Carlos, a conservative law professor who sat on the board of directors of some of Portugal’s big companies. It was made up of a coalition of forces as diverse as the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), a party of big business, with two Communists and four Socialists. The Minister of Labour was a member of the Communist Party. To pay their passage, the leaders of the Communist Party argued that nothing should be done that might upset Portuguese capitalism.

First of all, Portugal in the immediate future could not, and should not, go beyond the limits of capitalism, argued Alvaro Cunhal, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, in a speech in June 1974:

It is necessary, for good and all, to get rid of the idea that there exists in Portugal a popular government in a position to carry out thorough social reform. Also illusions should not be nurtured that in the present circumstances the workers can force these through. The Provisional Government is formed of a broad coalition of social and political forces, whose programme – the Movement of the Armed Forces programme – does not envisage profound reforms of the socio-economic structure. This is one point. Another point to stress is that this same programme of an anti-monopolist strategy will make use of emergency measures. These can easily be implemented without altering the present structures of Portuguese society. There has been a small advance in this direction. We must advance. [18]

He further remarked:

In the present political conditions, the demands put forward by the workers must be realistic, must not be at a level which cannot be borne by the enterprises or by the national economy ... there are some bosses who demagogically say they are prepared to give all that the workers ask for (and even much they do not ask for). They incite workers to strike, and try to quickly unload these burdens onto the back of the State and the consumers, leading the country back into the old vicious circle of inflation that we saw in the days of fascism ... The workers will not back strikes encouraged or supported by bosses who are suspiciously generous. They will not pull the chestnuts out of the fire for their own exploiters to consume.

To do this would make the workers the dupes of fascism and the reaction. The workers will not do this.

Because they are not ready to be duped, the workers have to show that they understand that, in present circumstances, the strike (a legitimate weapon necessary and indispensable in a struggle to win demands) must be used only as a last resort after other means of struggle have been tried. [19]

Excessive wage claims are “counter-revolutionary”, he stated:

A typical example of counter-revolutionary activity is the recent incitement to strike on the part of administrators in large companies and the old government delegates in public enterprises. These people, who have always lived by the exploitation of workers, are suddenly leaping to the “defence” of the workers, giving wage rises much higher than those demanded by the unions, wage rises that cannot be met in the present economic situation. They are pushing workers into striking and struggling against the Provisional Government.

We see here what amounts to an orchestrated attack aiming to create a climate of insecurity in society, in such a way as to paralyse transport, prevent the distribution of essential commodities (bread and milk), disrupt the economy, destroy small and middle-sized businesses, spread popular discontent and encourage a conflict between the popular masses and the armed forces. [20]

The vast majority of employers are perfectly capable of satisfying, certainly not all the unrealistic demands that some demagogues are foisting on the workers, but the major rises in wages demanded and other important and just demands. [21]

The small and medium businesses are less able to pay, hence workers should show restraint when putting wage claims to them: “... those who can should pay more and those with fewer resources should pay less”. [22]

And with some justification Cunhal goes on to say:

Our enemies proclaim that communists threaten small businesses ... The truth is that communists defend, not only the interests of the working class and peasantry, but all classes and middle layers. Small farmers, small industrialists, small businessmen – all these can look to us communists as the true defenders of their legitimate interests. [23]

The same line of opposition to workers’ “excessive” demands was put by the Intersindical (the Portuguese TUC), which the Communist Party very much influences. Antero Martins, as the delegate of the Bank Workers’ Union, expressed the majority view of the Intersindical: “In most cases the Intersindical takes action with the aim of avoiding big groups going on strike, while with groups that are already on strike it discusses the problem and, taking any opportunity, encourages a return to work.”

Such views were not confined to words. They were repeatedly translated into action. When the first big strikes took place after 25 April, the Communist Party exerted all its efforts to get them called off.

In the weeks which followed every major industry was hit by strikes and occupations. The Communist Party did not only order its own militants to argue against strike action: it went further and spread various slanders, arguing that strikes of bakers and transport workers in Lisbon were fomented by “fascists”. When 35,000 postal workers (97 percent of the workforce) struck, the Communist Party claimed that the right was once again behind the strike and that the committee running the strike was unrepresentative. It supported the use of troops to break the strike, and organised meetings on street corners and demonstrations outside the post offices against the strikers.

Cunhal stated:

The strike of the CIT [Postal Workers] is an example of a strike that should neither be called nor implemented. It is an example of a strike that is not only useless but damaging to the workers. Firstly, some of the demands, such as the 35-hour week, are unrealistic, demagogic and economically insupportable. Talks were proceeding. The strike was in no way justifiable. Clearly its promoters did not hope for an improvement in the workers’ standard of living ... The aim of these people was not the improvement of living standards. The aim was to paralyse a service essential to the life of the country, disturb economic and social life, and turn the workers against the Provisional Government. [24]

The demand for a 35-hour week unrealistic! When massive unemployment grips Portugal!

Excessive wage demands threaten the national interest, and in Portugal according to Cunhal:

These events show that, in the struggle for the complete destruction of fascism and the defence of liberty, a new battlefront emerges in which all the people are involved: the battle to prevent the disruption of economic life and a deep economic crisis.

It is time to say that this is a great danger, if not the greatest danger that is threatening the Portuguese road to democracy.

A serious economic crisis that will hit broad layers of the population and will mean a general sharpening of social conflict will not only bring in its wake a wave of unemployment and new serious economic problems for the workers but will be the most favourable breeding ground for opening the way to counter-revolution.

For the defence of the workers’ interests, the defence of the national interest, liberty and democracy, it is in the vital interests of the Portuguese people that they avoid such a crisis and do all they can to this end. [25]

Harold Wilson could hardly improve on Cunhal!

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. [26]

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. [27]

The labour law

The Communist Party leadership supported the Spinola government’s Labour Law. Despite the claim that it legalised strikes for the first time for 40 years, it actually put restrictions on them which were much more severe than those in the Industrial Relations Act of the British Tory government.

The first two articles in the text of the Strike Law guaranteed to the workers of Portugal the Right to Strike in principle, describing it as “the collective recourse of workers to defend and promote their collective professional interests”.

Having so established the workers’ rights, the law continued with a further 29 articles of conditions, restrictions and exceptions which chipped away at these rights, leaving a law which attempted to block and suppress the struggles of the working class at every turn.

Firstly there were the exceptions. The army, the police, judges, prison officers and firemen were forbidden to strike, and a special law was to deal with the rights of civil servants and employees in public institutions.

Secondly the types of strikes permitted under the law were severely limited. It was illegal to strike for “political motives”. It was illegal also to strike in solidarity with workers in a different trade. Isolated strikes by small sections of a company’s workforce were illegal, as were occupations of factories or places of work by strikers. The only form of picketing that was allowed was outside work premises to prevent companies from employing blackleg labour. Strikes were also illegal if they occurred whilst a negotiated agreement was in operation. This meant that if workers signed, say, a two-year wage agreement with management, they were powerless against the effects of inflation until the agreement had run its course.

There remained, though, a residue of situations where strike action was legal, and so the bulk of the law went into creating complicated procedures and restrictions upon the actions of strikers that forced them to walk a delicate tightrope between what was permitted by law and what was not. No strike could take place until 30 days of negotiations had elapsed, counted from the moment the workers presented their demands in writing. Then a further seven days notice had to be given to both management and the Ministry of Labour. Strike action became illegal if the workers’ demands were met either in whole or even “to a significant degree” by management, and the Ministry of Labour was to be the arbiter of that last vague situation.

A strong feature of the law was its attempt to bureaucratise the actions of the workers themselves. A strike was only legal when conducted through an official trade union or unions representing the majority of the workers in a factory. In addition a strike committee had to be elected, and the identity of its members communicated to the management and the Minister of Labour.

Once elected, moreover, it could not be changed for six months. A decision to strike must have the support of a majority of the workforce in a factory, and all those absent at a strike vote were to be counted as anti-strike voters.

Lock-outs by management also became illegal under the terms of this law, but to this there were many loopholes. Lock-outs were justified if the workers tried to occupy the factory, if they damaged or destroyed goods or equipment, if they infringed any clause of the strike law, or if for any technical reasons it was impractical to keep the factory open – all vague clauses leaving much room for management manoeuvre. But the trump card was held by the government, which reserved the right to intervene to break a strike if in their view it was “against the national interest”.

The law carried penalties of stiff fines for failure to abide by its procedures, and imprisonment of up to six months for violence in the course of a strike. [28]

In practice the strength of the working class was such that the law remained a dead letter.

In August 1974 the workers of TAP, the Portuguese National Airline, one of the most militant sections of the working class, were involved in a struggle against management which led to an attempt by the government to curb the strike wave. Troops were sent in to try to enforce the law, arresting and sacking strike leaders.

The TAP workers 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. [29]

Similarly 4,000 workers of Lisnave shipyard staged an afternoon strike and marched on the Ministry of Labour. The workers wore their blue overalls and coloured helmets in the demonstration, which was particularly impressive for its discipline, organisation and unity. They were joined by a large delegation of Post Office workers and hundreds of supporters, and were all the way applauded by the population. The march opened with a huge banner (“Down with Capitalism”), and the other dominant slogan (“Right to strike, yes. Lockout, no”) made the recently published anti-strike law the main target of the demonstrators.

The workers completely ignored the ban on the demonstration declared by the government and the Armed Forces the day before, as well as the show of strength of the Army, which brought hundreds of soldiers and armoured vehicles to the streets, and sealed off the whole area around the Ministry. The head of the demonstration was stopped for half an hour by a line of COPCON troops across the street. The workers appealed directly to the soldiers over the heads of the officers. They explained the anti-working-class nature of the strike law, and appealed to the soldiers as “sons of workers, brothers of workers, future workers”. Some of the soldiers broke down weeping. When the officers saw they were losing control of the soldiers, they were forced to let the march pass. [30]

The minimum wage law

During the last few months of the fascist regime a large number of strikes took place – at Plesseys, Standard, Grundig, General Instruments, Lusitania, British Leyland, Signetics, ITT, Fabrica de Leinas Uniao, Fabrica Leao and many others.

The focus of the Communist-Party-controlled trade union centre – the Intersindical – was the campaign for a national minimum of £100 a month, which provided the basic demand for many of the struggles that took place.

The Provisional Government declared a national minimum wage of £55 a month. This law did not cover agricultural workers, domestic servants and employees in establishments with less than five workers.

The Communist Party leaders declared their support for this law, denounced the demand for £100 as unrealistic and refused to support the many strikes based on the demand. And this notwithstanding the fact that since 1973, when the Intersindical first raised the demand for £100 minimum, the cost of living rose by at least 50 percent.

Communist Party bureaucratic control of the trade unions

In order to control the workers, Salazar had established a union structure that divided the workers into tiny groups. 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 unions. There were over 400 unions in Portugal when the coup took place – in some factories there were 30 to 40. In CUF there were as many as 100. In the Lisnave shipyards there were 24 separate craft unions of which most of the 7,000 shipbuilders were members.

Approximately 2 million workers were divided among these bodies. In 1969, 80 percent 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.

The Communist Party, which controlled the Intersindical after 25 April, did not smash the existing structure but took hold of it.

The trade unions are still suffering from the fragmentation imposed by the fascist regime. A very large number of unions still exist which are divided both according to trades and according to district. Metal workers, for instance, who form a large proportion of industrial workers in Portugal, have separate unions in each of the major cities. The same is true of the bank employees’ unions.

Other forms inherited from fascism and the lack of historical tradition in independent trade union organisations have recently led to some serious problems in several trade unions. The rules imposed upon the unions by the fascist regime ensured that the final decision-making body of each union is not a delegate conference but a General Assembly which all members of a union are entitled to attend. Under fascism these decisions could not be freely implemented due to state control. The rule was uncritically accepted as democratic after 25 April.

In practice, this method of establishing policy can become highly undemocratic. The geographical location of the General Assembly and its timing can determine which particular group of workers is more likely to attend. Anomalies thus created are considerable.

To look at a few examples: the Executive of the Bank Employees Union of Oporto organised a series of local meetings and a delegate conference to discuss their proposed demands, a reduction of the working hours. In practically all these meetings, which were all well attended, the proposal was overwhelmingly agreed. However, when the General Assembly was called, its attendance barely surpassed that of some of the local meetings and the executive proposal was defeated. This decision, according to the rules of the union, had to stand as official union policy, even though the majority of the membership was clearly opposed to it.

The rule has allowed certain union executives to maintain bureaucratic control over the union. In some cases, it has reduced trade union activity to political parties mobilising their supporters to attend General Assemblies and thus outvote the supporters of rival political lines.

In the Metalworkers’ Union of Lisbon, for example, the executive, which is sympathetic to the Intersindical line, has sacked a number of full time officials who had supported strikes which the executive opposed. [31]

Oppressive press law

The Communist Party leaders also supported all the repressive measures taken by the Spinola government against the press.

By the end of July 1974 the radio and TV networks had been put under military control and left-wing newsreaders sacked. Fines have been imposed on three newspapers, and Saldanha Sanches, editor of Luta Popular and a member of the Maoist group MRPP, had been imprisoned.

On 1 August Diario de Lisboa was suspended for two days, and A Capital and Republica for one day, for publishing reports on a demonstration two days earlier against the colonial wars. The Ad-Hoc Committee administering the law also took exception to an “alarmist” article in Diario de Lisboa describing the uneasy situation in Angola.

The press responded the following day with a protest strike at the suspension, and Diario Popular was the only evening daily paper to appear on the streets. The pickets, organised to prevent the distribution of the strike-breaking paper, were the victims of the most overt police repression since the coup.

Five days later the police made another appearance, this time joined by 11 tanks, numerous military police vehicles and several hundred soldiers, to suppress a demonstration in protest against the imprisonment of Sanches and the indefinite suspension of Luta Popular. The demonstration was peaceful, and its break-up showed a determination to control the media and suppress critical groups. The colonial problem and the workers’ struggles were the most sensitive areas.

The offences are described in such vague terms as “incitement to strike” and “ideological aggression”. [32]

In July a provisional press law was introduced pending a fully-fledged Press Law. It aimed at imposing “self-control” upon the press, and an Ad-Hoc Committee was set up along with it as a watchdog with the power to impose fines and/or suspension orders on the offending papers. This was the first measure to censor the Portuguese press. No court of law was required to operate the sanctions. A victim could appeal, but meanwhile the sanctions would already have been applied and have served their purpose.

The main victims were the small local papers and party organs which could least afford to pay fines and suffer losses through suspensions.

Bureaucratic manipulation: the Communist Party’s role

After 25 April the Portuguese Communist Party was the only political party organised on a national scale. It had a significant base in the working class, an estimated membership of 5,000, and the credibility and respect earned by consistent opposition and action throughout the years of fascist rule. The Communist Party 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 Portuguese Communist Party 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 – Communist Party members were elected, or replaced fascists, in the leaderships of most of the trade unions. Communist Party control over the Intersindical was firmly consolidated.

In some 200 municipalities the local government structure was taken over by Communist Party members. This, of course, in no way raised the consciousness and morale of the masses. On the contrary, as events in recent weeks in North Portugal show, Communist Party control of local government structures played into the hands of fascist provocateurs who could entice people against the local mayor who refused to help, or who was involved in corrupt practices.

Side by side with bureaucratic takeovers of trade unions, local government, and government and army offices, the Communist Party carried out a massive recruitment campaign. Soon the Communist Party claimed a membership of 100,000 – a massive influx.

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 Communist Party therefore performed a balancing act – between supporting some but not all the major struggles that took place.

What characterised the Communist Party’s behaviour, above all, was manoeuvring and manipulation.

The Socialist Party

The Socialist Party did not exist before 1973. Soares and the other leaders of the Socialist Party were a handful of individuals without a party in the period of Salazar and Caetano.

They were the sort of lawyers who would defend political prisoners or take up workers’ compensation claims in the courts.

After 25 April 1974 the Socialist Party entered the government. At first it had next to no local organisation but with the PPD still participated in the electoral front run by the Communist Party under Caetano (the CDE – later the MDP-CDE). They only withdrew from this in the late summer.

There is little doubt that, in the early post-25-April period the Communist Party effectively built up the Socialist Party and Soares, e.g. in a mass demonstration in Lisbon in July 1974 the audience was supplied by the Communist Party but Soares was one of the star speakers. At that time the Socialist Party did its best to cultivate a left image. Indeed, the Socialist Party statement of aims sounds almost revolutionary, as a few extracts show:

The Socialist Party fights the capitalist system and bourgeois domination ... The Socialist Party is implementing a new conception of life that can only be brought about through the construction of workers’ power ...

The struggle against fascism and colonialism will only be achieved by the destruction of capitalist society and the construction of socialism ... The Socialist Party refutes those who say they are social democrats but continue to preserve the status quo, the structures of capitalism and the interests of imperialism. [33]

Soares spoke of a “multi-tendency party” including revolutionary leftists. He even threatened to resign from the government over certain right-wing measures that the Communist Party supported (the press law of summer 1974 and the slow pace of decolonisation allowed by Spinola).

At that time the Socialist Party put forward a double image. Big meetings for international speakers featured Altimirano, the left-wing Chilean Socialist Party leader, but also Mitterrand, the right-wing leader of the French Socialist Party who is currently aligned with Harold Wilson, Schmidt, Palme and company in defence of “democracy” (meaning capitalism) in Portugal.

The workers the Socialist Party recruited at the time could be to the left of the Communist Party cadres in the factories. The Socialist Party never carried the attacks on strikers under the first two provisional governments (until 28 September 1974) as far as the Communist Party (which held the Ministry of Labour). There were cases of Socialist Party members standing on joint electoral lists with the revolutionary left (e.g. Oporto bank workers).

But the Socialist Party never became a workers’ party in the way in which the Communist Party is: although much of its support has come from workers its cadres, its activists, have been mainly petty bourgeois. This possibly explains its ability to make some leftist noises in summer 1974 – its cadres did not have to carry the policies of the first two provisional governments in the factories. The onus was on the Communist Party to do this, because the Communist Party was seen as the party controlling the factories. But because its activists are not in the factories, the Socialist Party could swing very quickly to the right once it had built up a national organisation. This happened last autumn, under pressure from Western social democracy. Last autumn the Socialist Party and the PPD withdrew from the MDP-CDE. Then they began agitation for the right of unions to exist independently of the Intersindical (the agitation over the union law – not to be confused with the strike law).

At first the argument over this issue was quite confusing – the military wanted to impose a single union federation (with Communist Party support); the Socialist Party and PPD were clearly leaving the ground open for a split in the union (as with the Force Ouvrière in France in 1948).

In reality two things were at stake: the clash between the supporters of NATO and the Warsaw Pact over who was to control bits of the state apparatus in a strategically important country, and the desire of the “West” (via the Socialist Party) to divide and weaken the workers’ movement.

Shortly prior to 11 March the Socialist Party opposition to the Communist Party hardened (one of the things that prompted the attempted coup of 11 March). But the Socialist Party did not support the extreme right on either 28 September or 11 March. Why not? Because, firstly, on the African question the Socialist Party represented that section of the bourgeoisie (and petty bourgeoisie) that had decided it could no longer afford the African wars. Secondly, if the coups of 28 September or 11 March had succeeded, the right would probably have decided they could govern without politicians like Soares.

Since 11 March the Socialist Party has sought to win back, for pro-western bourgeois elements, those sections of the state machine in the hands of the Communist Party and areas of society under control of the workers. Hence the party’s repeated threats to withdraw from the provisional government and its eventual departure.

But the Socialist Party still fears to completely lose its working-class support. So its speakers can still make very left-wing speeches in the South (e.g. before its last big demonstration in Lisbon it played records over a loudspeaker system from its party headquarters – the Internationale, the Bandera Roja, the Workers United Front song of Brecht, etc.) – even while well-heeled middle-class youths were driving expensive cars to put out propaganda for the demonstration. It also fears that it will unleash right-wing forces that will dispense with its services. Its slogans are “For a government of national salvation” but also “No to Spinola, No to Communist Dictatorship”.

At present the Socialist Party, as a petty bourgeois party par excellence, represents everything that is immature and confused in the masses’ consciousness. Everybody who had not inherited from the period of fascism a clear political consciousness, i.e. belonged neither to the fascist right nor to the Communist Party nor the “ultra-left” groups, now found himself ready to support the Socialist Party. This meant supporting the 25 April revolution without any further commitment: its banner is the simple one of “pure democracy” – commitment to the revolution in general.

What characterises the petty bourgeoisie, however, is their fear and mistrust of the masses, and their cringing before the rich and mighty. A long time ago Engels explained the role of petty bourgeois democracy in a letter to Bebel (11 December 1884) on “pure democracy”:

... pure democracy ... when the moment of revolution comes, acquires a temporary importance ... as the final sheet-anchor of the whole bourgeois and even feudal economy ... Thus between March and September 1848 the whole feudal-bureaucratic mass strengthened the liberals in order to hold down the revolutionary masses ... In any case our sole adversary on the day of the crisis and on the day after the crisis will be the whole of the reaction which will group around pure democracy, and this, I think, should not be lost sight of.

And Marx elaborated: “... from the first moment of the victory, and after it, the distrust of the workers must not be directed any more against the conquered reactionary party, but against the previous ally, the petty bourgeois democrats, who desire to exploit the common victory only for themselves”. [34]

The floodtide of revolution brought hundreds and thousands without experience into political life, and the first leaders they support are those who were not capitalist, but also not very strongly or clearly defined. They assemble behind the banner of the Socialist Party.

The petty-bourgeoisie are a massive transmission belt of influence between the capitalists and the mass of the people, including sections of the proletariat. The big capitalists are an insignificant minority of society. But the ruling class does not live in isolation. Through a network of institutions it enmeshes sections of the lower middle classes. And these shade into sections of the proletariat, especially the less organised and backward ones. While the upper layers of the petty bourgeoisie are directly linked to the big bourgeoisie, its lower layers merge into the proletariat and the lumpen proletariat.

The Socialist Party is the party with whose aid capitalism preserves the hopes of the petty bourgeoisie and the backward workers in a progressive improvement of their situation. The deepening crisis of Portuguese capitalism will inevitably undermine the power of this party, and it will deliver its supporters either to the revolutionary proletariat or to the extreme right – to the fascist forces. So long as the masses hesitate between revolution and reaction, they continue to support the Socialist Party. But this situation of hesitation cannot last long.

The deepening crisis pushed masses of aroused petty bourgeoisie to support the Socialist Party with its demagogy against the present impasse and the Gonçalves government that is identified with rising prices, high taxation, etc. But this is only a transitory stage for the petty bourgeoisie. All historical experience shows that fascism finds its mass support mainly in the enraged petty bourgeoisie. Ruined by capitalism, losing the belief in peaceful reformist social democracy, masses of petty bourgeoisie can quite quickly veer to fascism. This is bound to happen to the Portuguese Socialist Party in the present general crisis of society unless its mass following is attracted by the revolutionary left, which in practice will show its ability to smash all blocks on the road to a better future for the masses, including the lower petty bourgeoisie.

The Communist Party is now frightened it is going to be kicked out of the government and lose control over the unions. So it has been attempting to resist Socialist Party and PPD pressures. But at the same time it is still refusing to mobilise the rank and file of the workers’ movement for an all-out struggle.

The speeches the Communist Party leaders made at the 1975 May Day rallies simply urged workers to “work harder”, and “wait patiently” in the hope that one day unemployment would disappear. Instead of developing a massive rank and file movement, the Communist Party has placed its main hope in a continuing alliance with a section of officers in the armed forces. That is why the trade union law it supported provides for unity at the top of the unions but opposes attempts to form united rank and file organisation between workers in different factories in any town. That is why the row over the union law has not led it to campaign against the labour law.

The zigzagging policy of the Communist Party, the appointment of leaders from the top, whether in the trade unions or the municipalities – the lies and deception of the masses – played into the hands of the Socialist Party leaders. Instead of encouraging the formation of rank and file workers’ and soldiers’ committees, the Communist Party has been trying to maintain its hold over the trade unions by bureaucratic manipulation and by deals with the leaders of the Armed Forces Movement. This could only drive more workers to fall for the Socialist Party’s talk of “democracy”.

The Maoists

Until 25 April the Maoist groups were almost entirely confined to the universities (and via them to sections of conscript officers).

Their leaders had been in the Communist Party (in one or two cases part of its leadership) until the early 1960s. They broke at the time of the Sino-Soviet dispute and then later when the Communist Party was under internal pressure because of its failure to turn the mass agitation of the early 60s into armed insurrection (despite its verbal pledges to armed action). All the Maoist groups accept the Chinese designation of Russia as “social imperialist” and see the Communist Party as an agent of “social imperialism”.

They all accept, to some degree or other, a Stalinist stages theory, by which the first task in Portugal is “national democratic” revolution. (Hence the name of the Popular Democratic Union (LTDP) and the stress on the slogan “National independence”.)

All the Maoist groups accept a variant on the Stalinist notion of the party, claiming that their aim is to “reconstruct” or “reconstitute” the Communist Party as it existed before Cunhal. (E.g. a communiqué put out by UDP and FEC organisations speaks of “a different period that began 11 years ago when the first Marxist-Leninists decided to abandon the Communist Party, after it had been completely taken over by the renegade Cunhal ... Since then the Marxist-Leninists have fought for the reconstruction of the destroyed Communist Party”.)

Such a conception of the Party allows them, in practice, to justify all the manoeuvring, the duplicity and the bureaucratic tricks that characterised Stalinism in its heyday. (They all carry portraits of Stalin, sell his books, etc.)

But their Stalinism inevitably means splits between them because it cannot fit the needs of the revolutionary Portuguese situation, and because of disputes over who is Stalin/Mao in Portugal today.

These points apply to all the organisations. But they draw different conclusions from their basic assumptions.

[Editor’s note: Cliff described both the Maoist and centrist organisations in more detail elsewhere in the original article. These boxes of information have been reproduced an appendix to this chapter.]


PRP-BR (Proletarian Revolutionary Party-Revolutionary Brigades)

The Revolutionary Brigades were formed in 1969 by a group of activists who split from the Communist Party, accusing it of being reformist. For a number of years they carried out armed actions against the fascists and the colonial apparatus, including the blowing up of a NATO base, blowing up trucks destined for the colonial wars, trying to blow up power lines on May Day 1973 (the theory being that this would allow workers to leave factories to hold meetings and demonstrations) and releasing pigs dressed in naval uniforms during the choosing of a naval officer as president in 1972.

The Revolutionary Brigades always made it clear that for them “the practice of armed actions was never separate from the need to create a revolutionary organisation of the proletariat which would link the armed struggle with the mass struggles”.

The key theme underlying the BR analysis was that the fight against imperialism could not be separated from the struggle for socialism. Thus the BR completely opposed the Menshevik-Stalinist-Maoist theory of stages – first should come the democratic revolution, and then, only after a passage of time, the socialist revolution, a theory at the service of class collaboration.

In September 1973 the BR joined with a number of revolutionary communists and other groups to constitute the PRP-BR. The manifesto issued by the conference made it clear that the task of the Portuguese Revolution was the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat:

The crisis of Portuguese capitalism, in the context of the general crisis of the imperialist world system, is especially aggravated by the colonial war: this creates a situation of instability at the level of power. This situation throws open to the revolutionary forces, to the proletariat, the perspective in the short term of the conquest of power and the triumph of the Socialist Revolution.

The manifesto sharply attacked the reformist concept of the peaceful road to socialism accepted by social democrats and Stalinists:

Faced with this crisis situation the revisionists and social democrats have attempted to make reformist alternatives seem credible. Even in countries with a bourgeois democracy, e.g. with Popular Fronts, this alternative has failed time and time again in different ways. The recent tragic events in Chile, which led to the butchery of left-wing militants and the working-class movement of the country, by the united forces of reaction and imperialism, are yet another example of what the pacifist legal road can lead to – this is the real adventurism.

The manifesto made it clear that the armed revolution is absolutely necessary in order to overthrow the power of the capitalist class:

Only the socialist revolution with the taking of power by the proletariat can be the solution. But this is only possible by its own organisation for revolutionary violence. Only the revolutionary violence of workers can counter the economic, social and political violence of the bourgeoisie. Only through violence can power be wrested from the bourgeoisie.

Finally the manifesto makes it clear that the Portuguese Revolution is part and parcel of the international revolution of the proletariat and the colonial peoples:

The struggle for the socialist revolution in Portugal is not an isolated struggle; it is an integral part of the internationalist struggle of the proletariat against imperialism. Its internationalist character is further reinforced at this moment by the historic coincidence between the interests of the Portuguese proletariat and the interests of the peoples of the colonies, which is expressed in a common front against colonialism and imperialism. [35]

In all its propaganda the PRP-BR put the stress on the need for autonomous organisations of the working class, and the necessity for the party to be made up mainly of proletarians and not of a few intellectuals adopting the mantle of leadership.

Because of the emphasis on the autonomous organisations of the working class the PRP was able to give a certain necessary direction to the revolutionary left as a whole. It was influential in pushing for the formation of the Interempresas Committee which held very successful demonstrations on 28 September 1974 and 7 February 1975. Party militants were very involved in solidarity campaigns in other factories, with TAP workers, etc. The PRP played a central role in propagandising the ideas of CRTSMs – Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors.

The PRP’s stress on the autonomy of the class was a definite advantage to it in the period after 11 March 1975. During the general elections to the Constituent Assembly, there is no doubt that many militants got fed up with the different and numerous political organisations competing for working-class votes. Militants felt that their unity in struggle prior to 11 March was being disrupted for votes. Apartidarism (non-partyism) corresponded to the feelings of much of the advanced section of the class. When the PRP raised the question of workers’ and soldiers’ councils it got a response from the advanced section of the class, and also from revolutionaries within the armed forces. Hence the successful CRTSM demonstration of mid-June 1975 involving some 40,000 people.

But the PRP did not have the implantation in the working class to establish real councils (soviets) as opposed to making propaganda for them.

The CRTs popularised the notion of workers’ power among a section of the class, but could not directly contend for power. [For more on this problem see the section, Revolution deflected from soviets.]

The PRP is an authentic revolutionary Marxist organisation which argues for the need for armed revolution, stands squarely for the dictatorship of the proletariat, and believes in the need for autonomous organisations of the proletariat – councils (soviets).

The PRP is very clear in grasping the nature of the Communist Party. It refuses to speak of “social fascism”, hence its superiority over the Maoists. At the same time it recognises that although the Communist Party has a base in the class (unlike the Socialist Party) it is a reformist party that cannot be pressurised into revolutionary actions (hence its superiority over the centrists like those of the MES and FSP).

It understands the need for a united front in defence of workers’ organisations.

The healthy emphasis on self-activity by the proletariat, however, is accompanied by a certain lack of clarity about the relations between the revolutionary party and the proletariat. [36]





18. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução Democratica e Nacional (Lisbon, 1975), pp.211-212.

19. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução, p.210.

20. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução, p.205.

21. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução, p.213.

22. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução.

23. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução.

24. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução, pp.210-211.

25. A. Cunhal, Pela Revolução, p.211.

26. Our Common Struggle 3, November 1974.

27. Our Common Struggle 3, November 1974.

28. Our Common Struggle 2, October 1974.

29. J. Rollo, International Socialism, April 1975.

30. Our Common Struggle 2, October 1974.

31. Our Common Struggle 7, April 1975.

32. Our Common Struggle 1, September 1974.

33. Socialist Worker, 26 July 1975.

34. K. Marx, Address to the Communist League, 1850, Appendix to Engels’ Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany (London, 1933).

35. Documents do Partido Revolucionario do Proletariado-Brigadas Revolucionarios, 1971-1974 (Lisbon, 1975), pp.173-176

36. More on this in The Way Ahead, subheading, “Central role of the revolutionary party”.


Last updated on 24.4.2003