Tony Cliff

Portugal at the crossroads


“Centrist” organisations

In any revolutionary situation all sorts of centrist political tendencies grow up that vacillate between the reformists and the revolutionary left. Usually such vacillation is an ingrained political characteristic for the leaders of these tendencies. But the rank and file is often made up of serious, committed, militant workers who are breaking politically with reformism but are not yet convinced of the full revolutionary organisation. The leaders try to maintain their control of the rank and file by verbal revolutionism while in practice giving ground to the reformists.

In Portugal there are a number of such groups.

MES (Left Socialist Movement)

Originated from fusion of three groups: (a) Radical Catholics, intellectuals involved in the anti-war movement. The leadership and cadre of the organisation are predominately from this background. (b) Rank and file workers won in the opposition to the Communist Party strategy of infiltration of the official unions. working-class base mainly in textile industry. President and vice-president of textile union MES members. Played part in 1973 TAP strike, and as a result held for a while the presidency and vice-presidency of the Metalworkers Union. (c) Group of Marxist intellectuals, who have now left and form the “Ex-MES” group, some of whose members have been the “extreme left” in some of the provisional governments. At rank-and-file level MES militants line up with the revolutionary left. But at the national level, they have tended to act as a pressure group on the Communist Party, not as a revolutionary organisation out to replace it. The Communist Party has often welcomed the MES’s presence as enabling itself to have a slight “left” coloration.


Created around Manual Serra, a radical Catholic worker leader from way back (in and out of jail, etc). He had a group around him, the MSP (Popular Socialist Movement), which soon after 25 April joined the Socialist Party. After the Socialist Party Congress in December 1974, in which they put up an alternative slate which was lost, Serra accused Soares of rigging the election and of moving to the right. He then left with the bulk of the original MSP and formed the FSP. The FSP has always refused to go into government, but has been very close to the Communist Party, and has been used by the Communist Party to voice attacks on the Socialist Party which the Communist Party would not want to make officially itself. Little organisation and little base.


Secretary General the charismatic Herminio Paima Inacio – a Dick Turpin figure in Portugal. A bank robber, he made three dramatic escapes from prison. LUAR was started in the late 1960s with the Figueira de Foz bank robbery. They organised the world’s first hijack, hijacking a plane over Morocco, and using it to distribute leaflets all over Lisbon. Base amongst workers, and in the Alentejo and Algarve. Led in the formation of neighbourhood committees and in the occupations of houses.

LUAR often works as part of the revolutionary left. But it talks in populist terms, without posing the need for revolutionary party. Can play an important part in revolutionary action at the local level, but could never take initiative in raising the question of class power nationally.


Maoist organisations

PCP-ML, front name AOC, leader Vilar

The organisation enjoys Chinese support. It argues that the main danger in Portugal today is social fascism.

It points out that Dimitrov said you should unite with the bourgeois liberals and social democrats against fascists. It therefore supports Socialist Party and “liberal” bourgeoisies against Communist Party, goes on Socialist Party demonstrations and has helped make attacks on “social fascists” in the North. It took over the Chemical Workers Union of the South after 25 April in the same bureaucratic manner that the Communist Party took over most other ex-fascist unions.

It did not have a good record of struggle in the interests of workers, and was even said to give arguments about the need for “restraint” in the “national interest” – similar to those of the Communist Party. Eventually it lost control to the Communist Party, and tried to cling to power in the union through Communist-Party-type thuggery.

It supported the pre-11-March mixed-economy economics plan of Melo Antunes, as a “defence of national independence”.


The biggest “revolutionary” organisation in the University, it seems to recruit sons of upper class CDS supporters. Its membership is characterised by a religious fervour. It was quite heroic under fascism, but even then spent much of its time denouncing the rest of the revolutionary left. Typically, today it runs slogans like “Long live the glorious MRPP – Arnaldo Matos (Secretary of MRPP), glorious leader of the proletariat”, etc.

It gained some influence in a few firms when the Communist Party was involved in strike-breaking – e.g. it has some influence in TAP and the TLP (telephone workers).

But its influence is restricted in Lisbon to at most five workers’ committees.

It is extremely unpopular with COPCON rank and file because of its references to them as the “new PIDE”.

Its position used to be distinct from that of the PCP ML/AOC, in that it did not openly back the Socialist Party. But the Socialist Party saw an advantage in claiming to defend the MRPP against the Communist Party. And recently the MRPP has provided a convenient weapon for the Socialist Party to use to break the hold of the Communist Party on certain unions in Lisbon (journalists, bank workers, clerks).

The MRPP sees the events in the North as a “peasant uprising against social fascism”. When the Communist Party defended its headquarters in Leiria, the MRPP spoke of it “shooting down peasants”.

There seems to be some sort of convergence here between the sons of the bourgeoisie and their parents.

FEC-ML (Communist Electoral Federation)

Refers to “social fascism”. But does not draw conclusion about need to defend social democracy against social fascism.

Its headquarters in the North have been attacked by the right. It is stronger in the Oporto region than in Lisbon (while the UDP is strong in Lisbon, weak in Oporto).

Its central plank has been need to reconstruct Communist Party, e.g. in an interview in magazine Flama three months back, it said that it was utopian to raise question of revolution until Party had been reconstructed. It claimed that all talk of workers’ councils, of workers’ control or dual power was a utopian attempt to build islands of socialism within capitalism. In practice, this must mean abstention from raising question of class power. Instead allows policy of trying to take over unions by diplomacy, manoeuvre, etc.

UDP (Popular Democratic Union)

A front for two/three Maoist groups.

By far the largest of the Maoist groups within the working class.

But its politics (its Stalinist politics) put great impediments in front of its following anything like a correct revolutionary policy.

It is still half-stuck on a stages theory which calls for a bourgeois democratic revolution in Portugal, so it cannot raise the question of workers’ power as the central question.

The UDP tries to distinguish itself by stressing “national independence from the imperialisms” (stress on the plural) as if Russian imperialism were the same sort of immediate threat as US imperialism in Portugal.

One of its main criticisms of the United Revolutionary Front was for not demanding, “No to the superpowers, unity with the Third World”, and, “No to the imperialisms, national independence”.

On the revolutionary demonstration of 20 August 1975, the UDP people seemed to be stressing only such “national democratic” slogans, and they objected very strongly to a banner which said “Out with the scum, power to those who work”.

They cannot talk in terms of a united front with the Communist Party even of a limited, defensive character, while they refer to it, even if only occasionally, as “social fascist”.

The situation has demanded going beyond “national democratic” slogans. Insofar as the PRP has been able to agitate in this sense it has been able to force the UDP to follow its strategic lead.

But, because the UDP is quite big, there must be many workers who cannot decide whether to join the UDP or the PRP and so join neither. The UDP can certainly restrict the success of PRP initiatives like the CRTSM.


Last updated on 26.3.2008