Tony Cliff

Portugal at the crossroads

The way ahead

Prospects of future development

A revolutionary situation is very unstable by definition. There is not an unbridgeable gulf between a revolutionary and counter-revolutionary situation. In such a situation the moods of different groups in society, their energies and strengths, change very quickly. Real life experience in a revolutionary situation is very complicated, with so many factors criss-crossing, that an exact prognosis of events is impossible. However, there are quite clear basic delineations of developments.

Up to now the capitalists have not managed to get a clear grip on state power in Portugal, while the proletariat has not been ready to challenge them for it. The result has been an unstable balance whose centre of gravity has been the MFA. The Communist Party has been able to substitute the MFA for the vanguard of revolutionary workers (while it substituted itself for the vanguard in the factories). The right has also kowtowed to the MFA. The MFA has stood above the nation. Its mediation between the contending classes, together with the inherent weakness of the middle class, made the movement look larger than life. But the class struggle goes on, and it breaks the false unity of the MFA to pieces.

For a number of months many workers saw the revolutionary process as an attempt to impose their kind of law and order on a chaotic situation. The reactionaries were regarded as wreckers who have to be dealt with a little more firmly each time they step up their activities. Since there was no significant reactionary initiative since 11 March, the mass of the workers saw no need to move significantly to the left. The masses need big events to advance their revolutionary education.

The capitalist class also marked time for a space of months. But this cannot go on for very long. The economic and social crisis is deepening and breaking up the MFA – the main factor that has till now acted as buffer and mediator between the classes.

Adding to the threat from the right is the fact that international big business is causing economic chaos and then blaming it on the left, as in Chile two years ago.

The middle class, who were prepared to tolerate the revolution when it was just a matter of fine words, are moving rapidly to the right as they get squeezed between the economic crisis and the demands of the workers.

This is just as true of the middle class in the armed forces. The officers who supported the revolution when it was a question of ending unpopular wars in Africa now fear that their privileges and those of their relatives will be ended. They are backed by all the pro-western political forces, in particular the Socialist Party of Mario Soares. Despite its name, it is a middle-class party which may get workers’ votes but does not depend on workers for its funds and its organisers.

The right-wing forces have enjoyed enormous successes in the north and centre of the country in the last few weeks, as Socialist Party rallies have been followed by attempts to drive left-wingers physically from the area.

The right has been aided and spurred on by another important factor-the Portuguese ex-settlers in Angola and the Portuguese army in Angola.

The national liberation movements of the Portuguese colonies in Africa played a central role in the collapse of fascism. Now the former privileged settlers in Angola and the Portuguese army there are intervening as counter-revolutionary forces. There is no doubt that the 300,000 Portuguese arriving at the rate of 4,000 a day from Angola will aid the extreme right. They are bound to accuse the revolution of driving them out of Angola. They will by and large be unemployed, so their bitterness and demoralisation will be quite dangerous.

In the last few days the news from Lisbon is that the fascist ELP has been very active among the Angolan refugees in their camps.

And what about the Portuguese army in Angola? On 2 September a meeting of the Assembly of the Army voted overwhelmingly against the former Prime Minister holding the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. According to comments in the Lisbon newspapers, the alleged 70 percent majority of the army’s anti-Gonçalves vote was partly due to the presence of 30 officers representing the army in Angola, who had flown in specially to take part in the Assembly. In addition to their influence on the result of the vote, the commentators say, the army is trying to indicate that it can count on the support of the Angola force which still includes some 24,000 highly trained and well-equipped men. [88]

The right is bound to try and challenge the working class, so as to re-establish capitalist law and order. And it is only in struggle – especially in a situation with so many contradictory and unknown factors – that one can find what is the real balance of class forces. There is bound to be greater and greater pressure from the right – from the moderate right of Antunes and Soares to the extreme right of the CDS, Spinola and the ELP.

The workers, especially the best-organised ones in Lisbon and its environment, are bound to fight back in defence of the gains they made since fascism was overthrown on 25 April last year. They know these gains are now at stake, no matter now confused some may be by the manoeuvres, the wrangles, the splits and the shifting alliances at the top of society between professional career officers and professional politicians. And the workers have developed an enormous power.

The present regime – whether it is the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth or whatever government, is the most unstable caricature of Bonapartism. It does not represent a new equilibrium but the ending of an old one. It is a short-lived transitory regime leading either to victory of the proletarian revolution or to the victory of fascism. It is a void between two dictatorships.

Different governmental combinations

Because of the divisions and indiscipline in the army and, as Marx and Engels taught us, the State is essentially nothing but armed men and their accessories – a number of government combinations are on the agenda.

Two parties play a key role in deciding the governmental combination: the Socialist Party and the Communist Party.

Mario Soares, in a letter to President Costa Gomes made public on 4 September, asked for a guarantee that elections for a Legislative Assembly would be held within 60 days, and that a new government based on voting results would be formed. He also demanded, among other things: that regional elections be held before February next year, the newspaper Republica be returned to its Socialist Party former editor, and that Portugal’s bishops be given back control of the Roman Catholic radio station Radio Renascenca.

In the atmosphere of hysterical anti-communism, with the deepening economic crisis, and especially if at the same time workers are forced to retreat, and the Catholic hierarchy is given a boost through the return of Radio Renascenca, it is clear that a general election now must lead to a landslide electoral victory for the right.

Again, for the proletariat, the return of Republica and Radio Renascenca is bound to appear as a symbolic defeat, the thin end of the wedge of the complete destruction of all factory occupations and the restoration of the old owners.

The Right is also going to insist on the complete restoration of the old discipline in the armed forces. Two right-wing officers, Major Melo Antunes and Major Vito Alves, were restored to the Supreme Revolutionary Council after being kicked off it about a month before. The very same day a leading right-wing officer and a member of the Supreme Revolutionary Council, Captain Sausa e Castro, in an interview with Le Quotidien de Paris, said that the army should be purged of all elements linked with the Communist Party or extreme left-wing groups. The army should return to “classic discipline and hierarchy. All those who play the parties’ game in the army have no place in it. They must end all these assemblies in the army,” he said. If the Communists and certain extreme left-wing groups did not give up their influence in the barracks voluntarily they would be forced to do so. [89]

The Communist Party leaders have a very difficult choice. The Socialist Party is offering the Communist Party a new coalition. But it demands a very high price. Restoring Republica and Renascenca to the old owners means reconsolidation of bourgeois authority. The Communist Party does not want to lose its own bastions of power in the state and the media (like Diaria de Noticias, O Seculo), or its influence on the radio and TV.

And if it sacrifices Radio Renascenca and Republica (which it does not control but which are symbols for all the most advanced workers in Lisbon and Setubal), its militants will find themselves completely isolated in the factories. Under such conditions, some, if not many, would leave the Party.

The Communist Party leaders will naturally be extremely reluctant to accept Soares’s terms. But the pressure on them from international Stalinism is extremely strong, and will continue to increase.

One need only study the Italian and Spanish Communist Parties who see in Cunhal an “ultra-left” bogey. What better proof than the praises the Italian Communist Party got from Soares himself? At the press conference in Rome on 13 June Soares said:

If the Portuguese Communists had the same line as the Italian Communist Party there would be no problem for the Portuguese Left nor for the European Left. The Communist Party of Italy is truly a democratic party, for which political freedoms are a great conquest for humanity.

While in Rome Soares met Berlinguer, General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party. When asked if Berlinguer had promised him solidarity, Soares replied, “That follows from our conversation”. [90]

On 11 July the Spanish and Italian Communist Parties issued the following declaration, which no doubt is an indirect criticism of the Portuguese Communist Party:

Socialism cannot be established in our countries without the development and complete achievement of democracy ... [this is based on] the affirmation of personal and collective liberties; these are guaranteed by the principles of the lay state, its democratic articulation, the plurality of parties in a true dialectic, trade union autonomy, religious freedoms, freedom of expression, culture, art and science. [91]

At a rally on 12 July at Livorno, Berlinguer and Carillo, General Secretary of the Spanish Communist Party, criticised the MFA. Berlinguer deplored MFA policies for reducing “the participation of all expression of the popular will – in the first place the parties, which are the only guarantee of the renewal of Portuguese society and of its defence against any attempt at a reactionary return”. Carrillo said:

We must show concern and anxiety. If the breaking of the alliance formed on 25 April round the MFA is confirmed, if the democratic process were to be definitely interrupted, that would seriously compromise the fate of the revolution, and harm above all the Portuguese people and the cause of democracy throughout Europe. [92]

On 29 July Pavolini, editor of the Italian Communist Party daily L’Unità , attacked the Portuguese Communist Party for supporting MFA proposals to reduce the role of the parties: “We believe that basic political liberties, liberty of meeting and association, freedom of the press, information and culture, ought not simply to be ‘tolerated’ but supported and defended as the true banner of the movement of socialist workers”. [93]

The Portuguese Communist Party perhaps could have stood up to the pressure of international Stalinism if not for the fact that its own mass base – including the army – is very seriously shaken.

The Communist Party at the moment is still organisationally strong. But it is completely isolated politically. This has been shown by the relative failure of the Intersindical’s half-hour strike of 19 August – some of the strongest sections of workers (Republica, A Capital, RCP radio, RR radio, the underground, TAP, TLP, etc) ignored it; by the ease with which the 5th Division was closed down; by its leaders feeling, however briefly, that they needed a united front with the revolutionary left; by its loss of union elections in the Journalists, Pharmaceutical, Clerical, and Bank workers’ Unions (N.B. the Bank workers’ Union used to be synonymous with the Communist Party, and was the launching pad used by the Communist Party to control the Intersindical).

Among the army units with guns the Communist Party seems much weaker than the revolutionary left.

The military police (the most radicalised section of the army besides the RAL) voted unanimously for a resolution on Angola last week which referred to “social imperialism”.

There were more troops on the revolutionary demonstration on 20 August – in which the Communist Party did not participate – than on the United Front demonstration of 27 August in which the Communist Party did participate.

Within the class there are certain key sections where the Communist Party seems to have lost out completely – Republica, the Post Office, telephones. In other sectors (Lisnave, Setenave) one gets the impression that there is continual competition between the Communist Party and the revolutionary left, with the balance of influence shifting from day to day. Even in places like CUF, where the Communist Party has been very strong, the revolutionary left has some influence.

But, of course, there are all sorts of factories, not deeply involved in the agitation of last summer (when the Communist Party controlled the Ministry of Labour and condemned all strikes), where the Communist Party’s influence is unimpaired.

But the isolation of the Communist Party presents it with insuperable problems.

A coalition with the Socialist Party will threaten the Communist Party with, firstly, loss of much of its control over the state machine, media, etc, and, secondly, loss of control of many of its own rank and file militants to the revolutionary left.

It was partly in order to protect its left flank, partly in order to get a mobilisation in the streets that could defend its position in the state, that the Communist Party accepted the United Front on 25 August.

But the front was an embarrassment to international Stalinism and to the Communist Party allies in the officer corps.

So after the zig came the zag.

The zigzags in policy must be very demoralising for the Party members. Of course the history of Stalinism has been a history of zigzag – but every three to four years, not every three to four days.

Thus it was clear on the 27 August United Front demonstration that many of the Communist Party core were hardly adjusted to the notion of raising revolutionary sounding slogans. After all, only six weeks before, all the Communist Party demonstrations had been for the “battle of production”. Now they were saying Portugal was still a capitalist country. But faced with the role of the Socialist Party and its agitation in the north, they (the hardest Stalinists) shouted Costa Gomes down when he suggested an “opening to other political forces” (i.e. the Socialist Party).

Yet within 24 hours Cunhal was making friendly moves to the Socialist Party. Again O Seculo (a Communist Party controlled daily) produced a special midday edition on Monday 25 August to greet the Revolutionary Front as a “historic occasion”. Yet a week later the Communist Party was pretending the Front had never really existed.

In the short term at least, their isolation would seem worse than ever. The centrist groups that used to provide them with a certain left cover (MES, LCI, possibly FSP) have been forced to join with the PRP in denouncing the Communist Party’s treachery.

And unless Soares lowers his demands considerably, it is not impossible that the Communist Party will be forced once again to try a United Front with the revolutionaries. Despite the size of the Communist Party’s apparatus and the strength of its cadres, it could easily fall between two stools and fail in its attempts to exist as an apparatus suspended in mid-air.

If the Communist Party collaborated with the Socialist Party, and they are both backed by the army generals, then the prospects for Portugal are of a right-wing offensive, of the type carried out in Germany in 1918-19. If the Communist Party remains outside the government, then the prospects are of a right-wing offensive similar to that seen in Spain in 1936-39. Of course there can be many permutations. For instance, the Communist Party might join the government for a time and then be pushed out by the right. Or it might resign from the government for fear of losing its popular base to the revolutionary organisations. It is also possible for the Communist Party, while being outside the government, to try and use the popular pressure merely in order to influence the people at the top. There is a wide variety of possibilities before the Communist Party leaders for manoeuvring and zigzagging. In all cases the leaders will keep the masses in the dark about their real intentions, believing in the clever manoeuvre. But manoeuvres and tricks in politics, especially in a revolution, are very dangerous: they fail to dupe the enemy but threaten to dupe the masses.

The urgent need to organise workers’ and soldiers’ councils

As the present governmental set-up is a passage towards one of two dictatorships, the working class urgently needs to build a representative democratic organisation that covers the whole of the working class, i.e. soviets (councils). Parties, even large ones, can only include a minority of the proletariat. This could remain an abstract statement if one did not show how such soviets can be created from the immediate struggles and, first of all, from the need of workers to defend themselves against reaction.

The councils must be widespread, organised across the whole working class and not only its vanguard. The PRP-BR deserves real credit for urging the formation of Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors. The CRTSMs demonstration on 17 June of some 40,000 people was very fine. But this was only the vanguard – i.e. workers, soldiers and sailors who should be members of a revolutionary party. The real councils must organise far more people with far greater unevenness in their levels of consciousness.

The United Front

The collapse of the MFA as a unified force, and the sharp threats from reaction, will make it possible and urgent to raise the question of the united anti-fascist front – as a transition to the soviets.

The problem of the United Front – notwithstanding the deep differences between the political parties within it, and the inevitable split between them – is rooted in the need to defend workers’ organisations against attack from reaction.

“To carry on a war for the overthrow of the international bourgeoisie,” Lenin wrote in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, “and to renounce in advance any change of tack or any utilisation of a conflict of interests (even if temporarily) among one’s enemies, or any conciliation or compromise with possible allies (even if they are temporary, unstable, vacillating or conditional allies) – is that not ridiculous in the extreme?” It is:

... necessity, the absolute necessity, for the Communist Party, the vanguard of the proletariat, its class-conscious section, to resort to changes of tack, to conciliation and compromises with the various groups of proletarians, with the various parties of the workers and small masters. It is entirely a matter of knowing how to apply these tactics in order to raise – not lower – the general level of proletarian class-consciousness, revolutionary spirit, and ability to fight and win. [94]

And Lenin showed in practice how one should carry the policy of the united front without falling into either unprincipled compromises or dogmatic sectarianism. The classic test was on 26 August 1917 when General Kornilov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army, threw his army against Petrograd, aiming to smash the Kerensky government, the soviets and all its parties – not only the revolutionary Bolsheviks, but also the reformist Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries. The Bolshevik Party was semi-legal, suppressed and persecuted by the Kerensky government. Its leaders were slandered viciously as German agents. But the Bolsheviks did not hesitate to form a practical alliance with their jailors and slanderers – Kerensky, Tsereteli and company – to fight Kornilov.

Lenin’s writings during these crucial days are by far the clearest and sharpest. In a letter to the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks he wrote:

The Kornilov revolt is a most unexpected (unexpected at such a moment and in such a form) and downright unbelievably sharp turn in events.

Like every sharp turn, it calls for a revision and change of tactics. And as with every revision, we must be extra cautious not to become unprincipled.

There must be no concealment of principled disagreements, no weakening of the criticism of the position of the temporary ally, no covering up of differences:

Even now we must not support Kerensky’s government. This is unprincipled. We may be asked: aren’t we going to fight against Kornilov? Of course we must! But this is not the same thing; there is a dividing line here ...

We shall fight, we are fighting against Kornilov, just as Kerensky’s troops do, but we do not support Kerensky. On the contrary, we expose his weaknesses. There is the difference. It is rather a subtle difference, but it is highly essential and must not be forgotten.

What then constituted the change in Bolshevik tactics brought about by the Kornilov revolt?

We are changing the form of our struggle against Kerensky. Without in the least relaxing our hostility towards him, without taking back a single word said against him, without renouncing the task of overthrowing him, we say that we must take into account the present situation. We shall not overthrow Kerensky right now. We shall approach the task of fighting against him in a different way, namely, we shall point out to the people (who are fighting against Kornilov) Kerensky’s weakness and vacillation. This has been done in the past as well. Now, however, it has become the all-important thing, and this constitutes the change.

The change in the tactics of the Bolsheviks in the face of the Kornilov revolt was expressed by putting at the centre of the party agitation a number:

... of “partial demands” to be presented to Kerensky: arrest Milyukov, arm the Petrograd workers, summon the Kronstadt, Vyborg and Helsingfors troops to Petrograd, dissolve the Duma, arrest Rodziariko, legalise the transfer of the landed estates to the peasants, introduce workers’ control over grain and factories, etc, etc. We must present these demands, not only to Kerensky, and not so much to Kerensky, as to the workers. soldiers and peasants who have been carried away by the course of the struggle against Kornilov. We must keep up their enthusiasm, encourage them to deal with the generals and officers who have declared for Kornilov, urge them to demand immediate transfer of land to the peasants, suggest to them that it is necessary to arrest Rodzianko and Milyukov, dissolve the Duma, close down Rech and other bourgeois papers, and institute investigations against them.

In all the tactical changes Lenin never forgot to emphasise that the central issue must never for a second be overlooked: the seizure of power by the proletariat:

It would be wrong to think that we have moved further away from the task of the proletariat winning power. No. We have come very close to it, not directly, but from the side. At the moment we must campaign not so much directly against Kerensky, as indirectly against him, namely by demanding more and more active truly revolutionary war against Kornilov. The development of this war alone can lead us to power, but we must speak of this as little as possible in our propaganda. [95]

And so, facing the threat of Kornilov, committees for revolutionary defence were organised everywhere, into which the Bolsheviks entered as a minority. This did not hinder the Bolsheviks, being the most consistent, from assuming a leading role.

The united front against Kornilov gave a new lease of life to the soviets which had become dormant under the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leadership, especially since the July days when a massive persecution of the Bolsheviks started.

And no doubt, in a revolutionary situation, a united front may well lead to the soviet. As Trotsky put it so clearly, “Just as the trade union is the rudimentary form of the united front in the economic struggle, so the soviet is the highest form of the united front, under the conditions in which the proletariat enters the epoch of fighting for power”. [96]

What forms exactly, with what parties, the united front will be built in Portugal, we can never know in advance. Quick changes of tactics, including that of the united front, are needed in a swiftly changing situation. But one thing we can be absolutely sure of, if we study the historical experience of the international proletariat. One of the main issues connected intimately with that of a united front, and leading directly to it, is the question of arming the workers, the creation of workers’ militias.

Workers’ militia

Workers have to protect themselves. Already in the North the need arises to patrol the streets, to defend working-class centres from reactionary attacks. This need will also arise in Lisbon and Setubal. Why not demand from the factory management that a certain number of workers be freed from work to do patrol duty paid by management?

While building the workers’ militia the propaganda for the general arming of the revolutionary workers must be carried out.

At the same time one cannot have a workers’ militia side by side with the regular army for any length of time. So the demand for their amalgamation has to be raised. This entails the election of all officers in the armed forces, the democratic election of soldiers’ committees in each unit, centralised in a national election of soldiers’ delegates to a national council. As the proletariat cannot win State power without arms, the slogan of “arming the workers” and the slogan “Build the Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors” are indissolubly bound together.

The central role of the revolutionary party

Revolutions do indeed start as spontaneous acts without the leadership of a party. The French Revolution started with the storming of the Bastille. Nobody organised that. Was there a party at the head of the people in rebellion? No. Even the future leaders of the Jacobins, for instance Robespierre, did not yet oppose the monarchy and were not yet organised into a party. The 14 July 1789 revolution was a spontaneous act of the masses.

The same was true of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the February 1917 Revolution. The 1905 Revolution started through a bloody clash between the Tsar’s army and police on the one hand and the mass of workers, men, women and children, on the other, led by the priest Gapon (who was actually an agent provocateur of the Tsar). Were the workers organised by a clear and decisive leadership with a socialist policy of its own? Certainly not. Carrying icons, they came begging their beloved “Little Father” – the Tsar – to help them against their exploiters. This was the first step in a great revolution. Twelve years later, in February 1917, the masses, now more experienced, and with a greater number of revolutionaries among them than in the previous revolution, again rose spontaneously. No historian has been able to point at any organiser of the February Revolution, for it simply was not organised.

However, after being triggered off by a spontaneous uprising, revolutions move forward in a different manner. In France there was a transition from the semi-republican government of the Gironde to a revolutionary one, which completely annihilated feudal property relations. This was not carried out by unorganised masses without any party leadership, but under the decisive leadership of the Jacobin party. Without such a party at the helm, this important step, which demanded an all-out fight against the Girondists, would have been impossible. The people of Paris could spontaneously, leaderlessly, rise up against the king after decades of oppression. But the majority were too conservative, and lacking in historical experience and knowledge, to distinguish, after only two or three years of revolution, between those who wanted to drive the revolution to an extremity and those who aimed at some compromise. The historical situation required a struggle to the bitter end and against the party of compromise, the allies of yesterday. The conscious leadership of this undertaking was supplied by the Jacobin party, which fixed the date and organised the overthrow of the Gironde on 10 August 1792 down to the last detail. Similarly the October Revolution was not a spontaneous act, but was organised in practically all its important particulars, including the date, by the Bolsheviks. During the zigzags of the revolution – between February and October, the April demonstration, the June demonstration, the July days and subsequent orderly retreat, the rebuff of the Kornilov putsch – the workers and soldiers came more closely under the influence and guidance of the Bolshevik Party. Such a party was essential to raise the revolution from its initial stages to its final victory.

Spontaneity is inevitably irregular and uneven, and while all revolutions in history have begun spontaneously, none have ended so.

For the working class to take and hold power, a revolutionary workers’ party is necessary. That is not to say that a revolution, an overthrow of the old order, cannot happen except under the leadership of a revolutionary party. Even the 25 April coup demonstrates this clearly. Without a party the overthrow of an old regime can certainly take place.

Nor is there any magic in parties as such. The traditional working-class parties, social-democratic and “communist”, have for decades been a brake on, not a motor of, socialist revolution. “The proletariat may tolerate for a long time a [party] leadership that has already suffered a complete inner degeneration,” Trotsky once wrote, “but has not as yet had the opportunity to express this degeneration amid great events. A great historic shock is necessary to reveal sharply the contradiction.”

The shock may produce scepticism about the whole notion of a revolutionary party. Various substitutes may be supposed to exist, whether left-wing officers, spontaneous working-class action or whatever. But there is no possible substitute. Many kinds of non-party institutions can play a part in the revolutionary process, workers’ councils in particular can play an almost indispensable part, but without a revolutionary workers’ party the working class, as a class, cannot rule.

A revolutionary party is different in nature, not simply in policy, from reformist parties. Reformist parties are always substitutionalist. Vote for us and we will do this or that for you is their invariable approach. In the case of social-democratic parties it is virtually the only political call they make to their supporters in “normal” circumstances.

There is also such a thing as revolutionary substitutionism. A classic example is Blanquism. On 12 May 1839 Blanqui led his 1,200 or so armed followers in Paris into the streets to overthrow the monarchy. His proclamation read:

To arms Citizens!

The fatal hour has sounded for the oppressors ...

The Provisional Government has chosen military leaders to direct the struggle.

These people have come from your ranks; follow them – they will lead you to victory.

Forward! Long live the Republic.

This coup was quite successful at first. It had been very well prepared, in a technical sense. Key government buildings were occupied. But the whole operation had been prepared in the utmost secrecy. No political preparations had been carried out. The great mass of the working population of Paris knew nothing of Blanqui’s plan. They were completely ignorant, not just of the technical plan, which has to be secret, but also of the political and social aims of the movement. They remained inactive. The government rallied, brought in reliable troops and the rising was crushed.

It was not that the Paris workers of that time were incapable of revolutionary action. Far from it. In 1830 and again in 1848 they overthrew the regime. But in both cases a political ferment among them preceded the insurrection.

Nowadays everyone pays at least lip service to the need for political preparation, but in fact substitutionalism is still rife on the revolutionary left. It needs to be emphasised and re-emphasised that, in Marx’s words, “the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself”. A revolutionary party can never substitute itself for the working class. Other kinds of parties can, do and must. Their aims, however various, all include keeping the workers politically passive – voting fodder at best or supporters of well-controlled demonstrations planned from above.

But the rejection of substitutionalism in no way involves rejecting the necessity for a revolutionary workers’ party. The working class is the product of capitalist society. Its consciousness and militancy and understanding are necessarily extremely uneven. To act, even in sectional struggles, it requires organisation. For it to act as a class for the biggest aim of all, the taking of power and the socialist reconstruction of society, the most conscious and confident workers must be welded together. They are the actual or potential leaders of their fellows. United they can, under favourable circumstances, carry the whole mass with them. This union of these advanced workers is the revolutionary workers’ party. In times of crisis workers, like other sections of society, respond to some leadership or other. Acute problems have to be solved and they will be solved – in a progressive way or in a reactionary one. In the absence of a revolutionary party led by the more advanced workers, the mass of the working class will follow or acquiesce in some other kind of lead. The vacuum has to be filled, and if the advanced workers lack the cohesion and confidence to lead, if they are not able to act as a party, then the vacuum is always filled by a substitutionist force which builds on apathy and confusion.

Of course the revolutionary party also needs tradition and theory. In other words its cadres need to have absorbed some of the lessons of past workers’ struggles nationally and internationally. To weld together a broad layer of advanced workers this tradition must to some extent be taught. After all, the cadres of the bourgeois class, bureaucrats, army officers, managers, lawyers, and so on, are subjected to an intense education process which is as much ideological as technical.

But it is very dangerous to see the party’s job as mainly that of teacher. The main job is to give a lead. To do this effectively the party militants must listen, must be sensitive to changing moods among their fellow workers, must know how to link the aspirations of workers to the central political aim. In short they have to learn from their fellow workers as much as – or more than – they have to teach. To repeat, the job is to lead, and to lead you have to thoroughly understand those you are leading. Leadership is a two-way process.

The same is true of the party leaders. Only impractical utopians can suppose that party leadership is unnecessary. Just as the working class as a whole is led by its most conscious and confident members, so inside the party a differentiation is inevitable. The job of party leadership is to generalise the experience of the party militants and to lead them as they lead their fellow workers. It is the same two-way relationship inside the party.

Many on the left see the party as a substitute for the class, or primarily as the teacher of the class. Equally, many see the party leadership as the repository of doctrine, of theory, of organisational skill and knowledge. Of course it has to be all these things to some degree. But mainly it has to be the most apt learner, the most sensitive ear and the firmest will.

Theory and tradition all too often become lifeless dogma. Indeed, they must become so unless they are always connected to the living struggle, to the creativity and initiative of the working class. Engels’s oft-repeated but rarely understood saying, “Our theory is not a dogma but a guide to action,” sums up the correct relation between theory and practice.

Lenin loved to repeat, “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.” Living reality is always richer in developments, in probabilities, in complications, than any theoretical concept or prognosis, and Lenin therefore derided those who turned Marxism into an icon: “An icon is something you pray to, something you cross yourself before, something you bow down to; but an icon has no effect on practical life and practical politics”. [97]

A revolutionary leadership needs both an understanding of the struggle as a whole, and the capacity to put forward the right slogans at every turning point. These do not derive simply from the party programme. They must fit the circumstances, above all the moods and feelings of the masses, so that they can be used to lead the workers forward. Slogans must be appropriate, not only to the general direction of the revolutionary movement, but also to the level of consciousness of the masses. Only through the application of the general line of the party does its real value become manifest.

The party and its leadership must keep in continuous touch with the masses. The only real revolutionary politics is the principled open politics that avoids falling for “tricks” that dupe the masses. So the party press must play a central role in the party’s work, by giving local committees, members of the party and the mass of its supporters a clear idea of the politics of the party. It was so with the Bolsheviks. At the beginning of July 1917, 41 newspapers and journals were published by the Bolshevik Party, 27 in Russian and the remainder in the languages of various minorities (five Latvian, one Lithuanian, two Armenian, two Estonian, one Polish, one Georgian, one Azerbaijani). Of these 17 were daily papers (14 in the Russian language), eight papers appeared three times a week, five twice weekly, seven weekly, three fortnightly and one monthly. The word – including the written word – is of such central importance in the revolution. There was no period in Lenin’s life in which he wrote more or better than in the months of February to October 1917.

For the revolutionary party to utter the right words is not enough. The party must be able to translate words, into deeds. For this it must have wide and deep implantation in the proletariat – it must be a mass party. Such was the Bolshevik Party. In July 1917 in Petrograd the Bolsheviks had 36,000 members (Petrograd had about the same population as Lisbon). Of course, the PRP-BR on 25 April 1974 was only a tiny organisation and for it to become a mass party is not at all easy, especially as the PRP has to contend not only with the Communist Party (and to a lesser extent the Socialist Party) in working-class circles but also with other small extreme left organisations (above all the Maoists). However, here again the Bolshevik experience is quite useful. In the revolutionary months of 1917 the Bolshevik Party grew very swiftly indeed. Thus, for instance, in Saratov at the beginning of March there were 60 Party members at the end of July 3,000; in Kiev the corresponding figures were 200 and 4,000; in Ekaterinburg 40 and 2,800; in Moscow 600 and 15,000; in Petrograd 2,000 and 36,000.

Whether easy or difficult, in one way or another, the success of the revolution in Portugal demands the budding of a mass revolutionary proletarian party.

Building the mass party, making the party paper a central organiser, making the party and every one of its members an active interventionist in the class struggle are integral parts of leading the proletariat to victory. Politics and organisation can in no way be separated.

Unlike the sects who appropriate the mantle of leadership without paying attention at all to what the workers really think, feel and do, the revolutionary party, above all, must relate to the workers in struggle. The central role of the party is “to give full scope to the revolutionary creative activity of the masses, who participate but little in this activity in a time of peace, but who come to the forefront in revolutionary epochs”. [98]

It is especially during revolutionary periods that workers show the tremendous creative abilities they have. As Lenin put it, “The organising abilities of the people, particularly of the proletariat, but also of the peasantry, are revealed a million times more strongly, fully and productively in periods of revolutionary whirlwind than in periods of so-called calm [drayhorse] historical progress”. [99]

A victory for the proletarian revolution in Portugal will open a new chapter in world history. The impact on neighbouring Spain will be decisive. Even before the fall of fascism the working class in Spain shows fantastic militancy. Official figures for 1974 record 1,196 industrial disputes involving 669,861 workers, and these are the conservative figures put out by the Spanish government. If the multinationals lose their factories in Portugal there is a good chance they will lose them in Spain too.

Portugal, the weakest link in the capitalist chain in Europe, can become the launching pad for the socialist revolution in the whole of the continent.

The stakes are extremely high for both the working class and the capitalist class. NATO, CIA, MI6, EEC, the State Department and the Foreign Office, Tories and Social Democratic leaders have joined together in a holy alliance to defend “democracy”. The international proletariat should close ranks behind their Portuguese brothers and sisters to see that Portugal does not turn into another Chile, and that the struggle culminates in workers’ power and socialism.




88. Guardian, 5 September 1975.

89. Guardian, 9 September 1975.

90. Le Monde, 15/16 June 1975.

91. Le Monde, 13/14 July 1975.

92. Le Monde, 15 July 1975.

93. L’Unità , 28 July 1975.

94. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.31, pp.70-74.

95. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.25, pp.285-289.

96. L. Trotsky, Fascism, Stalinism and the United Front, International Socialism 38/39 (first series), August/September 1969.

97. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.30, p.356.

98. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.8, p.563.

99. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, vol.10, p.259.


Last updated on 6.10.2003