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Revolution and Counter Revolution in Portugal
(Part I)

By Nahuel Moreno

I. The Portuguese Revolution and the Russian Revolution

1. A Felicitous Comparison

Although modern logicians dedicate long paragraphs to explaining the function of analogy or comparison, Bacon, several centuries ago, limited himself simply to saying: “las cosas nuevas en sí mismas seràn comprendidas por analogia con las viejas.” [1] Revolutionists follow, among other methods, the advice of the old philosopher. Thus The Militant, the senior newspaper of the Trotskyist press, shortly after the “putsch” that overthrew Caetano, published an important editorial in the June 14, 1974, issue, pointing out that the situation in Portugal “is remindful of the situation in Russia in 1917.” Gus Horowitz tells us a little more in his article, which we are publishing in this issue of Revista de América.

According to the editorial, there are five important similarities. The first is that “in Russia there was a similar awakening of the masses, the first consequence of which was the downfall of the hated tsarist regime and an attempt by the bourgeoisie to set up an alternative regime to maintain capitalism.”

The second is that “there was a similar betrayal of the masses by the majority party in the workers movement, the Mensheviks, who supported the bourgeois alternative to tsarism.” They, like the Portuguese Stalinists of today, entered the national coalition government as ministers, and under the pretext that the current democratic stage of the revolution had to be consolidated, told the workers to postpone their demands.

The third similarity lies in the urgent need for the masses to end the war, imperialist in Russia, colonial in Portugal.

The fourth, in favor of the desire for unity and a workers government, against the bourgeois ministers and the coalition government.

The fifth and last is the tendency of the “Russian workers ... [who] organized broad councils (the Russian word was soviets’),” since already the Portuguese workers have taken some steps in this direction.”

We believe that the comparison made by The Militant — Horowitz is accurate, although it has two limitations: It does not probe the similarities, and it does not indicate the differences.

(In the first place, we agree that both revolutions are the product of a “mass uprising” [2] and that in both cases the bourgeoisie attempted to change the regime in order to maintain capitalism. But what would be surprising—permit us to indulge in this bit of humor—would be the opposite: a revolution that was not the outcome of a mass uprising and in which the bourgeoisie did not attempt to maintain power by changing the regime. These are characteristics common to any revolutionary process. But The Militant does not point out the important differences between the “mass uprising in Portugal and the one in Russia. The driving force of the February 1917 revolution in Russia was the workers movement and its geographical center in the cities, where it spread out to the periphery; it was, in its class dynamic, a workers revolution that turned power over to the bourgeoisie. In contrast, the revolution in Portugal was the direct consequence of the colonial revolution — petty-bourgeois and peripheral—which reverberated in the central areas and affected the metropolitan urban masses, becoming transformed immediately into a workers revolution.

(We have no objections to the second analogy—the comparison between the betrayal of the Russian Mensheviks and that of the majority Portuguese working-class parties. Except one detail, the consequences of which we will note further on: The editors of The Militant do not name and do not include in their analogy the other mass party of the Russian revolution—the Social Revolutionaries.

(The third similarity is correct up and down the line. The need to end the war was of utmost urgency to the masses, as much in Russia, caught up in an interimperialist war, as in Portugal, involved in a colonial war. The Militant ought to have added that the result of both wars was an acute crisis in both armies, the ultimate props of the bourgeois state; a crisis that was the product of successive defeats. Furthermore, The Militant failed to mention that to be defeated by another imperialist army is not the same as being defeated by ten years of colonial revolutionary war.

(On the fourth comparison, concerning the sentiments of the Russian and Portuguese workers in favor of class unity and against the coalition government, we want only to add that in Portugal these sentiments are more easily expressed in one sense, and less easily in another sense, than in Russia. More, because in Portugal the Socialist and Communist parties, like the MFA, are relatively improvised and not greatly structured or implanted in the consciousness of the workers and masses, as were the Mensheviks and the Russian Social Revolutionaries, parties built during decades of political action. Less, because the Portuguese workers do not have a revolutionary party going back a long time and widely known, as was the Bolshevik party, which could strengthen and organize those sentiments.

(Finally, the fifth analogy with the soviets is far from being actual. Although it is true that The Militant poses it as a necessity and stresses that only “some steps in this direction” have been taken, unfortunately the hopes that all of us entertain have not been borne out. In place of soviets, other methods and more embryonic and spontaneous forms of workers power and of the mass movement have developed—the occupations and the commissions of workers, tenants, and soldiers, that is, committees in the factories and other places, but not soviets. Soviets bring together all the workers and exploited people in an area and become the coordinators of all the exploited masses, who practice direct democracy. The committees represent only the workers of one factory, the tenants of one building, or the soldiers of one regiment, not all of them together. This is accounted for by the sabotage of the Communist and Socialist parties as well as the lack of experience of the workers movement. But there is another difference between the Russian soviets and the Portuguese commissions: The soviets were from the beginning centralized in a national organization recognized by all. In contrast, the Portuguese commissions and occupations are neither centralized nor organized on a national level; they have been forming in a spontaneous, anarchistic, and atomized way, although they are apparently much more generalized than is believed.

One more similarity, at least, can be added to the list. Russia and Portugal were, in their respective periods, the weakest and most backward links in the world imperialist chain, although the character of the Portuguese backwardness is different from that of Russia.

2. A Dangerous Oversight: the Petty Bourgeoisie and Its Parties

As we have already indicated, there is an oversight and an inexactness, which is perhaps not accidental: In the editorial under discussion no mention is made of the Socialist Revolutionary party, also known in the history of the Russian revolution as “Social Revolutionary” or “SRs.” Nevertheless, it is not true that the majority party in the working class, the only one to practice class collaborationism, was the Menshevik party. The Social Revolutionary party was the big mass party that collaborated with the bourgeois governments and from whose ranks came Kerensky, the link between the bourgeoisie and the mass organizations. It was a party typical of all revolutions: It reflected “the masses” in general and the petty bourgeoisie in particular (including the most backward sectors of the workers coming from the countryside, who retained their rural outlook). It was the expression of the great masses set into motion by the revolution, led by the modern middle class, sectors of the intellectuals and professionals, technocrats and bureaucrats of all kinds, etc., who serve as a most useful political tool for the imperialist bourgeoisie when it is threatened by a revolutionary crisis.

The other petty-bourgeois party, although it represented the working class, was the Menshevik party, the only one cited by The Militant. Owing to its ideology, program, and leadership, this was a petty-bourgeois party, even though the workers followed it. It reflected within the working class the pressure of the middle class and the petty-bourgeoisiflcation of some sectors of the proletariat. In relation to Portugal, The Militant compares Menshevism only to Stalinism and forgets about the Socialists.

We are disturbed not so much by these oversights as by the possible reason for them. Apparently our authors are of the opinion that in Portugal there are only two classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, since they never mention the petty bourgeoisie as the protagonist of the revolutionary or counterrevolutionary process. And, as a result, they see political organizations as belonging to only two categories: those of the Portuguese imperialist bourgeoisie and those of the reformists representing the working class. But this does not hold. The industrial proletariat constitutes only one-third of the economically active population. There is a broad petty-bourgeois layer, urban as well as peasant, in face of which the proletariat, even counting the industrial and agricultural proletariat, is a minority. The petty bourgeoisie, as a class and as the political representative of the proletariat through the reformist parties (of petty-bourgeois ideology and leadership), plays a doubly decisive role in the revolution; we cannot, therefore, ignore it. It is one thing to correctly point out that in this, as well as in all revolutions, there are only two ways out and two types of government: capitalist or working-class. But, it is quite a different thing—and quite erroneous — to take into account only these two classes in analyzing the revolution, and thereby to ignore the existence and fundamental role of the petty-bourgeoisie and its political organizations.

Trotsky as well as Lenin repeatedly stressed this problem. Lenin said: “It is quite typical and significant that the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks, while not denying this ‘in principle’ and while realising perfectly the capitalist character of Russia today [1917], dare not face the truth soberly. They are afraid to admit the truth that every capitalist country, including Russia, is basically divided into three main forces: the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie, and the proletariat. The first and third are spoken of and recognised by all. Yet the second—which really is the numerical majority!—nobody cares to appraise soberly, neither from the economic, political nor military point of view.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. XXV [Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964], pp.201-02.)

And, stressing the role of the petty bourgeoisie, he pointed out:

It is an undisputed fact that our revolution has ‘wasted’ six months in wavering over the system of power; it is a fact resulting from the wavering policy of the Socialist-Revolutionaries and Mensheviks. In the long run, these parties’ wavering policy was determined by the class position of the petty bourgeoisie, by their economic instability in the struggle between capital and labour. (Ibid., p.366.)

On repeated occasions, Trotsky said the same thing:

In order to answer the question of how a revolution of workers and peasants came to surrender the power to the bourgeoisie, it is necessary to introduce into the political chain an intermediate link; the petty bourgeois democrats and socialists of the Sukhanov type, journalists and politicians of the new middle caste, who had taught the masses that the bourgeoisie is an enemy, but themselves feared more than anything else to release the masses from the control of that enemy. The contradiction between the character of the revolution and the character of the power that issued from it, is explained by the contradictory character of this new petty bourgeois partition wall between the revolutionary masses and the capitalist bourgeoisie. (Leon Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution, Vol.1 [New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936], p.166.)
With every turn of the historic road, with every social crisis, we must over and over again examine the question of the mutual relations of the three classes in modern society: the big bourgeoisie, led by finance capital; the petty bourgeoisie, vacillating between the basic camps; and finally, the proletariat. (Leon Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1971], p.58.)

3. The Stages of the Portuguese and Russian Revolutions

By not strictly heeding the warnings of Lenin and Trotsky with respect to the petty bourgeoisie (or “petty-bourgeois democracy,” as it was also called), The Militant and Horowitz bar the road to deepening the comparison between the two revolutions and showing the correctness of the comparison to the very end. They renounce probing for similarities between the stages of the two revolutions and the placement in both cases of the “petty-bourgeois democracy.”

To cite only one example, we note that the editorial of The Militant did not foresee the struggle, first veiled and then open, between Spfnola, representative of the big bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and on the other, the petty-bourgeois democracy—the MFA and its allies, the CP and SP. And Horowitz, now faced with the outcome of this struggle, cannot provide us with any definition or comparison of it based on a class analysis. Horowitz, one year after the beginning of the Portuguese revolution, gives up specifying its stages and personalities, limiting himself to a description of the events.

For us, the parallel with the Russian revolution, including the last coup by Spínola, becomes closer. This coup is comparable to the bourgeois Kornilov counterrevolution defeated by the mobilization of the entire mass movement, including the Portuguese petty-bourgeois democracy. It seems to us that Spínola combines, in one figure, Prince Lvov (the prime minister of the first provisional government of the Russian revolution, dedicated to consolidating a government of national unity with marked Bonapartist traits) and Kornilov (in charge of liquidating the Kerensky government in order to install counterrevolutionary Bonapartism). And this is not accidental, since Lvov symbolized the feudal counterrevolution, and Kornilov, the bourgeois counterrevolution. Spínola represents only one counterrevolution, the bourgeois, since in Portugal there is no other. Thus, with the first possibility defeated, Spínola launched the second in the conspiratorial and abortive March 11 “putsch.” The Portuguese revolution has already brought down its Prince Lvov — Spínola in the government—and has already had its September days, crushing its Kornilov—the Spínola of the March 11 “putsch.” The only fundamental difference is that the Russian workers, after the September days, had a Bolshevik party to lead them with determination to power; the Portuguese workers, in contrast, do not have such a party. But, beginning precisely with the September days, the role played by the Bolsheviks was absolutely decisive in the ensuing process of the Russian revolution. From here on out, its absence in Portugal converts any new analogy into an empty and therefore useless comparison.

Let us suppose that there is disagreement with this comparison between the relations and the stages of the big bourgeoisie, the petty-bourgeoisie, and the proletariat in Russia and Portugal. Should this be the case, it would clearly be necessary to indicate the character of both revolutions and their differences in this respect.

4. The Portuguese Revolution and the Spanish Revolution of the Thirties

Just as it has seemed fruitful to us to compare the Portuguese revolution up until March 11, 1975, to the Russian revolution, we believe similarly that to understand the new stage it is useful to compare it to the Spanish revolution of the thirties, although we should also note some of the important differences.

Just as Trotsky foresaw in his time, the Spanish revolution moved very slowly in comparison with the Russian revolution. The present Portuguese revolution, on the other hand, covered in one year what the Spanish revolution took almost six to achieve. This was because the Russian and Portuguese revolutions had in common a crisis in the army from the first moments, a phenomenon that was not present in the Spanish revolution. And to this factor was added, in Portugal, the lack of reformist organizations strongly rooted in the working-class and mass movement.

As we have already said, in our opinion the classical Kornilov or Francoist coup took place in Portugal at the end of the first year of the revolution. That is the meaning in the Portuguese calendar of Spínola’s two defeated coup attempts. In their results, the Russian and Portuguese revolutions are once again similar: The counterrevolutionary coup fails, and with this the crisis in the army deepens. In Spain, on the other hand, the victory over the coup in the first days was not consolidated because of the betrayal by the government and the working-class leaders. Thus, the reaction was not disorganized, and it initiated a civil war. This divided the country into two camps: In one, the now fascist bourgeois army was the dominant force; in the other, the camp of the republic, the police and the army disappeared in the first moments to be replaced by workers and antifascist militias. In this way, dual power reached a certain level of development in Spain (with the disappearance of the army and the dominance of the militias, with the expropriation of the major part of industry by the workers movement, mainly in Catalonia, and with the occupation of the land by the peasants, only in Aragon) that is not approximated in Portugal. But this difference is compensated for by the brutal crisis in the Portuguese army, which cannot base itself—as Franco did with the famous “Moros”—on the colonial troops. And we see the birth within the Portuguese army of important buds of dual power, a phenomenon that did not take place in the Spanish army, which did not undergo internal crises or become eaten away by the germs of dual power. A second factor, deriving from this one, which also compensates for the difference in the development of dual power in Portugal today and the Spain of the thirties, is that in Portugal the defeat of Spínola’s coup averts for a more or less long time the possibility of a new reactionary coup.

But, despite all these differences, the two revolutions resemble each other in some fundamental aspects. The first of these is that following the reactionary coup, when objective conditions place power within reach, the proletariat lacks a strong Bolshevik party. The second aspect is that if in Spain, after the Francoist coup, the main counterrevolutionary factor was Stalinism, wedded politically to the shadow of the bourgeoisie and the remnants of the officers of the army and police in the republican camp, Portuguese Stalinism has played a similar role since the March 11 coup, servilely tied to that shadow of the bourgeoisie that is Costa Gomes and the Portuguese “leftist” officers who constitute the MFA.

These two similarities anticipate a third, which can be tragic for the Portuguese proletariat. Just as there was a Catalan May (1937), in which Stalinism and the republican government waged their own civil war against the workers movement in that Spanish province in order to impose a Bonapartist government, the greatest immediate danger facing the Portuguese workers is Stalinism and the Portuguese MFA playing a similar role.

Nothing better demonstrates the usefulness of these analogies and of a theoretical discussion to specify these stages than the apparent or real disagreement with Horowitz over the character of Spínola’s “putsch.” It would seem that for Horowitz, this does not mean the defeat of the Portuguese Kornilov or Pinochet for a long time, and that, therefore, the stage continues in which the immediate danger for the masses is Spínola or Pinochet, that is, the bourgeois counterrevolution. That is what he says, referring to the politics of the Portuguese CP: “How reminiscent of Chile! And the lesson of what happened in Chile indicates the danger that exists in Portugal.” Gus Horowitz, Portugal One Year After the Coup—What Is the Armed Forces Movement? in the June 1975 issue of the International Socialist Review carried in the June 6, 1975, issue of The Militant.) We, on the other hand, would say: ‘How reminiscent of Spain after Franco was defeated in the industrial zones! How it would resemble Chile, if in Chile the masses had defeated Pinochet! And the lesson of what happened in republican Spain, with the counterrevolutionary governments of Largo Caballero and Negrin-Stalin, indicates the danger that exists in Portugal from the counterrevolution of the MFA-CP-SP, especially of the first two.”

II. A Colonial Revolution Transformed Into a Metropolitan Socialist Revolution

1. The Prognoses of the Third International

The Portuguese revolution comes close to the predictions of Lenin and Trotsky, who, during the period following the First World War, expected that the colonial movements of the old empires—England, France—would form part of a single revolutionary movement on the scale of the entire empire, in which the metropolitan proletarian revolution would be the vanguard of the petty-bourgeois and bourgeois colonial revolutions.

For almost sixty years, none of these predictions came true. The failure of the proletarian revolution in Europe after the First World War, owing to the betrayal committed by the Social Democratic leadership, blocked this combining of the agrarian and nationalist petty-bourgeois or bourgeois movements with the metropolitan proletarian revolution. The overseas, not landlocked, character of these colonial empires helped them to weather the storm.

Later on, the Stalinist betrayal following the Second World War permitted the old empires to carry out the neocolonial maneuver with success. The colonies conquered political independence, but only to become incorporated in the world of backward countries, dominated economically through semicolonial forms or through dependency on the same old imperialisms in partnership with American imperialism. This process was not combined with the proletarian revolution in the metropolises. When the agrarian or democratic wars of liberation erupted (China, Indochina, Korea, Algeria, Cuba), it was Stalinism that once again acted on all fronts to block them. Neither the Vietnamese, nor the Algerian revolutions, the two most heroic colonial revolutions of the postwar period within the old empires, received unconditional and revolutionary support from Stalinism and the French workers movement, which was led by the Stalinists. The fact that the colonial revolution and the workers movement of the imperialist country were not able to unite in a single process, in an organic whole, led to interminable, frightfully cruel and bloody wars in the colonies and permitted the capitalist and imperialist structure in the metropolises to survival although in weakened condition.

For reasons ascribable only indirectly to Stalinism, and directly to the backwardness of the Japanese and American workers movement, the semicolonial revolutions and wars in China, Korea, Indochina and Cuba likewise did not link up with the workers in the metropolises. Fascism prevented the Japanese workers movement from collaborating with and joining the Chinese workers who opposed it in the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s. Neither the weak movement against American aggression in Cuba, nor the great movement against the Vietnam War, was led by the workers movement. Still less so by a workers movement advancing toward the socialist revolution.

This linkup between the bourgeois-democratic and proletarian revolutions, which was lacking within the empires, did, however, occur within the borders of some semicolonial and colonial countries. The democratic or anti-imperialist Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Yugoslavian, and Cuban peasant wars were transformed through the objective logic of these struggles into deformed proletarian revolutions. In this way, the theory of the permanent revolution concerning the combining of both revolutions was confirmed.

This long-thwarted revolutionary combination between the colonial and metropolitan workers movements finally came about with the Portuguese revolution.

2. A Capitalist Empire in Decadence

The ideologists of the MFA, who are followed consciously or unconsciously by many sectors in the left, try to equate Portugal, liberated from fascism, to the colonial and semicolonial countries, in this way concealing its imperialist character. It is the famous “third-worldism” of the captains. For this dangerous and false theory to gain credence, it had to be based on a real fact: the obvious backwardness of Portugal.

All attempts to compare Portugal with colonial countries must begin with this basic question: the character of its backwardness. Is it because it reached capitalist development too late, like the colonial countries, or on the contrary, because it reached that stage too early? The latter is the case with Portugal, which was the first modern capitalist country to succeed in forming a commercial empire, much before England. Thanks to this, it was able to acquire colonies, which it has continued to exploit up to this very day. It is like England, with the difference that England’s decline began decades and not centuries ago. The distinction in character between Portugal and the “third-world countries” is rooted in the different origins of their backwardness. Portugal is a senile imperialism, the most senile of them all because it was the first; on the other hand, the colonial and semicolonial countries have not been able to fully develop themselves as capitalist countries because they arrived too late. If they have not been able to achieve even full economic and political independence, they will be all the less able to transform themselves into imperialist powers capable of exploiting other countries.

Portugal differs from the Russian empire in the same way. The Russian empire was late in reaching the stage of capitalist development. It was owing to this fact that it was a semicolony in relation to the European empires (foreign capital dominated its economy), although at the same time it was imperialist in relation to nationalities within its own territory.

Portugal was never a semicolony of other, more powerful empires, in spite of its extreme weakness. On the contrary, until the 1960s, the Salazar regime had reached a high degree of autarchy.

It is a historic fact that for centuries Portugal was a commercial, and later industrial and financial, submetropolis of English imperialism. But the 1929 crisis permitted the Portuguese bourgeoisie to gain relative independence from its submetropolitan character, and the Second World War gave it total independence.

While the crisis and the war mortally wounded its English partner, the Portuguese imperialist bourgeoisie used this situation to strengthen itself within its own empire. It was aided by two facts: First, it did not intervene in the world war and thus did not have to pay for reconstructing the country. Second, its most important colonies were in central and southern Africa, the zone least punished by the war and by national liberation movements (a zone very different from, for example, the Far East, which suffered the Japanese invasion and witnessed the victory of the great Chinese revolution).

This permitted Salazar to keep the autarchical empire going, relatively closed to the investments of other imperialisms, without “submetropolitan” elements (to exploit in partnership with stronger imperialisms), and to a still greater degree without “semicolonial” elements. Also, thanks to this, the dictatorship was able to maintain itself in power for almost half a century.

But the favorable conditions that had enabled this independence or autarchy to be maintained despite the country’s backwardness began to be superseded with the development of the postwar imperialist economic “boom.” The Portuguese bourgeoisie by itself could not develop the new branches of production characteristic of today’s capitalist economy: automotive, petrochemical, electronic, durable goods of all kinds, etc. In order to develop these branches it was imperious to enter into partnership with the Yankee or European monopolies. The colonial war added a supplementary factor of dependence in relation to the big imperialist powers: supplies of sophisticated arms to confront the guerrilla fighters, which could not be produced in Portugal because of the country’s backwardness. That is why, since 1960, American and European capital began to enter the empire. While the amount involved between 1943 and 1960 was only two million contos [1 conto=about US $48], this rose to twenty million contos in the six-year period of 1961-67, that is ten times the previous period, and this tendency continued.

Unwillingly, the Salazar-Caetano government permitted this penetration, but without allowing it to become predominant. The Portuguese bourgeoisie remained the senior partner. If the proletarian revolution had not interceded, the tendency facing Portuguese imperialism was absolutely clear: Its backwardness would condemn it to becoming a submetropolis, that is, a junior partner of other, more powerful empires in the exploitation of the working class and the colonies. In the distant future it might completely lose its influence in the colonies and become transformed directly into a semicolony. To maintain its present independence in relation to foreign capital, Portugal has only one alternative: socialism, through which it could overcome its backwardness without falling under the rule of the big international monopolies. This transition from a relatively independent and dominant imperialism within its sphere of influence to a dependent or submetropolitan status as a junior partner of other imperialisms characterizes the present dynamic of the Portuguese bourgeois economy. It is an inevitable transition that gives rise to strong contradictions within the Portuguese bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie, as we shall see.

3. The Colonial Revolution Upsets the Empire

If the Salazar regime was able to remain intact, and to a degree strengthen its empire during half a century, the colonial war at last upset it.

Already in 1962, a well-known English left-wing journalist, upon describing the beginning of the colonial revolution in Angola, wrote these very prophetic words (in case it was extended, as did occur, to the rest of the Portuguese colonies): “In February 1961, the liberation war began in Angola, a war that at present seems capable of reaching the dimensions of the Algerian war, converting itself into the opening of the revolution in South and Central Africa and thus shaking the foundations of Portuguese colonialism, mortally wounding Salazar, and in this way, radically transforming the situation on the Iberian peninsula.” (Peter Freyer and Patricia McGowen Pinheiro, El Portugal de Salazar [Paris: Ruedo Ibérico, 1962], p.139.) In actuality, the war would paralyze the economy of Portuguese imperialism, which would find itself obliged to support an army of 150,000 men and spend almost half the budget on it. The old empire could not keep that up (nor could it, as was proved later on, successfully carry out the neocolonial maneuver).

Spínola’s famous book, Portugal and the Future, was not only the most important “best seller” in the last years of fascist Portugal. Interests that were not exactly literary lay behind it. Its publication indicated that the high command of the Portuguese army had become divided, following the lines upon which it had been built by the Portuguese oligarchy, as a result of the impact of the colonial war, which had been going on for more than ten years. The most reactionary sector held that the war should be carried on until it was won; the Spínola-Costa Gomes sector held that it should be ended by negotiating a settlement with the colonies, the outcome of which would be to set them up as states associated to the metropolis, something like the present English colonies. Both sectors were opposed to the colonies exercising self-determination, but while the first sector wanted to preserve them as colonies, the Spínola sector hoped to maintain the empire through a neocolonial form. To this objective was added another, of prime importance: “democratize” the country in order to permit its integration into the European Common Market and join the Common Market in exploiting the colonies and the Portuguese working class.

This first plan of the oligarchic sector represented by Spínola-Costa Gomes was politically similar to that which the big Spanish bourgeoisie is following at present—apply strong pressure so that the “fascist” government itself undertakes “modernizing” itself, that is, “change something so that everything remains the same.” Hence they limited themselves to trying to convince the government—without success—of the usefulness of liberalizing the political game and of initiating negotiations to end the war. Caetano’s resistance was backed by the bourgeois sectors that continued to bet on imperialist “autarchy.” But the colonial revolution, at the same time that it accelerated the political crisis faced by the Portuguese oligarchy, weakening its most Neanderthal sectors, began to seep into the ranks of the officers of the imperial army themselves as the economic and social crisis sharpened.

4. The Crisis Within the Army: the MFA and the ‘Putsch’

If the colonial war caused a profound division within the Portuguese oligarchy, an even profounder crisis began to show up in the armed forces of the empire. They had to make great efforts to keep up the war in the colonies. The young suffered four years as conscripts. Many students were lured into service as officers. All of them, officers, noncommissioned officers, and troops, spent long years out of the country in a war they did not agree with, plagued by deceptions and defeats. Under these conditions, the division within the high command facilitated the organization of a group of captains and officers of the lower ranks, stationed in barracks close to Lisbon.

As often occurs in history, it all began for a miserable reason, trivial if you wish. The professional captains wanted better conditions than the conditions of those who had been recruited. They made a presentation to their superiors and continued to put pressure on them until their demands were met. But, shortly after becoming organized, they came to the conclusion that the problem was not the recruited captains, their comrades in arms and misfortunes, but the colonial war and the fascist government, and they began the struggle. An end had to be put to the war and the fascist government.

The participation of the captains transformed the replacement plan of a sector of the oligarchy and Spínola into a military “putsch.” Caetano’s resistance to accepting advice placed Spínola in a situation without perspectives or a way out. The discontent and uneasiness of the middle class, reflected in the protest and organization of the captains, gave him confidence. Spínola thought he could use the captains as the mechanism for a coup, to later be dismissed, with thanks for services rendered, and returned to the iron discipline of the barracks. The program of the Armed Forces Movement MFA—as the professional captains referred to above finally named their organization—ambiguous, without any clarity, lent itself to their being used in this way. On the other hand, the MFA also wanted to serve as the representative of the big bourgeoisie and assure discipline. The fear of the mass movement and of lack of discipline united Spínola and the discontented captains. Everything was prepared to make it a “putsch” without any intervention by the people and the workers. But things occurred in another way.

5. A ‘Putsch’ Transformed Into a Proletarian Revolution

A few years after fascism rose to power in Italy, a polemic opened between the Stalinists and Trotskyists on the social character of the antifascist revolution. The Stalinists took advantage of the victories of the fascist counterrevolution to apply to the European countries their fatal theory of revolutionary “stages” in the backward countries. According to the Stalinists, it is a question, just as in the backward countries, of a long stage of democratic revolution led by the liberal bourgeoisie. It is from this theory of the future facing the European revolution that they draw their policy of popular fronts or democratic fronts with the liberal bourgeoisie in order to carry to its conclusion the democratic, antifascist revolution.

The Trotskyists held that only one class, the working class, with its methods of mobilization, could defeat fascism, assure the most unrestricted democratic rights, and advance towards socialism. The democratic rights that were won would come as by-products of the revolutionary struggle of the working class; not as a historical stage, but as a maneuver by the bourgeoisie to appease the working class with concessions and thus avoid its making the socialist revolution. In addition, to make possible a bourgeois democratic stage, there must be a bourgeoisie or a petty bourgeoisie, capable of leading the masses in a revolutionary process up to its final consequences. But, since the middle of the last century, there has been no “progressive” bourgeoisie, owing to the fact that what it most fears is the mobilization of the working class, since the proletariat is its most important historical enemy, much more so than imperialism, rival capitalist powers, or the remnants of feudalism. These sectors have the added feature of being capitalists and exploiters, and as direct exploiters they are separated completely from the working class. If all this is true for backward countries, it is even more so for developed countries, where the bourgeoisie cannot for one minute cease being doubly counterrevolutionary, since in addition to exploiting its workers, it exploits its colonies. Portugal furnishes fresh historic proof of the validity of both theories and policies. Let us see.

... in spite of the fact that the radios controlled by the army called on the population to remain calm and in their homes, tens of thousands of civilians invaded the streets, accompanied the tanks, offered red carnations to and fraternized with the soldiers, while at the same time they massively and gaily launched the most radical dismantling of the hated fascistic repressive apparatus.
The decay of the repressive apparatus of the dictatorship suddenly opened up the possibility of an immense mobilization of the workers and the people. On the twenty-fifth itself and on subsequent days, the streets were filled tirelessly by spontaneous demonstrations of thousands of people shouting against fascism and the PIDE, for an end to the war, for fraternizing with the military men, etc. An eloquent symbol of this perhaps is what occurred in numerous high schools, where the high school youth immediately set out to search for, follow, and detain the once-feared informers (‘bufos’) of the PIDE, and the Portuguese Legion. The ‘purge’ of the reactionary elements spread like wildfire throughout the entire country.
The active presence of the masses and particularly of the working class was clearly visible in the May Day demonstrations, during which 500,000 people took to the streets in Lisbon alone, and in the wave of strikes and demonstrations that followed, which imposed the most diverse democratic and economic demands. In this way, a very large margin of freedom was won, and a meaningful change in the relation of class forces was brought about.

That is how Aldo Romero, in issue No.1 of Revista de América, summarized the results of the military “putsch.” In general, the entire press published similar accounts.

Sometimes, by strange chance, dates become symbolic. The revolutionary week that opened on April 25, the day of the “putsch,” ended on May Day, the international workers day par excellence, with a demonstration of 500,000 people in Lisbon. The demonstration clearly indicated, by its social composition as well as the slogans that were chanted, the presence of a proletarian revolution that had begun to carry out a democratic program, or at least some of its fundamental tasks.

Many of the slogans were essentially antifascist and democratic, such as “Death to fascism,” “Death to the PIDES,” “Purge.” Some of them, in support of the bourgeoisie—“Long live Spínola”—or of the petty bourgeoisie—“Long live the MFA”—revealed the backwardness of the workers movement after fifty years of political ostracism. Quite striking was the absence of anticolonialist slogans (with the exception of the some what ambiguous “End the war”)in a revolution that-as was to be shown later on-was, consciously or unconsciously, profoundly and objectively anticolonialist. Probably, the cheers for Spínola reflected in a very confused way this characteristic, since he, after the publication of his book, appeared to be the banner-bearer for an end to the war by any means possible.

But along with these slogans others were chanted such as “A minimum salary of 6,000 escudos” [about US $288] and “A Cunhal government,” which already showed, so far as specific demands are concerned, the absolute primacy of the working class in the movement. No slogans were heard corresponding to the specific interests of other classes or sectors. Finally, reaffirming the working-class revolutionary methods, this great demonstration was preceded and followed by an endless number of strikes, the method of class struggle par excellence. And the liquidation of the fascist apparatus began to be carried out directly, with assaults on figures in it and their detention, without listening to the recommendations of the military men.

Taken altogether, the slogans reflect the combination of circumstances that provoked the beginning of the great antifasast proletarian revolution. The cheering for Spínola and the MFA constituted recognition by the mass movement of the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois putschists who had opened the doors, just as the jeers directed at fascism clearly indicated the immediately democratic objective of the proletarian revolution that had begun and that was concretized in the method of the demonstrations and strikes as well as in the slogans for “A minimum wage” and “A Cunhal government.” But they also expressed an indisputable fact. It was the people as a whole, from the middle class to the proletariat, who rushed to change the fascist regime. Viewed from this angle it was a great popular movement, but a popular movement in which the most vigorous and dynamic support came from the proletariat. It was, in short, a workers revolution that had combined with all of the exploited sectors, mainly the urban middle class, and that had begun to demand the complete fulfillment of the democratic tasks, at the same time as it advanced tasks and methods of struggle characteristic of the proletariat, which had been put forward from the beginning.

A few months later, the same mass of workers would take to the streets alone to shout, “Death to Spínola,” demonstrating once again the proletarian, socialist dynamic of the revolution. A dynamic that the very exploiters and their servants of the middle class, such as the MFA, the CP, and the SP, would be obliged to recognize as they resorted to the great farce of calling themselves “socialists” and hiding their bourgeois projects behind the lie that what is happening in Portugal is already the road toward socialism.



1. The phrase is a Spanish translation of what appears to he the last part of Aphorism XXXIV of Bacon’s Novum Organum: “Even to deliver and explain what I bring forward is no easy matter; for things in themselves new will yet be apprehended with reference to what is old.”

2. Instead of commending this way of reasoning, “which is now in use,” Bacon held that it was faulty and ought to be abandoned. For instance, Aphorism XXXI reads: “It is idle to expect any great advancement in science from the superinducing and engraning of new things upon old. We must begin anew from the very foundations, unless we would revolve forever in a circle with mean and contemptible progress.”—Translator.

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Last updated on 30.12.2002