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International Socialism, December 1975


Notes of the Month

Portugal: Reaction in the saddle


From International Socialism, No. 84, December 1975, pp. 3–4.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Sally Kincaid.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The last weeks have seen many striking developments, in Britain and internationally. The death of Franco and the first fumbling efforts of Juan Carlos to ‘normalise’ the situation, the massive set-back for the left in Portugal and the civil war in Angola. In Britain, the crunch at Chrysler, the sweeping success of the right in the AUEW elections, the beginning of a substantial Right to Work movement with the November 26th demonstration and the mounting and well-orchestrated campaign for more savage ‘anti-terrorist’ measures, including the return of the death penalty.

But the most important event of the last weeks is the victory of the reaction in Portugal. The victory of reaction; not yet of counter-revolution.

The mass working class organisations are still intact, ‘labour discipline’ – the subordination of the workers in the plants to autocratic management – has not yet been restored, the economic struggle will continue although it is likely to be clamped down for a time. The Portuguese working class has suffered a big reverse; it has not lost the war. The situation can yet be retrieved; but the obstacles to retrieving it are now decidedly greater. The defeat is very serious by any reckoning. The radicalised army units in the Lisbon area have been eliminated as a political factor. The Azevedo government has successfully asserted its authority over the capital. At the time of writing (28th November) martial law is being enforced, most of the press silenced and broadcasting effectively censored.

The left has been deprived of the military support which, until the counter-stroke of the reaction, had paralysed the sixth government. Barely a week before the paratroopers’ mutiny, Socialist Party leaders had been calling for a retreat of the government to Oporto; shortly before that. Azevedo had been besieged in his offices by striking building workers. Now he rules; and the elimination of Carvalho and Fabiao, the dissolution of Copcon and the arrest of scores of leftish officers marks a sharp turn to the right in the Armed Forces Movement.

A very important consequence will be the elimination of revolutionary influence in the mass media. Costa Gomes, by Presidential decree, has suspended the editorial boards of eight newspapers on the grounds that they had ‘manipulated information and actively contributed to indiscipline and disorder.’ Lisbon radio is certain to be purged. Communist Party influence, as well as that of the revolutionary left, will be a target.

But the CP itself is still represented in the government and is likely to remain so for a time. The Guardian’s Lisbon correspondent, Walter Schwartz, after emphasising the sharpness of the defeat of the left, goes on:

‘But it does not mean that the Communist Party is in eclipse. The party had unofficially encouraged the rebellion, but its leadership has been quick to dissociate itself from “adventurism” and to return to its old advocacy of “political compromise.” The party’s efforts to rehabilitate itself is being treated sympathetically by the moderates in the Government, as seemed to be indicated last night when Major Melo Antunes, the Foreign Minister, said on television that continued Communist presence in the Government was “essential” and that the present balance of the Government was “about right”.’ (28.11.75)

This is probably right on both counts. The CP encouraged the mutineers. Not, of course, with the object of attempting an insurrection but in order to increase its leverage and influence in the government by demonstrating its power and ‘indispensability’. It stepped aside, having drawn the revolutionary left into support of the movement, when it became clear that a strong and successful government reaction was underway. The revolutionary left and the leftish elements in the AFM – both rivals of the CP – paid the price of failure. The CP has improved its position relative to them, at the cost of a big shift to the right in the balance of forces nationally.

In these Notes last month, Chris Harman wrote: ‘To enter upon the road of insurrection and civil war without a mass Party is the most dangerous thing conceivable for revolutionaries.’ Without mass support, resort to a direct military challenge to the power of the state is adventurism.

The SUV (‘Soldiers United Will Win’) and the FUR (Revolutionary United Front) proved unable to mobilise the kind of support that could have thrown back the reaction and taken the movement to a higher stage.

Hindsight is easy. But a revolutionary party with real working class roots, a party whose militants were in a position of leadership of their fellow workers – and so are forced to listen as well as teach – a party whose conception of leadership includes a dialogue with the advanced workers, and through them with the mass of workers, would surely have been able to make a more realistic appreciation of the situation. The defeat took place because a party did not exist with the weight, in the class, to carry forward the struggle despite the CP’s betrayal. The point now, for Portuguese revolutionaries, is to take as their tactical starting point an assessment of the situation that recognises that the CP, not the revolutionary left, retains the support of the majority of advanced workers, that the radicalised soldiers had moved far ahead of the workers in the plants and that it is only by paying the most serious attention to the economic and social struggles of the working class that the revolutionary left can successfully operate, under conditions of the reaction, and pave the way for mass influence. The time available is not unlimited. Forces well to the right of the Azevedo-SP-PPD-CP coalition will be mobilising for counter-revolution.

Spinola, the ELP and so on, will not merely wait in the wings. Encouraged by the success of the ‘democratic’ reaction they will actively prepare for their ‘final solution’. As even Soares now apparently recognises, the shift to the right may open the road to the Portuguese Pinochet. According to his associate Antonio de Figueiredo, ‘In a recent interview, Dr Soares gave a warning that the emotional climate in the country was becoming conducive to a right-wing counter offensive. He recalled that during his last visit to President Allende of Chile, none other than General Pinochet himself was present in the presidential audience room.’

But, to repeat, the revolution has not yet suffered a decisive defeat. The revolutionary left can still rally support and turn the tide. The struggle now is a struggle to convince workers that all the gains of the revolution to date are at risk. The economic offensive which the rulers must launch, the offensive to break the industrial power of the working class, is now the centre of the battlefield. On this battlefield, working class unity around a militant programme can still be achieved.

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