Portugal -- who will strike first?

By Sam Marcy

February 17, 1975

With the announcement by the Provisional government that elections to the Constituent Assembly will take place on April 12, the Portuguese revolution has entered its truly critical phase.

Normally, the setting of a definite date for the convocation of a Constituent Assembly should ease political tensions and quiet rumors of another right-wing coup in the making. However, the opposite is turning out to be all too true.

A second version of the September 28 abortive coup attempt is obviously out of the question. It will be remembered that on that date General Spinola attempted a military coup. He tried to mask it by staging a Mussolini-type fascist mobilization in Lisbon under the guise of a call to the "silent majority to avert a left-wing dictatorship."


The attempt failed because the CP and its allied organizations mobilized workers, students, and soldiers who successfully turned back the demonstrators. Spinola resigned, two small outright fascist organizations dissolved, and their leaders were arrested along with several hundred low ranking officials and military leaders.

It should be added that alongside the CP and its allies, all other working class organizations to the left of the CP enthusiastically participated in the call to stop the fascist mobilization. It was, however, undeniably a CP initiative which evoked the massive working class demonstration which stopped the abortive coup.


A militant resurgence of the working class movement has held sway in principal industrial centers of Portugal ever since. Land seizures by landless peasants in recent weeks have shown an upsurge of the struggle in rural areas. The events in Oporto, where thousands of militant workers and students broke up the convention of the Christian Democratic Center, a neo-fascist organization, have heightened the working class upsurge, which was capped by the giant anti-NATO demonstration in Lisbon on January 31, held in defiance of a government decree banning demonstrations.

A call to another fascist mobilization to cover a right-wing military coup is therefore most unlikely. A new fascist conspiracy would have to be tried differently, but there is no question that the center of the right-wing plotting is in the upper echelons of the military. That is where the hope of the possessing classes lies; that is who they are banking on.

The possessing classes, however, are in complete disarray. Their political institutions, as well as their leaders, stand discredited by decades of fascist collaboration, and many have fled the country. Others have put on the mask of democracy merely to get a hearing.


The bulk of the ruling class is in an exceptionally weakened position. Their main source, in fact their sole hope for support, lies in the concerted effort of the leading imperialist powers, headed by the U.S. to bring about a counter-revolutionary overturn.

Hence, the most severe external pressure by the leading European imperialist powers, and most of all by the U.S., is being brought to, bear on Portugal. It is now 3 weeks since NATO naval maneuvers took place on the coast of the Iberian peninsula, involving simulated bombing and invasion of Portugal. Nevertheless, 19 ships including the U.S. aircraft carrier Saratoga are still prowling in the vicinity of the Portuguese coastline.

The most striking feature of this NATO naval exercise was that it marked the first time that NATO has been used as an instrument of counter-revolutionary subversion against a European country which it has pledged to defend. NATO, it must be remembered, was ostensibly set up solely as an anti-Soviet military alliance. But here, for the first time, it demonstrated that one of its principal purposes is to stem the tide of revolutionary working class upsurge.


Not to be forgotten is the fact that the present NATO commander is none other than General Alexander Haig, Nixon's former White House Chief-of-Staff, and Kissinger's principal deputy during the Vietnam negotiations.

Haig was a key figure in the October 1973 "Saturday night massacre" when Nixon tried to pull a near-coup, firing Elliot Richardson, then Attorney General, Archibald Cox, Special Watergate Prosecutor, and William Ruckelshaus, Deputy Attorney General.

Haig has kept a low profile in his new post, especially as regards Portugal. But C.R. Sulzberger of the New York Times (Feb. 15, 1975) credits him with "taking quiet initiatives" as NATO Commander and, in particular, of "smoothing out wrinkles in relationships with France."

This is profoundly significant since France has really been half way out of NATO and not participating for the most part in any NATO military exercises.

However, French naval units participated with the other NATO powers in the maneuvers aimed at Portugal. Thus a counter-revolutionary front of the leading imperialist powers, composed of Britain, West Germany, Canada, and France, and headed by the U.S., was fashioned with the aim of subverting the Portuguese revolution.


Along with these military moves, the imperialist powers have flooded Portugal with a variety of political leaders from the West European social-democratic parties, calculated to bolster up the pro-imperialist stand of the Portuguese Socialist Party (IPSP), as well as that of the more reactionary Popular Democratic Party (PPD). Both parties are in the coalition government and are regarded as the most reliable social supports of the ruling class and of NATO.

Irving Browne of the AFL-CIO has been there to "help" the unions, that is, to subvert them on behalf of the CIA and split them as was done during the 1946-48 period in France and Italy.

It is enough to quote Francisco sa Carneiro, leader of the PPD, whose recent pronouncements of alarm at the growth of revolutionary sentiment among the masses sound more like an open call for imperialist intervention than a description of the political situation.

"An atmosphere of suspicion and hate has been created," said Carneiro, "which has led to permanent disquiet and the impossibility of permanent cooperation. We cannot go on living in a climate of civil war. We can no longer tolerate the escalation of revolutionary language."


It is in this light that we must see the convocation of the Constituent Assembly. The imperialists are not concerned with legal niceties of bourgeois parliamentarism. They are preparing to strike -- a blow, either through a military coup, through open military intervention or some combination of the two.

The false alarm sounded in the New York Times editorial of February 17 -- that the CP is planning violence and a Communist takeover before the election to the Constituent Assembly -- is a smokescreen, calculated to cover the covert operations of the CIA and the military intervention planned by Washington and its European partners.

The State Department just this last week published documents showing that on Feb. 8, 1948, the National Security Council of the U.S. had before it a plan which "recommended the full use of political, economic, and if necessary, military measures to prevent a communist takeover in Italy." This partial revelation of how the Pentagon and the State Department were working feverishly to preserve the domination of the Italian bourgeoisie and American finance capital does not show what actual measures were taken. But it is clear from subsequent events that the U.S. used everything short of military intervention to defend its imperialist interests.

One need not wonder why the revelation was made at this time. It was meant as a threat to both Portugal and the USSR. In case this was not understood as such, the New York Times editorial referred to above makes it explicit.

"A Communist takeover of Portugal," said the New York Times on February 17, "might encourage a similar trend in Italy and France, create problems in Greece and Turkey, affect the succession in Spain and Yugoslavia and send tremors throughout Western Europe." The Soviet Union is then warned that "detente will be the first casualty."

In the face of brutal frankness and open threats, can there be any doubt that the imperialist powers are preparing the ground for another Chile on the Iberian Peninsula? Do not the working class parties have the right -- in fact the sacred duty -- to prepare the mass of the people in advance for precisely this eventuality in the kind of manner which would put an end not merely to fascist threats, but to the ruling class and the system of exploitation upon which it rests?

The way Lenin and Trotsky prepared for the Constituent Assembly in 1917 offers an exceptionally instructive lesson. While utilizing all the legal and electoral opportunities offered, the Bolsheviks, knowing full well the counter-revolutionary nature of the bourgeoisie, armed the masses ideologically, politically, and physically for the insurrection. It was thus that they put an end to bourgeois rule and transferred the real power into the hands of the workers and peasants.

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