Notes of the Month



(June 1974)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.70, Mid-June 1974, p.6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

EVENTS in Portugal should be studied seriously by all revolutionaries. For all the main features of any pre-revolutionary situation are developing here at great speed. We predicted last month that the euphoric feelings of ‘national anti-fascist unity’ which followed the April coup would not be long lived. Hardly was the issue of the journal off the press; before events were justifying the claim.

The government formed in mid-May contained two Communist and four socialist ministers. But it soon became clear that it had no real power. Before it can take any action it has to consult with the leaders of the armed forces – a situation now institutionalised through its subordination to a Council of State made up of seven generals, seven civilians appointed by the Junta and seven representatives of the junior officers’ Movement of the Armed Forces. Among the civilian representatives are Lazerado Perdigao, a political worker under Salazar, and Dr Diego Freitas, a collaborator of Dr Caetano.

The generals leave no doubt as to how they will deal with anyone who steps out of line if they get the chance. Spinola claimed on 29 May that ‘certain groups only envisage destruction, anarchy, economic chaos and unemployment’. They were trying to create a ‘country different from the one we all wished for ... If at any time we are obliged to we will without hesitation respond to violence with force’.

The generals sent the National Guard, which was the most reliable support of the fascist regime, to break up a left wing demonstration protesting at the continued imprisonment of a Cuban captured while fighting for the guerrillas in Guinea. They tried to prevent the screening of a television programme critical of the church hierarchy. And they have dragged away to detention in a notorious military prison Jose Sanchez, editor of the paper Popular Struggle, because he had urged soldiers being sent to Africa to ‘desert with their weapons’.

But while Spinola has been trying to assert the dominant position in the new regime of himself and the big business interests who backed his bid for power, a quite different type of movement has been continuing to gather momentum in the factories and streets.

Lisbon, for instance, has seen strikes by transport workers, bakers, metal workers, shipyard workers, postal workers. In a number of cases the strikes have led to occupations. And at two plants at least workers have ousted the management and taken over production themselves.

Parallel with the strike movement, there has been a more or less spontaneous purging of functionaries and managers associated with the old regime. In the newspapers this had led to a takeover of editorial policy by the journalists; in television by councils made up of representatives of all the different groups of workers who are employed there.

Spinola’s attempts to deal with this agitation have been made more difficult by the fact that there is a very pronounced split within the armed forces themselves. The coup was initiated by the ‘Armed Forces Movement’ of 300 junior officers, many of them ex-students with left wing leanings, and Spinola only jumped on the bandwagon at the last moment. When sent to deal with strikes, it is not uncommon for these officers to insist that management gives in to the workers’ demands – indeed, there are even cases of them being friendlier to the workers than the trade union officials.

According to the New York Times

‘a number of leading members of the Armed Forces Movement ... are worried that General Spinola is building up his own power and that of the regular militancy hierarchy in such a way as to put an end to their own influence.’

However, in the difficult position it has found itself in the last month, the Junta has had one sure ally – the Communist Party. Since entering the government with the Ministry of Labour and one other ministry, the Communist Party has tried to gather control of the trade union movement into its own hands, by moving its cadres into key positions in the Portuguese TUC. To reassure Spinola about its intentions, it has done its utmost to defuse militancy, claiming that many of the strikes have been led by ex-fascists – a claim which has been repeated by the Morning Star, which claimed at the time of the bakers’ and transport workers’ strikes in Lisbon that ‘counter-revolutionaries are provoking strikes to try to discredit and weaken the provisional government, disrupt democratic unity and prepare the way for the return of fascism’.

Significantly, these claims were made two days after Spinola had threatened the use of force against the left.

However, the facts about the transport workers’ strike and the bakers’ strike were quite different to those put about by the Communist Party. In the bakers’ strike ‘the action of reactionaries in fomenting strikes’ actually consisted in a lockout by management of workers who were already in dispute, according to Antonio Martins dos Santos, an official of the Lisbon metal workers’ union, who was recently in London.

The Communist Party’s own members certainly have not been too happy with the line it has been putting. According to dos Santos, in the textile industry, which used to be one of their strongholds, the majority of their members have left to join the non-governmental Left Socialist Party. They have similarly lost their influence in the Lisbon metal workers’ union.

The Communist Party leaders themselves seem to be getting a little worried about this loss of influence at the base. At a recent speech in Barreiro the general secretary of the Party adopted a fairly militant tone, although in other speeches the message is still moderation and hard work. Again, the Communist Party weekly paper, Avante, came out with certain criticisms of the Junta on 14 June, soon after a similarly critical speech by the socialist leader Soares. Yet two days later the Communist Minister of Labour was criticising the strike of postal workers. As the Financial Times reported,

‘The Communists, almost alone, have counselled caution about the use of the strike weapon at this time.’

Last updated on 18 November 2009