Portugal -- another momentous week

By Sam Marcy

February 1, 1975

Once again, as has happened on so many previous occasions since the April 25 overthrow of the fascist dictatorship, Portugal has passed through a week of high tension and intense political maneuvering in the Cabinet and in the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces Movement (AFM), capped by land seizures by landless peasants and a giant demonstration of workers in Lisbon.

The demonstration in Lisbon, which numbered more than 10,000 workers and marched through the center of the city, passing the U.S. Embassy, was in deliberate defiance of a government decree banning all demonstrations. This demonstration was therefore of special significance, not only because it was large, but because it was composed mainly of revolutionary and militant organizations to the left of the Portuguese CP. The size of the demonstration and the fact that the government did not move against the demonstrators was an embarrassment to the CP and undermined its standing from the left.

A principal chant by the demonstrators was directed against the NATO naval exercises in which American, British, French, Canadian, West German, and Portuguese units participated.


The guns and armor of the American aircraft carrier Saratoga stood out menacingly within sight of Commerce Square, opposite where most of the workers had assembled. This had to arouse the greatest indignation, not only from the demonstrators but from all Portuguese workers, especially when one remembers that the CP itself has stood out so long and undeviatingly against NATO. Yet one must wonder-how could the Armed Forces Movement agree to the participation of Portuguese naval units in an exercise which involved simulated bombings of central Portugal? And how can the Provisional government at this very late date still be a member of NATO, especially when the Pentagon has contemptuously barred the Portuguese armed forces from any so-called secret NATO material?

It is to be remembered that as early as April 29 of last year, barely a few days after the overthrow of the fascist dictatorship, a meeting took place of 700 naval officers who endorsed the program of the AFM and as a result secured the removal of 82 admirals and vice-admirals from the navy. This included a purge of the notorious Admiral Tenreiro, owner of one of Portugal's largest fishing fleets, who was subsequently arrested and imprisoned. Indeed, it was precisely by the navy itself that a good part of the naval brass was purged.

If even this branch of the armed forces, where so many !of the fascist officers had been purged, did not make felt its opposition to naval maneuvers directed specifically against Portugal, then how can the AFM be regarded as a force representing or responsive to the popular masses, as the CP coalition would have us believe? On the contrary, the acquiescence to the provocative NATO exercises represents a danger. It shows that a rightist, pro-imperialist tendency predominates in the Provisional government as presently constituted. Is this what Mario Soares, the leader of the Socialist Party who is constantly forecasting (really threatening) civil war, as he did just recently in the struggle over the trade union laws, has in mind?


NATO was conceived as an imperialist instrument directed against the USSR. In addition, although not as well publicized, it was intended to be an instrument to suppress internal revolutions in Europe. Only lately has this feature of NATO come to the fore.

The naval exercise, involving simulating bombings of central Portugal was obviously a counter-revolutionary exercise against the Portuguese people. Even those elements in the coalition government who may be anti-Soviet had absolutely no ground for countenancing this military maneuver.

The fact that naval units of the Portuguese armed forces did indeed participate in it is therefore highly significant. Foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy; military maneuvers are an expression of that foreign policy and aim to give it force. The participation of Portugal's armed forces in the NATO exercise tells us a great deal about the preponderant class forces in the Provisional government and the AFM itself.


The Emergency Economic Law which had been promised for many, many weeks now, and which had been in the discussion stage at least since June, was finally passed by the Cabinet of the Provisional government on February 8. This law enacts an agricultural reform which is supposed to give land to the peasants from estates where the landlords have long been absent or have run away under the impact of the militant struggle of the landless peasants

The law is also supposed to limit the giant firms and monopolies and restrict them in relation to profits and prices. 'But as far as the peasants are concerned, the measure promulgated on February 8 in reality merely validates measures that have already been taken independently by the peasants. The slogan of "land to those who till it" had caught the imagination of the peasants and been acted upon before February 8, but its validation in law is bound to give a new impetus to the struggle against the landlords and big estate holders.


The fact that the peasants have organized an agricultural workers' association, although deeply influenced by the CP and some of its allies, is a remarkable sign of the growing upsurge in the countryside along with the resurgence in all the industrial centers of Portugal. Indeed, everywhere the forces of reaction and counter-revolution are on the defensive. This is the one absolutely indisputable fact that dominates the Portuguese political situation at present.

Not without reason does the New York Times of February 10 lament that "anti-communism is hard to sustain these days. Those who practice it are immediately branded as reactionaries and as partisans of the old regime."

But while the upsurge of the popular masses continues, the situation is extremely unstable. It is not possible for the so-called Emergency Economic Law to solve or materially improve the economic situation of the country. The reforms are of very limited character and do not go to the heart of the basic property relations between exploiter and exploited. They limit the monopolies but do not eliminate the monopolist class. Even the reforms themselves remain to be effectuated. Only in areas where the workers and the peasants have themselves taken matters into their own hands do the reforms have any real meaning.

They do, however, as all such reform legislation does in revolutionary situations, provide an impetus for mass activity and for extra-legal measures taken by the masses. Unemployment (200,000 in a country of only 8.5 million) plus galloping inflation continue to take their toll, and this without letup. It is characteristic of a revolutionary situation that neither of the basic classes forming the structure of capitalist society can long endure the status quo. Both classes are in rebellion against the status quo. Such is the situation in Portugal today.

As Lenin put it, "neither class can go on living as before." This alone creates the premise for a revolutionary crisis.


A distinctive feature of the coalition backing the Provisional government lies in the relationship between the CP and the Armed Forces Movement. Unlike during the popular front of the 1930s, the CP now has a stronger hold in the armed forces. This is the key to its strength in the coalition. But it is of a purely derivative type. Its strength in the mass movement, with a huge following among the workers and peasants, is what gives the CP a degree of strength in the military, and not the other way around. But the CP's policy utilizes this strength to mask class collaboration with the bourgeoisie.

It must not be forgotten that the other parties, even the MRPP, also have some strength in the armed forces. But it is the reliance by the CP on the coalition with the AFM, more specifically with the officer corps, which marks it out as a medium of class collaboration and holds out limitless dangers in the event of another attempted coup by the right-wing.


However, as matters stand now the CP is gaining in the rural areas -- as witness its mass support at the February 9 Evora demonstration. Evora is the center of the Alentejo region, an agricultural area properly called the breadbasket of Portugal. But in the industrial areas the CP is losing strength to more militant and revolutionary organizations further to the left. The Lisbon anti-NATO demonstration was not only an embarrassment to the CP, it undermined its strength and showed that the pendulum in the mass movement is moving leftward away from the class collaborationist policy of the CP.

The greatest hopes for a resolution of the conflict in Portugal lie in the realization of the need for a broad working class united front by those political organizations which can take on the historic responsibility to meet the challenge which the possessing classes are surely preparing. It makes imperative the need to arm the proletariat, not only politically and ideologically, but physically.

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