Tony Cliff

Portugal at the Impasse

(February 1977)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.95, February 1977, pp.19-25.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

DURING the nineteen months between the fall of fascism in April 1975 and the pre-emptive right wing coup of 25 November 1975, the general trend of the Portuguese revolution was upwards. The revolutionary movement made powerful advances; workers took over some 300 factories; there were massive occupations of latifundia; the army was wracked by conflict betweeen the revolutionary soldiers and right-wing officers: the government had so little control that it toyed openly with the idea of moving from Lisbon to Oporto. But with the coup of 25 November things changed radically.

In Lessons of the 25th November, published immediately after the events, we summed up the situation:

The capitalist class has regained a practical monopoly over armed power. One must not underestimate the defeat for the revolution. The defeat for the revolution is not yet total. Army units have been dissolved, but not workers’ committees, and the trade unions remain more or less intact. The right wing does not yet feel strong wnough to take them on directly.

The disaster is not as in Chile. Reaction has won a notable battle but full-blooded counter-revolution is not triumphant.

The relationship between reaction and counter-revolution is like that of reform and revolution. We may call victories of reaction those changes in the regime which bring it in the direction desired by the counter-revoluion without altering radically the balance of forces, without smashing the organisation and confidence of the proletariat.

Since then the bourgeoisie has launched a number of serious offensives but none of them have radically altered the balance of class forces. The working-class organisations – the factory committees, the agricultural cooperatives, the trade unions – all are still intact.

Portugal’s economic situation continues to deteriorate. The balance of payments is very grave indeed. In his broadcast to the nation on 9 September, Prime Minister Mario Soares outlined the magnitude of the crisis: an annual balance of trade deficit of more than 15 million contos (one conto is 1,000 esc., equal to approximately £18 sterling) – a foreign debt which has reached 95.4 million contos; a balance of payments deficit of 130,000-140,000 contos per day; 80 per cent of Portugal’s gold and foreign currency reserves have been drained away. Industrial production continues to decline: textile production by 17.3 per cent in 1975; basic metallurgical production by 18.5 per cent; metal and transport production by 12.7 percent. Unemployment is two and a half times the level in Britain.

A very simple solution to the crisis was suggested: attack the workers the working class will bear the brunt of the crisis through increased prices and taxes while legislation will be passed to make it easier for firms to sack workers; mass meetings and ‘other interruption’ during working hours will be banned, restrictions will be put on the right to strike in order to combat what Soares described as ‘savage strikes which disorganise production’, and ‘clear norms’ will be established for wage bargaining. In addition the government ‘will not tolerate forms of struggle which are in breach of the law, such as the seizure of merchandise, the detention of persons and illegal occupation’. In order to weaken the trade unions, the Law of Trade Union Unity, which had established the Intersindical as the sole legal trade union centre, ‘will be revoked because it has been proved to be unconstitutional’.

The Confederation of Portuguese Industry – the equivalent to the CBI in this country – put the blame for the present economic crisis on

‘The legal structure by which the worker is protected within the company. Excessive guarantee of employment with no consideration of productivity. – The situation of politico-social instability which diverts the workers’ attention and reduces their capacity to produce.’ (Journal do Comercio, 25 March 1976.)

Advisers from the Massachusets Institute of Technology were invited by the government to study the situation. They came to the conclusion that in order to stabilise the economy there would have to be a cut in real wages to the order of 30 per cent.

Alas for the bourgoisie! However much they want to beat the working class, their ability to do so is nowhere near as strong as their will!

The attack on agrarian reform

AFTER the 25 November the rich farmers launched an offensive against land reform. On 14 December 1975 a mass rally took place in Rio Maier, which mobilised 20,000 farmers. It called for an end to all land occupations and the return of all land to the former owners. This rally established the Confederation of Portuguese Farmers (CAP).

On 11 January 1976 10,000 farmers rallied in the northern town of Braga and gave an ultimatum to the government to roll back the land reform. Before the rally began, the organisers said they would propose that farmers should cut off supplies to the capital by not selling their goods, if the government failed to heed their demands. The pressure from the right-wing farmers grew unabated. Massive demonstrations were staged during the last year. The government gave way. Soares decided to hand back 101 of the properties occupied by agricultural workers to the previous owners on the grounds that these farms were too small to be covered by the laws regulating expropriation. The 101 properties cover about 20,000 hectares, less than 2 per cent of the area of expropriated land. The right wing called on the army to take an active part in throwing workers off the land. The CAP – Confederation of Portuguese Farmers – stated that the government was not going far enough and should take back all the land occupied by the agricultural workers.

The provocative actions of the CAP have usually been confined to the north, where it has played on the prevailing obscurantism to try and win a following among the mass of small farmers, many of them illiterate. But it has now begun to turn its activities southwards. Of particular note was an attack by CAP elements on 22 September against the Regional Agrarian Reform Centre at Alcacer do Sal in Setubal district, when a meeting discussing the Government’s proposed measures was disrupted and the sub-director of the Centre beaten up. (Portugal Information Bulletin, October 1976.)

In the event, the counter-offensive on the agrarian front has not gone very far. Only a handful of the 101 properties were returned. Some of the restored farms have been instantly rented by their owners to the Agrarian Reform Centres, which rent them out again to the cooperatives that have been managing them since the occupation.

At the same time government policy continues to try and undermine the agricultural cooperatives. These workers’ enterprises are without credit, without government support, without funds to invest, at times overloaded with too many workers, they struggle with a shortage of machinery and other tools, with a lack of cattle and other resources, the productivity of labour in agriculture is still very low and the irrigated areas and diversity of production still limited. In the past the big landowners received annual benefits from the fascist state in the order of a million contos! They had long and medium term credit at low rates of interest. They had credit from private commercial firms. Today the cooperatives have no credit for investment: the purchases they make from private firms have to be paid promptly. In some cases they have been able to obtain emergency credit – which is for one year at an interest rate to 6.5 per cent. There are no compensatory or guaranteed prices for agricultural products. The marketing of agricultural produce is a great difficulty faced by the cooperatives. The Government and industrial and private enterprises are operating a veritable boycott of the production from the agricultural cooperatives. With products such as wheat, barley, oats, rice, maize, olive oil, cork, cattle and others, the Government has the responsibility of ensuring their regular distribution on time, as well as guaranteeing compensatory prices. The workers’ commercial organisations must pressure the Government to ensure the distribution and pricing of agricultural produce from the cooperatives. At the same time that the Government is failing to ensure the regular distribution of produce, or to fix prices, the big middlemen are turning up at the cooperatives offering ruinous prices. This policy of boycotting the cooperatives is leading to their strangulation and causes great damage to the national economy.

In the South the agricultural working class has until now been strong enough by and large to repulse the capitalist offensive. But in the North the Agrarian Reform has not touched the old land relations. In the North the burning question remains that of rural rents. Over a year ago a Law of Rural Rents was decreed and after continued delaying action from the landlords, all its provisions came into force in July. It obliges landlords to provide written contracts for their tenants and established procedures for lowering rents. But so far the law has remained a dead letter in most of the north with only around 20 per cent of landlords providing written contracts. Tenants who have managed to get their rent reduced have been attacked by landlords demanding the old rent in full; and there is continuing violence against and eviction of tenant farmers who demand their legal rights. (Portugal Information. Bulletin, November-December 1976). The CAP isdemanding that the Law of Rural Rents be scrapped completely.

The war of attrition goes on against the agricultural workers but one certainly cannot speak in terms of a decisive victory for the bourgeoisie on this front.

Former owners of industry trying to come back

MANY of the hundreds of bosses kicked out, and others who deserted the factories in 1975 are now trying to get back. Up to now only a handful of former owners have managed to return, mainly in tiny factories in the North. The one exception is the owner of the textile firm, Manuel Goncalves, the biggest textile exporter in the country, where 4,000 workers are employed.

Attacks on workers and workers’ committees are not uncommon. In the firm J.J. Goncalves the employers’ hired thugs have physically attacked members of the Workers’ Committee. The boss of the Hotel Baia, returning from abroad, has seized control of the hotel from the workers who had been running it. Similarly, in the Bombarato supermarket chain the old bosses have returned, and executed a rapid coup against the workers (subsequently legalised by the Labour Ministry.)

In some factories under state control Management Committees put there by the Sixth Provisional Government have openly violated workers’ constitutional rights. At the Sanimar building materials factory, for instance, a leading figure in the management (a self-proclaimed admirer of the fascist general, Kaulza de Arriaga) called in 100 police (there are only 250 workers in the factory) during a mass meeting, arbitrarily suspended two members of the Workers’ Committee, then told the workers they had to dismiss the entire Committee or the factory would be closed down. State intervention in many firms will be brought to an end anyway – particularly in the tourist industry – and they will be handed back to their previous owners. (Portugal Information Bulletin, November-December 1976.)

However, the strength of the working class is still so great that the employers’ offensive does not appear to have gone very far.

The new Constitution of Portugal reflects clearly the strength of the proletariat. Article 83, Section I states:

‘All the nationalisations effected after 25 April 1974 are irreversible gains of the working classes.’

The rights of the Workers’ Committees are defined thus:

Article 55: 1. It is the right of workers to create workers’ committees to defend their interests and to intervene democratically in the life of the firm, having in view the strengthening of the unity of the working classes and their mobilisation for the revolutionary process of the construction of the democratic power of the workers. 2. The committees are elected at mass meetings of the workers by direct and secret vote. 3. The statutes of the committees must be approved at workers’ mass meetings; 4. Members of the committees enjoy the legal protection afforded to trade union delegates; 5. Coordinating committees may be formed to allow better intervention in economic reorganisation and as a way of guaranteeing the interests of the workers.

Article 56: Workers’ committees have the following rights: 1. To receive all information necessary to the pursuit of their activities; 2. To exercise control in the management of firms; 3. To intervene in the reorganisation of productive units; 4. To participate in the elaboration of labour legislation and of socio-economic plans for their respective sectors.

The Soares government tried to undermine the above Article of the Constitution by issuing a new decree on the control of management, Article 12, Section I, which now reads:

The control of management (by the workers) can from now on be exercised in all national firms (and only those), including nationalised public companies, or companies subject to State participation or intervention, if they employ more than 50 workers.

According to this decree workers’ control is illegal in foreign companies operating in Portugal and in firms with less than 50 workers. Since 41.7 per cent of all Portuguese industrial workers work in firms employing less than 50 workers, and since the multinationals employ hundreds of thousands more, the decree deprives over one million industrial workers, more than half the Portuguese industrial proletariat, of the right to workers’ control.

Up to now, the decree remains on paper. By and large very few workers’ committees have given up their powers in recent months.

More effective was the government attack on workers’ living standards: above all by raising prices. On July 1 1976, in addition to wide-ranging tax increases, the government guaranteed substantial further rises in the cost of living by decrees producing a series of key price increases. Bottle gas (used mainly in the countryside for cooking) went up around 30 per cent, while town gas went up by a massive 56 per cent; petrol prices were increased by 50 per cent (petrol was already over £1 per gallon); and the ex-factory price of cement was increased by 20 per cent.

The immediate effect of these measures was pointed out by Avante, 8 July. They would, it said:

– increase the cost of essential foodstuffs: potatoes, green vegetables, eggs, fish, meat etc., through the increased cost of petrol, and therefore, of transport and production.

– increase the costs of public transport, again through increased price of petrol.

– increase the cost of meals through the combined increase in costs of gas for cooking and transport in merchandise – increase the cost of housing through increases in costs of cement and transport

– reduce the real wages of the workers, either through the reduction in wages caused by tax increases, or by the increased costs of food, clothing, transport, housing. (Portugal Information Bulletin, May 1976).

Offensive against the trade unions

THE right-wing PS leadership tried to split the trade union movement and for a time had some success. A group of unions, mainly in the service sector, headed by Lisbon Office Workers, and the Bank Workers of the South subscribed to an Open Letter attacking the Intersindical leadership. The main force in the Open Letter leadership was the Socialist Party but it also included openly right wing trade unionists from the PPD and from the right-wing Maoist groups, the MRPP and the PCP(ML).

At an Open Letter Conference in Coimbra on 23-24 August, 35 unions were present. (18 of these – the major ones – affiliated to Intersindical) Their total membership was 351,097. The Intersindical Secretariat could probably count on support for its basic positions from unions which represent around a million workers. However, things did not go the way the right-wing leaders wanted. The Open Letter group fell to pieces. On 26 August a delegate meeting of the Lisbon Office Workers’ Union passed a motion of censure on its leadership and instructed it to withdraw immediately from the Open Letter. Similarly a General Assembly of the Union of Newspaper Workers passed a motion calling on the leadership to withdraw from the Open Letter. A General Meeting on 20 September of the Journalists’ Union also passed the same motion. Six other Unions withdrew from the group: The Telephonists of the North, The Post and Telecommunications Workers’ Union, the Braga Graphic Designers, the Portalegre Metalworkers, and the Leiria Officeworkers and Transport Workers. Now two more Oporto unions, the taxi-drivers and the merchant seamen – have demanded through delegate meetings that their leaderships also withdraw from the Open Letter (Portugal Information Bulletin, October 1976)

On 17 October 5,000 members of the Bank Workers Union of the South attended a general meeting. A motion to withdraw from the Open Letter was supported by half the people present, but the Chairman declared the motion lost.

The Bankworkers of the North, successfully resisted their leadership, dominated by the PPD, and passed a motion in a General Assembly to withdraw from parallel structures such as the Open Letter. Other Unions that have recently pulled out of the Open Letter include the Merchant Navy Administrative Workers’ Union (which successfully demanded reintegration into and payment of dues to Intersindical), the Lisbon Telephonists (whose executive is dominated by the MRPP), the Setubal Office Workers, the Coimbra Officeworkers, and the Nurses of the South. Altogether 20 unions have withdrawn from the Open Letter. (Portugal Information Bulletin, November-December 1976)

The armed forces

EVEN in the armed forces, the counterrevolution has not achieved a total victory.

In Lessons of 25 November we wrote ‘the ruling class has regained a more or less complete monopoly of the armed forces’. And so it has. But the command of these forces is far from united.

The balance of class forces in the society as a whole causes fissures in the leadership of the armed forces.

After 25 November a thorough purge took place inside the army from the Revolutionary Council downwards. The most revolutionary units, such as the Lisbon Military Police and the Artillery Regiment, RALIS, were more or less disbanded. The Delegate Assemblies of Units (ADUs) disappeared.

On 25 November Melo Antunes and his social-democratic ‘Group of Nine’ collaborated with the right wing inside the armed forces. Thereafter the extreme right in the military felt strong enough to go on the attack against Antunes and his supporters. Even the known reactionary commanders have been challenged from the right. Thus the commander of the Amadora commandos. Col. Jaime Neves, who for a long time was one of the most notorious right-wingers inside the army, is now being challenged by officers inside the regiment who are even further to the right. Brigadiers Pezarot Correia and Franco Charais, members of the ‘Group of Nine’, and Commanders of the Southern and Central Military Regions, were forced out of their command (although they remained on the Revolutionary Council). A public conflict broke out between Capt. Souza e Castro of the ‘Group of Nine’ and a member of the Revolutionary Council, on the one hand, and Pires Veloso, the right-wing Commander of the Northern Region and Rocha Vieira, the Army Chief of Staff, on the other. Capt. Souza e Castro accused the latter two of belonging to the Committee for the Defence of Freedom (CDL), an extreme right wing clandestine grouping inside the army which is fighting for the total removal of the ‘Group of Nine’ from all power. The divisions in the army leadership have not ended.

There are deep-seated reasons for the incapacity of the army chiefs to forge a unity. First is the power of the proletariat. Workers are still potentially very powerful – especially in Lisbon and the South, but also in Oporto. The right in the military probably fear that a pre-emptive move would cause Antunes to let the workers loose against them. Remember that when, during the Fifth Provisional Government, the far-right’s mobilisation was at its height (formation of the MDLP, ELP and the burning of left-wing headquarters in the north), it had the tacit approval of the Antunes group.

There is another factor undermining the unity of the leadership of the army. The logical step for the bourgeoisie to have taken after the 25 November would have been to cut the army down to a very small professional force. However, the regime is dependent on the existing officer corps. This officer corps is not small; it is swollen as a result of the African wars, the withdrawal to Portugal of officers from Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau and still includes ex-conscript officers who have decided not to resign their commission. One element of unrest in the officer corps that the extreme right could have been trying to exploit has been the frustration of such officers over promotion, clashed between regular and ex-conscript officers, etc. In the battle to win the allegiance of such officers neither the extreme right, nor the centre – the Antunes group – can seriously implement plans to cut down radically the size of the army – that would mean fewer officers, however, jobs for existing officers, better career prospects, etc. Hence the continued commitment to the conscript army, even though this is the last thing Portuguese capitalism needs – a low-paid, non-fighting conscript army must be a festering sore of disgruntlement amongst the rank and file.

The organisation of the left in the armed forces was virtually destroyed after 25 November. It is difficult to know whether SUV (Soldiers United Will Win) still exists in any meaningful sense. Occasionally leaflets appear claiming to come from SUV, but these seem to be a local rather than a national phenomenon. The other shadowy organisations – ORFA (Revolutionary Armed Forces Organisation) and FRSM (Revolutionary Front of Soldiers and Sailors) have disappeared. All such organisations, of course, would now be forced to operate in deeply clandestine conditions. However, the very fact that clandestine leaflets can still appear in the barracks shows that traditional military discipline and hierarchy have still not yet been fully restored.

The Communist Party consolidates its power

THE retreat of the revolution has been accompanied by the strengthening of the Communist Party’s hold over the working class. We have seen how the Intersindical, which is controlled completely by the CP, repulsed the attack from the right (mainly the PS, aided and abetted by the PPD and the right-wing Maoists). One clear indication of mass support for the Communist Party can be found in the electoral statistics. The following table shows the percentage of votes gained by the CP in the elections to the Constituent Assembly in April 1975, the Assembly in April 1976, the Presidential elections in June 1976 and the municipal elections in December 1976.














































fellow travellers)





Except for the Presidential Elections (examined later in this article) the CP has not maintained its position but improved it. Its grip is especially strong in the industrial South and the agricultural area of Alentejo. The December 1976 elections must have been very gratifying for the CP leadership. Perhaps they got further gratification from the fact that the Mayorship of the town in the North where the first CP offices were burnt in summer 1975 is now in the hands of a member of the Communist Party.

Disarray and impotence of the Revolutionary Left

BEFORE the 25 November the Portuguese working class was not far from power. Since then – it has been pushed back a long way. But still the situation is not irreversible. As we wrote in The Lessons of the 25 November:

‘the revolution has not yet suffered a decisive defeat. The revolutionary left can still rally support and turn the tide. The struggle is now a struggle to convince workers that all the gains of the revolution to date are at risk. The economic offensive which the rulers must launch, the offensive to break the industrial power of the working class, is now the centre of the battlefield. On this battlefield, working-class unity around a militant programme can still be achieved. If revolutionaries are successful in relating to these battles, they can raise the working class to challenge for power once more.’

Alas, the revolutionary left has failed abysmally to draw any lessons from the last.

In International Socialism (March/April 1976) in an article entitled Portugal – the Last Three Months, we argued that the PRP has not shown ‘any clear radical change or direction towards the industrial struggle, towards active participation of the workers’ commission.’

We offered the following evidence for this:

  1. In five issues of the PRP paper, Revoluçao, out of 72 pages, only 6½ dealt with industrial struggles, covering six strikes in all. This was as opposed to 15 pages devoted to the military;
  2. Setenave was once strongly influenced by the PRP. On 16 December 1975, voting took place on a programme of action for the workers’ commission. Proposal A put forward by the CRTSM (backed by the PRP and others) got only 142 votes. This was against 862 votes for the CP, 240 votes for the PS/MRPP programme, 240 votes for the UDP programme, and 18 votes for the LCI.
  3. ‘When a new workers’ commission was elected for Setenave on 7 January 1976, the CP gained 32 seats, the PRP 1, FEC-ML 1, and UDP 1. This was a crushing defeat for the PRP. The main cause was simple: The PRP called on the workers to vote for the best militants without paying attention to party affiliation, while the CP, in its plant newsletter, put forward an unofficial slate. The PRP did not even present a list of whom it thought the best militants were.’

Things have not improved at all since then. One can find very few report of strikes in Revoluçao. I found no report of elections to any trade union or workers’ commission. Even the General Meeting of Unions of 24 October in which 224 unions were represented, plus 65 other component parts of the Portuguese trade union structure (district federations of unions, etc) representing about 1,600,000 workers did not merit one line in Revoluçao!

In October 20,000 teachers demonstrated in Lisbon against massive cuts in education and against the sacking and suspension of hundreds of teachers. What was the PRP leadership’s comment on this, given at a press conference? This demonstration was ‘good because it shows that many of the petty bourgeoisie cannot support the government’. (Pagina Um, 20 October 1976)

If one wants to lead the working-class in struggle one must have a clearly defined party guided by Marxist theory. The passivity of the PRP in the day-to-day economic struggles of the workers, its penchant for abstract propaganda for the revolution, is the other side of the coin of its rejection of the Leninist concept of the party. One way in which this is expressed is the PRP’s insistence on the fact ‘that the Bolsheviks had only 3,000 members in 1917 and this did not prevent a victory for the revolution’! (As a matter of fact the Bolsheviks had 240,000 members in July 1917).

The PRP’s programme reads:

‘The existence of a large party organization is not a necessary condition for socialist revolution. Nor is it necessary for the mass organizations of the working class. Historical experience has shown that neither the Soviet revolution nor the Cuban revolution needed large parties in order to organize people and seize power. In the case of Cuba, neither a large nor small party was needed. The Bolshevik party had three thousand members when the October revolution took place’ (From the Draft Programme of the PRP-BR, published in Revoluçao, 9 September 1975)

Their ignorance about the Bolsheviks is astonishing – ‘3,000’ members during the October revolution! And this appears not in an occasional article, but on the Party programme!

However else can one explain the PRP defence of Castro as a man who ‘is not a prisoner of formulas’ and ‘did it without a party’? How else can one explain the PRP’s uncritical support of Otelo, who again and again declared himself anti-party and who stated publicly that he is not a Marxist?

As a matter of fact the terribly tragic bankruptcy of the revolutionary left was evident both during the Otelo campaign for the Presidency in June, and since then.

During the campaign the PRP argued that no party literature should be sold at election meetings. Alas, this only helped the Maoist organisation, the UDP (who also supported Otelo), partially because the UDP is considerably larger than any other organisation that supported the Otelo candidacy, and partly because the UDP itself is a front – at its heart operates the Reconstructed Communist Party of Portugal (PCP-R).

During the Otelo campaign thousands joined the campaign committees which came to be known as ‘Dynamisation Groups of Popular Power’ – for short, GDUPS. At a meeting at the beginning of July, 500 of Otelo’s supporters founded a national movement which was defined by the founders thus: the GDUPs

are a new and decisive component, a new front of the masses. It is an autonomous organisation of: a) workers, members of trade unions, popular organisation of the base (workers’ commissions, and commissions of town dwellers and cooperatives): b) the political organisations subscribing to the election of Otelo and c) the progressive elements in the armed forces (Manifesto of the Provisional National Committee of GDUP, 27 July 1976).

What was the attitude of the revolutionary parties to the GDUP?

The UDP simply saw the GDU Pas a front organisation and tried to use it for recruitment.

The PRP argued that the GDUP should develop into an all-embracing revolutionary party. They wanted to transform the GDUP into MUP – Movimiento de Unidade Popular. At a press conference the PRP representative declared:

This Movement of Popular Unity will be the embryo of a future party of the masses of a new type ... overcoming sectarianism and party politics, and creating superior forms of unified organisation and struggle.

As the PS advances its increasingly anti-working-class politics ... and the PCP continues to betray the masses ... only MUP can be the hope and salvation of the exploited and oppressed.’ The PRP considerd the MUP a unique alternative and ‘calls on all militants with or without party to join, so as to combat any existing sectarianism and also to obtain a political perspective. (Revoluçao, 21 October 1976) (Note that there isn’t a word on the concrete programme of politics of the intended party.)

Imagine a party that unites both PRP and UDP, the factory GDUPs, the tenant GDUPs and ‘progressive military’. The UDP argues that first there must be a national democratic revolution in Portugal against the two super powers and for national independence; at some indefinite date in the future the road to socialism would be open; to carry a national democratic revolution a national democratic front must be created; during the process of national democratic revolution it is apparently forbidden to talk about socialism. (The UDP even opposed the inclusion of the word ‘socialism’ in Otelo’s election material, though it eventually capitulated.)

What a mish-mash! A party that includes the PRP – arguing that the revolution is a socialist revolution – and the UDP, who argue that the revolution is merely a democratic one – together with ‘progressive military’ like Otelo who declare that they are a-party!

To add to the vagueness and ideological chaos the GDUPs define themselves mainly as ideological organisations: their task, in the words of the founding manifesto, was ‘to raise the level of consciousness of the Portuguese workers’.

From the beginning the GDUPs took a very feeble stand in the day-to-day struggle. They did not intervene in the trade unions. Their talk about economic struggle lacked concreteness. They made no reference to the Intersindical’s call for a 5,000 esc. minimum wage (which did not even keep up with the cost of living).

Cases of resistance led by GDUPs are few and far between. One has the feeling that they haven’t managed to be much more than propaganda machines.

To quote from a comrade’s letter of 31 October:

Yesterday I watched a force of 30 special patrol group type policemen all with special (new) riot uniforms and equipment evict 6 families from a working-class quarter. Apart from one evicted housewife shouting ‘fascist’ no one did anything. The local GDUP had got someone from the local tenants’ rights organisation along, but all she could do was to get a lawyer. 300 workers could have swept the police out. No-one was thinking in those terms.

The GDUPs acted to a limited extent as social workers: helping in shanty towns in carrying out education and information work. They have also been involved in maintaining direct sales of produce from rural cooperatives to tenants and workers commission.

In approaching the municipal elections the GDUPs were abstract in the extreme. The PRP paper Revoluçao, of 30 September, reports a press conference of CNPUP (Provisional National Commission of Popular Unity) which states that the coming municipal elections are a ‘cardinal political battle’, but when it comes to the politics of the GDUPs in the municipal campaign they offer only trite abstractions:

the following political objectives are essential in the formation of the campaign:
1. To fight against right-wing control of local government administration;
2. To activate and reinforce popular organisation of the base;
3. To fight against local governing bodies, their corruption and diversionist politics;
4. The intransigent defence of workers’ democracy;
5. Programmes of Popular Unity will be the programme of struggle.

And Revoluçao neither comments on nor criticises this ‘programme’!

The GDUP movement shot up like a rocket then collapsed; it collapsed because of the political vagueness of the GDUP (and the PRP) and the sectarianism of the maoist UDP.

The PRP’s opposition to the UDP’s sectarianism failed; they could not prevent the UDP taking control over the GDUPs. Sectarianism cannot be fought simply by calls for unity: a-partyism is not an answer to sectarianism. Nature cannot tolerate voids anil the same applied to organisation; one party or another had to lead the GDUPs. The woolly a-partyism of the PRP could not beat the hard partyism of the UDP. The result was that the UDP took over the GDUPs after a couple of months of fratricidal internal battle. Some 1,800 delegates attended the first national congress of the GDUPs (19-21 November). Approximately 1,300 delegates were from GDUPs under UDP control; 200 delegates came from GDUPs under PRP influence, the rest were influenced by the MES or non-aligned (MES aligned with the UDP). The PRP left the conference demonstratively and issued a statement saying ‘the PRP does not recognise any of the resolutions passed by the congress’, and is resolved to go on fighting for ‘a revolutionary MUP’. (Pagina Um, 26 November)

The popular wave of the Otelo campaign disappeared. In the municipal election of 12 December, in which the UDP participated under the cloak of the GDUP, it had not improved its standing compared to the general elections in April. The following table shows the percentage of votes gained by the UDP and MES in the general elections of April 1976, and the vote that Otelo received in June, and the votes that the GDUP got in the December municipal elections:




Mun. Elecs.


April ’76

June ’76

Dec. ’76





















2.4 per cent in December doesn’t look too bad compared to 2.3 per cent in April until you remember that the poll fell from 83 per cent in the Assembly elections to 64 per cent in the municipal elections. In real terms the revolutionary left’s vote had fallen by nearly 20 per cent in little over 6 months.

The complete dissipation of the popular capital of the revolutionary left gained through the Otelo campaign is clearer still if one compares the number of votes cast for Otelo and the number cast for the GDUPs in the Municipal election.



Otelo’s Vote

Mun. Elecs.
















In April 1976 the UDP got 91,383 votes and MES 31,065 – a total of 122,448. In the presidential election Otelo got 796,392 while in the municipal elections the GDUPs got 104,629.

What conclusion did the PRP draw from the results of the Municipal Elections? In Revoluçao, 23 December, the PRP argues that the most important result is the increase in the number of abstentions. Only 64 per cent of the electorate voted in the municipal elections, as against 83 per cent in the general election. For British readers, of course, a 64 per cent poll in local elections sounds quite high. Revoluçao’s conclusion is different:

The losses of the CP and the PS in the districts where the working class is politically advanced (Alantejo, Setubal, Lisbon and Oporto) show that major sections of the proletariat do not believe even minimally in reformism and refuse to waste votes on electoralist parties.

The ‘shift to the left was expressed through abstentions.’

But revolutionaries have to face facts, however unpleasant. Otelo’s speeches have evaporated the end of the presidential election campaign and in the day-to-day struggle that followed the role of the revolutionary left is insignificant. The militants who voted for Otelo on 27 June went back en masse to the CP on 12 December. In recent months the revolutionary left has had less impact than at any time since the fall of fascism. Throughout 1975 the CP leadership had to look over its shoulder to check on the activities of the revolutionary left; no longer. For the first time one can read a report of a CP Congress (11-14 November 1976) in the capitalist paper Expresso that doesn’t even mention the revolutionary left.

The actual state of the Revolutionary left and above all the PRP is difficult to gauge exactly. As the PRP doesn’t participate in municipal or general elections, trade union elections, or as a party in elections to workers’ commissions, one cannot find very much about them. Unlike the state of the Bolshevik party which was reflected daily and very clearly in its press, Ihe PRP is vague through and through. It paper lacks facts. But here and there hints are given. In a report to a plenary meeting of the PRP (24-25 July), one reads:

There has been in truth over a long period a lack of organisation and growth in the party’; there has been ‘a decline of the numbers of party members in the past months. (Partido e Movimiento de Unidad Popular, Lisbon July 1976).

This was said about a month after the successful Otelo campaign. One can only guess at the current situation.

In conclusion

THE present government has done virtually nothing since taking office. It has been as impotent as previous governments – plenty of words but few deeds.

For instance, it has not reversed agrarian reform, despite promises to the landowners – it has shied away from a confrontation with the rural workers – just as the CP has shied away from organising workers for a confrontation. The same is true for policy on wages, prices, etc. It has made important pin pricks against the working class – but only pinpricks.

At the same time the CP has been reconsolidating its hold over the section of the class that remains at all militant – winning support from left and right – until in the municipal elections it won a higher percentage than even in April 1975.

This however has taken place with a smaller total vote – the increasing number of abstentions mark the drift to apathy, to disillusionment with all politics.

A ‘bonapartist’ outcome may be possible in the months ahead in a way in which it was not in the past. Neither left nor right is strong enough to rule. The centre social-democratic government is too weak to gel anything done, because it is frightened that any individual action it takes might offend left or right, and lead to the collapse of its organisation and voting base. It dare not play left off against right for fear of losing support to both. A military government might not feel so inhibited. Indeed, it might begin with a degree of popular support (e.g. from the CP and more moderate right parties).

But even a military bonapartist outcome is unlikely to stabilise itself. It will face different circumstances to those faced by the first Peron government – rising workers’ living standards, etc. – nor those which faced Nasser – land reforms, etc., waiting to be carried through. Military Bonapartism in Portugal will be born out of weariness with the alternatives, rather than hope based on prospects for real reforms. Therefore such a regime could only be a short term interlude prior to a new period of struggle. from the left or the right,

My thanks for research by Donny Gluckstein and Carole and John Sedgwick.


Last updated on 19.10.2006