Revolution and Counter Revolution in Portugal
The military “putsch” brought to power the first “revolutionary” government, that of General Spínola. He tried to set up a government of “national unity,” in which there would be room for those ranging from the big bourgeoisie to the reformist workers parties. And all of the sectors were in agreement on giving full power to the general with the monocle—the MFA, just formed and just stepping into public view, did not dare nominate itself for government; for their part, the traditional working-class parties placed all their bets on a regime of national unity. Thus, Spínola became the dominant figure in the government. He surrounded himself with his friends as ministers, and handed over—as one who throws a bone to a dog—some ministries to the MFA, SP, and CP. Palma Carlos, one of his unconditional supporters, was named prime minister.
The fact that the MFA began to become consolidated as a political organization of the lower officers reflected in its own way the revolutionary crisis among the army rank and file. It is totally “abnormal” for a public organization of young officers to codirect a bourgeois army, since the essence of a bourgeois army is its absolute hierarchical discipline and submission to higher commands. If Spínola had to accept this “abnormality” and incorporate it into the government, it was because of the fact that the rise of the mass movement imposed it upon him. In addition, he thought that in this way he could channel the rebelliousness among the young commissioned and noncommissioned officers toward normal strict military discipline, indispensable to the maintenance of the government they had brought into being. But the MFA—and we should bear this very much in mind — was not the same as the higher ranks of officers. And it resisted submitting to the discipline of the top officials. It thus reflected within the army the modern middle class, whose expectations were not identical to those of Spínola and the Portuguese oligarchy.
The participation of the Communist Party in the government was a new phenomenon in European politics of the past twenty-five years, since the last postwar period. If we except Chile, this holds true for the Western world. The formation of this popular-frontist government of class collaboration constitutes recognition by imperialism and the Portuguese bourgeoisie, that it is a developing proletarian revolution that they have to deal with. Precisely because of this, they were obliged, although unwillingly, to accept the flattering, collaborationist solicitations of the Socialist and Communist parties.
From within the government the CP met the expectations of its dazzling bourgeois and imperialist allies. It did so by replacing the demand for a minimum wage of 6,000 escudos with one for 3,500, and by beginning, to “condemn certain workers struggles as ‘irresponsible’ or ‘promoted by fascism’ as occurred, for example, with the national strike of the postal workers in June of 1974.” (Aldo Romero, Portugal, Reconstruction or Revolution? Revista de América, No.1.)
Despite this policy, and the equally traitorous policy of the
Socialist Party—we stress the former because it has much more
influence over the trade-union activists, and not because the latter
has been less collaborationist-the working class movement continued to
advance. It began to overcome the atomization of the craft unions
inherited from fascism—and from the old anarcho-syndicalist tradition
— and began to organize workers commissions in the big factories
(Stalinism encouraged the development of industrial unions, and at the
same time used them to create a centralized organization of industrial
unions, the Intersindical, on which it imposed a hand-picked
leadership). Against the recommendations of the Stalinists, the workers
continued to engage in wildcat strikes, although sporadically, within
the context of a slight lull in the working class movement as a whole
provoked by the calls for passivity from the reformist parties.
In spite of the goodwill of the reformist workers parties, Spínola government went from crisis to crisis, until the mass movement kicked it out. The laws of the class struggle are always more powerful than the reformist plans. The big bourgeoisie, divided at the end of the Caetano government over the advisability or otherwise of terminating the colonial war and “democratizing” the fascist regime, again united behind Spínola after April 25, 1974. To slow down the movement of the workers and the masses, it put to good use the petty-bourgeois representatives of the working class (the reformist parties) and the modern middle class within the army (the MFA). But precisely the success obtained, that is, the slowing down of the workers movement with its consequent weakening, began to make petty-bourgeois democracy unnecessary to the bourgeoisie. And it was because of this that it attempted, through Spínola, to reverse not only the developing proletarian revolution but also the democratic conquests already gained or that were being demanded.
This scheme, if it had succeeded, would have meant the transformation of the government into a Bonapartist regime, since the workers movement and its democratic conquests cannot be decisively crushed by a popular-front government, nor can a popular-front government survive when the workers movement has been defeated. It is no accident, therefore, that an important part of the bourgeois efforts to drive back the revolution was accompanied, on the one hand, by a strong anticommunist campaign, and on the other, by sharp clashes with the MFA. The bourgeoisie, therefore, after having used it to place a brake on the movement of the workers and the masses, entered into conflict with the petty-bourgeois democrats, who wanted to collaborate with the Spínola government but within a bourgeois-democratic regime that respected the reformist parties and the MFA.
This dispute between the two sectors of the government became concretized around the question of whether to call for presidential elections or for elections to the Constituent Assembly. Spínola and the big bourgeoisie held that a strong, authoritarian government was required. They therefore considered it imperative to immediately impose a Bonapartist regime by means of a presidential election, which in reality would simply mean a plebiscite in favor of Spínola. They were thinking of ending the braking process, and, if necessary, crushing the workers movement, at the same time ridding themselves of the captains of the MFA and of the workers parties, most particularly the CP, the bothersome agent of Moscow in a government that sought to remain in NATO and the Iberian Pact, and enter the European Common Market. The petty-bourgeois democrats were opposed to this plan and advocated, at that time in a united way, the Constituent Assembly.
The other cause of dispute was the colonial question. The revolution in Portuguese Africa was greatly helped by the process opened up in the metropolis. The Black soldiers in the Portuguese army began to desert, and the white soldiers, officers, and noncommissioned officers began to insist on going back home. At the same time, a Portuguese Trotskyist soldier interviewed by Gerry Foley said, “In the period after April 25, 1974, when struggles were still taking place with the Spínolistas, who were opposed to decolonization and wanted a clearer form of neocolonialism, when massive shipments of troops were still being made to the colonies, struggles did occur. Some groups of soldiers even refused to go.” (Intercontinental Press, May 5, 1975, p. 588.) Faced with this situation, the big bourgeoisie and its representative, Spínola, hoped to negotiate an end to the war from a position of strength, in order to impose on the colonies their transformation into provinces or states associated with the empire. The petty-bourgeois democrats, for their part, wanted to negotiate independence with the national liberation movements; a conditional independence favoring the empire, but independence in the final count.
In July 1974, this crisis became public when Palma Carlos declared
that to prevent anarchy it was necessary to call for presidential, not
Constituent Assembly, elections. Even though the workers movement had
been demobilized, the combination of the rise of the colonial
revolution, the crisis in the army, and the desperation of the
petty-bourgeois democrats compelled Spínola to rid himself of
his prime minister and name in his place, Vasco Goncalves. In this way,
he accepted the full participation of the MFA in the government. The
policies of the petty-bourgeois democrats thus triumphed—constituent
elections would be called, and the independence of the colonies would
be negotiated. It was a partial defeat for the Spínolist
bourgeois counterrevolution, which, in the short period of time between
August and September, would reveal itself through recognition of the
independence of Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique.
But, after blundering, Spínola prepared to counterattack, aided indirectly by the freezing of the workers and popular struggles for which the MFA and the reformist parties were responsible. In agreement with them, he began to attack freedom of the press by banning a Maoist daily. He followed up by proclaiming a law against the right to strike and by organizing a new military region in Lisbon, the COPCON (Comando Operacional do Continente), the clear counterrevolutionary purpose of which was “to intervene directly, in support of civilian authorities and at their command, to maintain and reestablish order.” Immediately, the COPCON went into action to “break strikes and small leftist demonstrations.” (Gus Horowitz, op. cit., p.18.)
As Romero points out in the article already mentioned from Revista de América, No.1, “repressive and anti working class measures were committed by the most reactionary sectors: the violent repression of a demonstration in support of the MPLA, resulting in one death and several wounded by gunshot, prohibition of working-class demonstrations, military intervention against the strike of the workers from Transportes Aereos Portugueses [Portuguese Air Transport] Once again, the big bourgeoisie and Spínola began to feel strong, to the point of publicly announcing their opposition to the independence of Angola and openly coming out against the MFA and Vasco Goncalves. The tension mounted as the presidency and other sectors of government began to launch clear anticommunist and anti-worker allegations. On September 10, Spínola personally called upon a supposedly ‘silent majority’ to put an end to anarchy, and on the twenty-eighth of the same month, a provocation was engaged in, probably with the intent of its serving as a cover or pretext for a phony coup that would facilitate declaring a state of siege and the assumption of full powers by Spínola.
The budding counterrevolutionary coup obliged the Communist Party,
the most threatened, to desperately defend itself, and it called upon
the masses to fight. They responded with an audacity and decisiveness
that crushed the first counterrevolutionary attempt of the Portuguese
bourgeoisie (which, by the way, objectively closed the sociological
debate over whether the bourgeoisie was reactionary or included
“progressive” sectors). According to what Romero reports in Intercontinental
Press (quoted by Horowitz in the article we have published
here), the workers “acted both in advance of and independently
of the MFA and the provisional government, and paid more attention
to the instructions of the CP and the Intersindical than to those of
the military.” (Intercontinental Press, October
28, 1974, p.1395.) In plain language, despite the fact that the MFA was
also threatened by the coup, its behavior was pitiful. The mobilization
of the people and the workers mobilizations thus stopped the
counter-revolutionary coup, and saved and raised to power the
petty-bourgeois democrats, mainly the MFA, which had sought for months
to dismantle this same mobilization.
The great victory of the movement of the workers and the masses—and of the CP itself, which participated fully in the mobilization against Spínola—compelled the bourgeoisie to change its policies and its government. The tough, old-fashioned general, who wanted to impose on the entire country the discipline of the barracks, was replaced by his “civilized friend,” who makes a custom of “talking, not giving orders,” General Costa Gomes. The bourgeoisie had become convinced, for the moment, that it could not regiment and defeat the movement of the working class and the masses. For that reason it looked over its following for a great negotiator capable of using petty-bourgeois democracy to decelerate it, stop it, and finally defeat it.
The new bourgeois policy momentarily abandoned all Bonapartist capriciousness and turned toward the parliamentary forms of rule—it accepted the Constituent Assembly.
The bourgeois schemers had at their disposition three first-class instruments, all of them petty-bourgeois. The MFA would be in charge of appeasing the soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and radicalized officers in order to restore discipline in the armed forces. The Communist Party, willing as usual to collaborate with a bourgeois government in office, would avoid mobilizations and control the trade unions. The Socialist Party, which according to all the reports would win any election, would guarantee the innocuousness of the Constituent Assembly and any other electoral and parliamentary variant that might appear.
Under the new government, the class struggle repeated, but on a higher plane, the same sequence as under Spínola. First, the collaborationist policy of the leaderships induced a slight retreat of the workers movement. Then, it rose again in an impetuous mobilization.
In the government, the MFA, through Vasco Goncalves, called for “Sunday workdays,” and began to insist that the big battle was the battle for production. This “battle” was part of an emergency economic plan proclaimed on February 21, the essence of which was totally and absolutely capitalist: try to save the capitalist economy through greater exploitation of the workers. Assured of the support of the working-class parties for this plan, the MFA went further and tried political conciliation with the big bourgeoisie and its representatives. A careful campaign in favor of Spínola was begun, freeing him of any responsibility in the former attempted coup because of having been drawn in through “deceit.” It did not publish the results of the investigation of those responsible for the attempt. It did not take any measures against the oligarchy guilty of involvement in it. It hardly carried out any purge of the officers in the army. And, as a proof of affection for the friends of the oligarchy beyond the borders, in February the Portuguese customs guards handed over a Spanish left-wing militant to the Francoist political police.
Meanwhile, the economic situation worsened by leaps and bounds.
Unemployment already affected more than 200,000 people—more than 7
percent of the working population. Capital began to take flight abroad.
Some enterprises were abandoned by their owners. Imperialism began to
blockade the revolution economically.
Toward the end of last year and the beginning of this year, the movement of the workers and masses began to confront these calamities.‘The fall of Spínola ,” says Romero in the article quoted in Revista de América, No.1, “was followed by a relative impasse in the workers struggles, but since the beginning of 1975, popular resistance has intensified in a spectacular way [...]” And he continues: “Another area of struggle has naturally involved improving conditions, particularly in the factories. Innumerable demands have been made along these lines (rate of work, safety and hygiene, shifts, dining rooms, etc.). The most extensive demands are, at present, job security and wage boosts.” The revolution was taking its first steps in the countryside: Agricultural workers and poor peasants began to organize and fight against unemployment. Objectives in the mobilizations were not limited to “security and wage boosts‘; they included more general and revolutionary slogans: “countless workers assemblies in the factories in struggle have voted for motions in favor of nationalizing businesses that threaten layoffs, or more generally, nationalizing the monopolies.” Parallel to the strikes, other methods of struggle were becoming generalized. The first occupation of any importance was described as follows by Le Monde Diplomatique (June 1975): “February 7 was a significant date: On that day, seven thousand workers from the workers commissions of Lisnave, for the first time in the history of Portugal, cast doubt on the right of ownership of the means of production—without yet venturing into the field of self-management.” The method of occupation would be extended, starting from there, not only to establishments, but also to the homes of fascists, the bourgeoisie, or simply homes that were not being used. Control of production also began to be attempted. In some enterprises, “the bosses income is withheld.‘
At the same time, the organization of the workers movement was spreading on a massive scale and acquiring a more and more direct character. The revolutionary upsurge coupled the organization of craft unions inherited from fascism with the rise of industrial unions, with the federation that attempted to assemble them—the Intersindical — and with the rank-and-file factory committees (the workers commissions), neighborhood committees, and all other types. The spectacular leap that has shaken Portuguese social and political life since the fall of Caetano has thus led to the simultaneous existence of craft unions, typical of the beginning of the trade-union movement; the industrial unions and their federation, belonging to the capitalist era; and the rank-and-file committees, characteristic of this period of capitalist decay and the transition to socialism. The rise of the industrial unions and the rank-and-file committees—the latter being a field in which the working class has taken the lead over the other sectors (tenants, soldiers, etc.), inasmuch as they have been established in the majority of the important factories since March 11 — points to the liquidation of the craft unions. The two forms of organization (industrial unions and rank-and-file committees) coincide in needing a single industrial organization at all levels—factory, company, country—but, at the same time, they are profoundly different. The first, institutionalized for more than half a century by capitalism, lends itself much more to bureaucratization than the committees, intimately linked to the rank and file, which represent them better than the unions and which arise only during periods of intense worker mobilization such as Portugal is undergoing. This difference was to be seen in the fact that within a few days of each other two demonstrations took place: One of them, on January 14, convoked by the Intersindical and led to demand its official recognition, brought out between 100,000 and 200,000 people under the leadership of the CP; the other, very militant demonstration, convoked on February 7 by the “intercompany commissions,” which was led by the Maoist ultraleft, gathered in front of the Ministry of Labor to protest against layoffs, maneuvers by the bosses, and the presence of NATO in Portugal. On January 20, six days after the first demonstration, the government proclaimed a law favoring a single federation that in reality transformed the Intersindical into its initial nucleus. The Intersindical is a great gain of the workers movement, but it was deformed by the Stalinists, who bureaucratized it from the beginning and hand-picked its leadership to place it at the service of the bourgeois government. In any case, the process of struggle could not help but be reflected in the search for “combative and class leaderships,” Romero tells us in Revista de América, No.1. “Recently the union slates backed by the PCP suffered spectacular defeats in the postal workers and bank workers unions in Oporto.‘
The army, for its part, was not immune to the upsurge of the mass movement. The triumph led the MFA to foster discussions about indoctrination in the barracks. But these did not go beyond the limits of discipline. In the already quoted interview by Gerry Foley, the case is mentioned of a soldier being punished because he dared to direct a barbed question at his commander during one of these discussions. All in all, they represented important progress, since they introduced political discussion into the barracks.
Beginning last January, everything began to change. “A climate of ‘deliberations’ spread through the ranks, and along with the rejection of arbitrary disciplinary measures, collective demands and protests are not uncommon. Let us also point to facts such as the recent one [February 8] when COPCON forces were deployed in order to contain a workers demonstration that had not been authorized:
Confronted by the demonstrators, the soldiers made a half turn.
Pointing their arms in another direction and raising their fists, they
shouted, ‘Soldiers and sailors are also exploited.’ (Romero, Revista
de América, No.1.)
The general upsurge of the workers and the people induced a new division within the Portuguese bourgeoisie. A minority, represented by Costa Gomes, continued to bet on the Constituent Assembly, on the betrayal of the Socialist and Communist parties, and on the use of the MFA. In short, on a popular front. The majority, becoming desperate, lost patience and gathered behind Spínola in preparations for a coup d’état, in a renewed Bonapartist attempt.
The fact that the fright of the bourgeoisie was also reflected among the army officers helped the plan for a new coup. The New York Times commented at the time that the officers were leaning toward the right. A symptomatic fact proved this to be correct: The elections to the Councils of Arms convoked by the MFA were won by the most reactionary officers, sworn enemies of the MFA itself. The MFA proved incapable of repudiating the outcome, despite the injury dealt the MFA, and despite the fact that the gains made by the reactionaries formed part of the preparation of the projected coup.
The MFA began to have doubts as to the best way to slow down and defeat the revolution. Two options were open to it: on one hand, the one that leaned—with the Constituent Assembly—toward a parliamentary regime; on the other hand, the perspective of a directly dictatorial, Bonapartist regime. The urgent need to overcome the crisis of its regime inclined it to try to suppress its contradictions along the Bonapartist road.
The general crisis and the profound differences within the MFA caused by the upsurge were also expressed in the struggle between the Communist and the Socialist parties. This struggle became more and more acute, reaching such a degree that two opposing demonstrations, set for December 30, came close to a confrontation. The reasons for this dispute lie in the fact that although neither of the two defends the interests of the working class (and in this they are the same), both of them have different specific interests.
The rightist course of the officers, the electoral defeat of the MFA
within the army along with the resulting “impasse,” the fight between
the two big working-class parties, the doubts over the call for a
Constituent Assembly—all of these elements made the
ultra-reactionary, desperate wing of the big bourgeoisie and officers
believe that the time had come for revenge. Led by Spínola, the
counterrevolutionary coup was finally launched. The equation was almost
complete, but an unknown was missing, the reaction of the working
class, the movement of the masses and the soldiers. It was terrific,
the workers and soldiers began to occupy factories and barracks. The
failure of the putsch was so resounding that the imperialist press
affirmed it had been a provocation. This wasn’t so; it had a great deal
of support among the officers and had been carefully planned. What
conspired against its success was the speed and combativity of the
popular reply in relation to Spínola previous putsch. If the
Intersindical and the demonstrations and barricades characterized the
response to the first “putsch,” the committees of workers and soldiers,
with their occupations, characterized the response to the second
Spínola defeat by the mass movement touched off a new series of events that, combined among themselves, opened a new stage of the Portuguese revolution. Four of them are the most decisive:
First: The bourgeoisie melts away politically and physically as a class. Spínola flight was not an insignificant event, but one of enormous symptomatic and political importance. Along with him, thousands upon thousands of members of the bourgeoisie fled Portugal, terrified over the strength of the mass movement. Some of the biggest families of the oligarchy and all the banks were expropriated. Important bourgeois figures, such as the Champalimauds, were imprisoned. A very hard blow was dealt the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, one that will take time and effort to recuperate from. Physically and politically it has vanished for a while from the political and economic scene. Only its shadow remains.
Second: The economic and social crisis, already very acute, is reaching intolerable limits. The bourgeoisie, upon leaving, abandoned many enterprises. When it has been able to, it has withdrawn its capital; when it has not it has ceased to invest. Unemployment, which was already serious—around 7 percent—has climbed up to 8 percent and it continues to rise, affecting 800,000 persons at present. Production has been declining. Added to this is the return of the colons from the former African possessions, making unemployment worse and reinforcing the counterrevolutionary sectors. In face of this situation, tourism has declined and the crisis of the balance of payments has been deepening. The situation has been further aggravated because the big imperialist powers are not investing a single dollar in Portugal.
Third: Occupations of factories, stores, and houses are becoming more generalized, and land seizures are beginning to take place; workers and tenants commissions are developing and some peasant commissions are beginning to appear. All commentators have described how, after Spínola “putsch,‘ the banks were occupied. Romero, in his different articles published in Revista de América up to No.4, mentions the factory occupations and workers commissions, but does not grant them any symptomatic importance. Horowitz, in his only reference to them in the article reproduced in this edition, says in passing that “occupations of factories and offices also spread.‘ Livio Maitan, for his part, also gives little importance to the question, although he says something (very little) about it: “The scope and dynamism of these mobilizations in recent months-the multiplication of strikes and factory occupations, the spread of revolutionary democratic bodies growing up from below, and political demonstrations such as ... February 7 ... by the Workers Committee” (Livio Maitan, The Role of the Armed Forces Movement in Portugal, Intercontinental Press, June 2, 1975, p.728.) Besides this, the author points out that the demonstration was led by the Maoists.
Gerry Foley, for his part, states: “Factory committees do not yet exist everywhere, but they fulfil an important function in the big plants ... The Workers Committee elected by an assembly of all the workers in the plant is much better able to represent the work force effectively than the fragmented unions. It is also considerably more democratic.” Later he reports how, in Oporto, “on the night of March 11, these committees organized vigilance pickets.” These committees and pickets from the above-mentioned factory kept on functioning, “rooting out rightists from the administration and the shop.” (Gerry Foley, Portuguese Trotskyists Call for National Workers Assembly, Intercontinental Press, April 21, 1975, p.527.) Combate Socialista, in one of its issues, without giving it any importance, informs us of the deep trend toward centralization of these workers commit tees, when it reports the existence of a “coordinating committee of the CUF commissions (the most important monopolist group in Portugal). And it confirms Livio Maitan in relation to the February 7 demonstration (which it characterizes as an example of combativity), called for by an “interfactory committee.” Finally, whether the lucid commentator of Le Monde Diplomatique (June 1975) exaggerates, he is close to the truth when he states: “The occupations of factories, land, palaces, and buildings-the latter rapidly transformed into popular clinics, centers for mutual aid, child-care centers, recreation or resting places or into headquarters of popular organizations-have taken the parties in the coalition by surprise ... nevertheless, the PCP and Intersindical were losing speed, while the rank-and-file organizations and committees consolidated their counter-power.‘
Fourth: The crisis in the army acquires a new magnitude with the flight of the reactionary officers, the spread of committees and assemblies of the soldiers and noncommissioned officers, which begin to put into question the military hierarchy. Of all the new developments, the most important is the one beginning to take place in the armed forces, described to Gerry Foley by a soldier as follows: “After March 11, a general assembly of soldiers was held. Not only the commander and deputy commander were purged, but all the Spínolista officers down to the level of sergeants. A cousin of Gen. Galvão de Melo, who was a junior sergeant, was also purged.
The comrades felt a need to move forward and take control of the barracks. They decided in the general assembly to form various committees ...
“After the purge,” he says further on, “the military hierarchy was broken, since the ousted commanders were replaced with lower-ranking officers.‘
In Coimbra, the “the rank and file threw out two officers assigned to the barracks by the Council of the Revolution.‘
In the same article by Gerry Foley, the soldier points out that “in
the navy, where the political consciousness of the rank and file is
higher, there exists a committee of sailors which discusses the orders
given by the officers, and which can accept or reject them.”  And Romero (Revista de
América, No.4) confirms it: “On May 1, several hundred
sailors of all ranks participated in the demonstration, in accordance
with what had been decided on in the general assemblies of their bases
and some ships—later a ‘higher order’ ratified the decision arrived
at democratically.” All these facts indicate the dynamic that the
situation within the bourgeois armed forces has taken. But these are
just the beginning; they still have not become generalized nor has the
qualitative point been reached at which the army begins the plunge
toward total and definite collapse: the appointment of officers by the
soldiers through the promotion of noncommissioned officers. Together
with this process taking place at the level of the rank and file, the
defeat of the “putsch” gave the timid MFA enough encouragement to annul
the outcome of the elections to the Councils of Arms, which, as we have
already seen, had been unfavorable to the MFA.
In relation to both the occupations as well as the factory and enterprise commissions, the Transitional Program is categorical:
Sit-down strikes, the latest expression of this kind of initiative, go beyond the limits of ‘normal’ capitalist procedure. Independently of the demands of the strikers, the temporary seizure of factories deals a blow to the idol, capitalist property. Every sit-down strike poses in a practical manner the question of who is the boss of the factory: the capitalist or the workers?
If the sit-down strike raises the question episodically, the factory committee gives it organized expression. From the moment that the committee makes its appearance, a factual dual power is established in the factory. By its very essence it represents the transitional state, because it includes in itself two irreconcilable regimes: the capitalist and the proletarian. The fundamental significance of factory committees is precisely contained in the fact that they open the doors if not to a direct revolutionary, then to a pre-Revolutionary period-between the bourgeois and the proletarian regimes. (Trotsky, The Transitional Program [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1973], pp.79-80. Emphasis in original.)
As we have already seen, in Portugal we have not only
occupations and workers commissions everywhere, but something much more
important: a crisis in the armed forces and the germs of dual power
For some Marxists, the Portuguese situation “is evolving or maturing toward a pre-Revolutionary situation.” We think this definition is erroneous. Up to March 11, there was a pre-Revolutionary situation, and, since that date, a revolutionary situation has begun to mature, if we are not already fully in it. We choose Trotsky’s definition: factory committees are a symptom that, at least, “a pre-revolutionary, if not a direct revolutionary period” has been opened.
We think that if to the occupations and committees we add the crisis in the army, with its soldiers committees and assemblies and the purges of reactionary officers, we are already in a direct revolutionary situation. And, with even greater reason, if we take into account the situation of the Portuguese bourgeoisie and economy. Referring to events of far less magnitude in the French army in 1936, Trotsky assigned very great importance to them: “The protest of the soldiers against the rabiot (the increase in the service term) signified the most dangerous form of direct mass action against bourgeois power.” (Leon Trotsky, Whither France? [New York: Pioneer Publishers], p. 144.) Now, Trotsky considered the direct action of the masses to be the cause of the revolutionary situation: “The working masses are now creating a revolutionary situation by resorting to direct action.” (Op. cit., p.140.)With still more reason, then, “the most dangerous form” of that action.
Two shortcomings can be pointed out in our definition: the absence of soviets and of a revolutionary party with mass influence.
We think the first objection gives an absolute character to the importance of soviets. There are comrades who hold the opinion that, if they do not exist, there is no dual power nor a revolutionary situation. We agree that in Portugal only miserable buds of soviets exist, we have already stated that; but there is a dual power concretized in the occupations and the workers commissions. This dual power is molecular, spontaneous to a large degree, but it exists and appears in a generalized way throughout the country. It is a form of dual power more primitive than soviets, but dual power anyway. The same can be said about the situation in the armed forces: No soviets have been organized, but the process is one of the development of a powerful dual power, which is just in its very beginnings, but which is sufficient to disturb the structure of the fundamental pillar of the capitalist regime.
The second objection, referring to the absence of a revolutionary party, can very well be based on Trotsky’s definition, repeated several times, of the four basic conditions for the triumph of the revolution: confusion and division in the ruling class, a turn toward revolutionary solutions by the middle class, revolutionary disposition of the working class, existence of a strong Marxist party that poses the seizure of power. The first three conditions are clearly given in Portugal; but the last one, the strong revolutionary party, is not.
For the classic Trotskyist analysis, the absence of the subjective factor, the party, in the framework of the other three conditions, characterizes pre-Revolutionary situations. From a formal point of view, the Portuguese situation would fit, then, in this category. This is what those who define the Portuguese situation as maturing toward a pre-Revolutionary one have probably taken into account.
Now, if we reason that way, we would find pre-revolutionary situations, different only in intensity, quantitatively, on the one hand in Bolivia in 1952 (when the bourgeois state apparatus had collapsed, the army had been defeated by the working class, and only the armed militias of workers and peasants existed), in Spain during the civil war, or in China after Chiang Kai-shek; and, on the other hand, situations like the one in Argentina after the Cordobazo and the one in France before 1936, in which there was no arming of the proletariat, nor the appearance of organisms of dual power, nor the destruction of the bourgeois army or a crisis within it. It is obvious however, that between the first three and the last two there are profound, qualitative differences, which become obscured if we group all these situations under the common denominator of pre-Revolutionary. Argentina after the Cordobazo and France before 1936 were, to us, pre-revolutionary situations. Bolivia in 1952, Spain during the civil war, and China after Chiang Kai-shek went much further: They were revolutionary situations. Not classic revolutionary, because the revolutionary Marxist party was missing in them, but revolutionary “sui generis.‘
Trotsky, on several occasions, pointed out that “abnormal‘ revolutionary situations could arise which do not conform to classical conditions. In a premonitory article, entitled “What Is a Revolutionary Situation?” he says: “It is not excluded that the general revolutionary transformation of the proletariat and the middle class and the political disintegration of the ruling class will develop more quickly than the maturing of the Communist Party. This means that a genuine revolutionary situation could develop without an adequate revolutionary party. It would be a repetition to some degree of the situation in Germany in 1923.” (Writings of Leon Trotsky-1930-31 [New York: Pathfinder Press, Inc., 1973], p.354. Emphasis added.)
This means, according to Trotsky, that when the weight of objective factors takes very acute form, a revolutionary situation may appear even though the revolutionary party is absent. Later, in a elliptical way, without referring directly to the subject, he again gave a new hypothetical definition of an “abnormal” revolutionary situation. In referring to the historical possibility of the installation of workers and peasants governments formed by petty-bourgeois reformist parties, he pointed out that this could occur as a consequence of “war, defeat, financial crash, mass revolutionary pressure, etc.” (The Transitional Program, op. cit., p.95.) These conditions and others not mentioned could, then, give rise to a situation leading to the formation of a revolutionary, workers and peasants government, the anteroom of a dictatorship of the proletariat, without the precondition of a revolutionary Marxist party.
In Portugal we see assembled to overflowing, the conditions for a
revolutionary situation, “sui generis” as we see it, just as predicted
by Trotsky. There was “war” and “defeat‘; there is an economic crisis
and a “revolutionary offensive of the masses,” as well as a “general
revolutionary transformation of the proletariat and the middle class
and the political disintegration of the ruling class.‘
This possibility of forming workers and peasants governments, which Trotsky considered very remote—let us clarify, in passing, that this was because he believed, among other things, that revolutions would occur in the Western countries immediately following the war—became common in the second postwar period. The Chinese, Indochinese, Korean and Cuban revolutions followed that pattern. That led us to maintain that we were dealing with “sui generis‘ revolutionary situations that did not follow the classical schema. We made an effort to define this new revolutionary situation and we pointed out that it was characterized by the fact that the objective factors indicated by Trotsky had acquired a permanent, chronic character. In our opinion, the revolutionary situations we have seen in this postwar period have been caused by the enormous weight of the objective situation. Fundamentally, by an economic and social crisis of a chronic character that impelled the petty-bourgeois masses into a very acute revolutionary upsurge and forced their parties to break with imperialism and the landowners, turning to guerrilla warfare, which destroyed the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois regime. It is an approach completely opposite to that of the Guevarist guerrillas, to whom a revolutionary situation is unleashed essentially by the subjective factor, the guerrilla group of the armed vanguard that sets heroic examples for the masses.
The international situation helped or facilitated the guerrilla warfare of the petty-bourgeois parties. The inter-imperialist war, the crisis and reconversion of imperialism during the immediate postwar period, and the “cold war” enabled these parties to count on a wide margin of maneuver and confronted them with a weakened counterrevolution, unable to meet the petty-bourgeois colonial revolution with a solid united front. The cold war had, in its way, the same effect: It divided the counter-revolutionary bloc of the United States and the Soviet bureaucracy.
Another element of considerable weight, which has not received the recognition it deserves, is the subjective factor of the counterrevolution.
With good reason, we Trotskyists have emphasized the importance the politics and leadership of the parties claiming to represent the working class have on the development of the revolutionary process. It is otherwise with our attitude toward the politics and tactics of the leaders and parties of the exploiters: We do not analyze them with the same amount of interest. Nevertheless, in a revolutionary situation, these are elements of prime importance. The disastrous—from the point of view of their own interests—politics of Chiang Kai-shek, of the French and Yankee imperialists, and of Batiste and Washington had a decisive influence in the triumph of the Chinese, Indochinese, and Cuban revolutions. A much more careful and refined political line followed by the French and Yankee imperialists in Bolivia and Algeria, respectively, was able to block revolutionary victories in those countries.
But the international and subjective situation of counterrevolution has radically altered the possibility of new “sui generis‘ revolutionary triumphs, like those seen in the last thirty years. The crisis in the counterrevolutionary front has abated and the divisions are being closed. The bloc of the imperialist countries and the bureaucracies of the USSR and China aimed at sidetracking the revolution is today quite solid, without great fissures. And all of them have learned from the new “revolutionary situations.” Nothing demonstrates this better than the change in the policies followed by French imperialism from Indochina to Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Except for the recent outcome of the Vietnam War, it has been more than fifteen years (and it is not by chance) since “sui generis‘ revolutionary victories, giving rise to workers and peasants government, have taken place. And the victory in Indochina is the product of the combination of the heritage of more than thirty years of guerrilla war, from the period of the cold war, with the mass movement in the United States and Europe against the imperialist war.
We do not say that these victories will not again be repeated in the colonial and the semicolonial countries. But, for that to occur, they will have to count on a new factor, much more powerful than the interimperialist crisis alone or the cold war: the rise of the mass movement in the metropolitan countries. Such is the case with the victory in Vietnam. But the counterrevolutionary united front between the United States, the USSR, and China is also functioning here to try to obtain what French imperialism succeeded in obtaining in Algeria: driving the workers and farmers government back into a capitalist regime.
All these factors are of prime importance in preventing a “sui generis” revolutionary triumph from taking place in Portugal, so that we do not come near to even a variant of a workers and peasant government. But, even though they are of prime importance, that does not mean that they are the decisive factor making that variant impossible. The essential factor making impossible a Chinese or Cuban variant in Portugal is the character of the Portuguese petty bourgeoisie and its parties.
The prognosis made by Trotsky in the Transitional Program (Ibid., p.94): “the experience of Russia demonstrated, and the experience of Spain and France once again confirms, that even under very favorable conditions the parties of petty-bourgeois democracy (S.R.’s, Social Democrats, Stalinists, Anarchists) are incapable of creating a government of workers and peasants, that is, a government independent of the bourgeoisie,” is still valid. And more valid than ever for the imperialist countries, even if it turned out to be mistaken for the colonial countries. The reason is simple, even though Trotsky did not take it into account. It can be found in a class difference: that which exists between the petty-bourgeoisie of an imperialist country and the petty-bourgeoisie of a colonial or semi-colonial country. The former enjoys a privileged situation thanks to the exploitation of the backward countries; the latter, including the peasantry, lives in a chronic and insoluble crisis because of the exploitation of imperialism and its agents, the national exploiters. That is why the imperialist petty bourgeoisie and its parties and organizations—the Communist and Socialist parties included—are organically counter-revolutionary, agents of imperialism. Stated in another way:
Because their privileged existence depends on the existence of their own imperialism, they are organically incapable of confronting it. That is the situation in Portugal today, where the MFA, the CP, and the SP compete with each other to find the most ingenious and quickest way of saving crisis-ridden Portuguese imperialism. This is the reason why there is no possibility that they will break with their imperialism and form a workers and peasants government. The slightest error or theoretical confusion on this question of principle will inevitably make us fall into the abyss of concessions to opportunism, capitulation to Portuguese imperialism and its agent: the MFA government.
3. This passage does not come from the English translation of the interview granted to Gerry Foley, which was published in the May 5, 1975, issue of Intercontinental Press, but rather from a news article by Gerry Foley published in the April 21, 1975, issue of Intercontinental Press.
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Last updated on 30.12.2002