The Republica takeover and freedom of the press
Freedom for which class?By Sam Marcy
June 23, 1975By the time this appears in print, the issue of the seizure of the newspaper Republica by the workers may already have been decided, along with issues more fundamental to the Portuguese revolution.
The lengthy deliberations in the High Council of the Revolution of the Armed Forces Movement (AFM) seem to have ended with a new and more serious crisis in the offing. The statement it issued yesterday, the full text of which has not reached this country yet, seems to have confirmed a shift to the right in the AFM leadership, if extracts in the New York Times of June 22 and the Christian Science Monitor of June 23 are accurate.
WHAT'S IN WORKERS' INTERESTS?
The seizure of the Socialist Party paper Republica, however, which has received such widespread attention and unmitigated condemnation by all of bourgeoisdom, requires elucidation. It is elementary for Marxists that the best interests of the working class require a free and untrammeled press so that the working class can be in the best possible position to propagate its own viewpoint.
Without question, the struggle for democratic rights in a bourgeois society includes above all the right of working class organizations to publish their own newspapers, magazines, etc., without interference from the capitalist government.
The working class has no special interest in condoning suppression of even bourgeois newspapers by the capitalist government, as that tends to put those who are deprived of the right to publish their own newspapers in the role of martyrs -- and they are able to garner more support on the basis that they are persecuted.
Nevertheless, Marxist-Leninists are not mere bourgeois civil libertarians. Marxists differ from bourgeois liberals precisely in that they examine the question of freedom of the press from the point of view of the class struggle. Marxist-Leninists must first of all determine how the given issue will affect the independent class interests of the workers. Moreover, behind the cry of "freedom of the press" there often lurk hostile class interests which are not apparent on the surface.
Marxists must ask themselves, "What class forces, what class groups, lie behind the cry for freedom of the press?" For a Marxist to just go along with any and all slogans for freedom of the press regardless of the circumstances or time is his or her' undoing.
THE CONCRETE SITUATION
It is one thing to defend freedom of the press in given concrete circumstances with full knowledge of what it entails. It is another matter to espouse it unconditionally regardless of historical circumstances and changing conditions.
Viewed in this light, one must examine the issue of the seizure of Republica first of all in the light of the prevailing political situation in Portugal today.
Portugal is now in the throes of a revolutionary situation. Seizures of plants and capitalist establishments as well as landed property have become widespread. We have alluded to this in previous issues of Workers World. Since then, the seizures and occupations by the workers have taken on more momentum. These have become especially marked since the Portuguese government enacted the nationalization law. The law gives the workers as well as some landless peasants an impetus to go much further than the law permitted. And the government has done nothing to discourage it or has been unable to do so.
We should add, as we said in earlier issues of WW, that many of the capitalists as well as the landlords have fled the country This, of course, has further encouraged the workers to take matters into their own hands. The nationalization law, as enacted, applied only to domestic industries. Nevertheless, the workers have gone beyond that.
WORKERS TAKING OVER SHOPS
A vivid example of how this is done was given by the workers of the Portuguese Otis Elevator Company, which is a subsidiary of Otis Elevator, a multi-national corporation of the U.S.
According to the Wall Street Journal of May 21, "a workers' committee with the tacit consent of the Portuguese government took over the facilities of the Portuguese subsidiary of Otis Elevator." In doing so, the workers of course went beyond the laws which specifically excluded foreign companies from the nationalization program.
LIMITED WORKERS' CONTROL
According to an official of the Otis Elevator Company quoted in the Wall Street Journal, the workers had been exerting more and more control over the management of the subsidiary over the past several weeks and had seized the premises. Then they went further and barred the managing director from his office altogether. Both the Portuguese government and the labor ministry were involved very closely in the discussions between the subsidiary's management and the workers' committee. But management was told, according to the Wall Street Journal, that "it should obey" the instructions of the committee! The multi-national's chairman then said that "the seizure was tantamount to expropriation and that's where the matter stands now."
We quoted this example, one of many, because it went further than the nationalization law permitted. But it also illustrates that in Portugal there is now and has been for some time a growing tendency toward occupation of the plants and large landed estates to the extent that it can be said that there is a limited degree of workers' control of industry which has the potential of expanding to full control. Undoubtedly, this spells out a vital characteristic of a revolutionary situation. What is happening is much more symptomatic than merely an individual plant being seized here or there for a specific purpose and a limited period of time, after which the workers return to work and the bosses are in unquestioned control and authority as before.
The recent seizure of a Lisbon radio station belonging to the Roman Catholic Church is another illuminating example. This has received widespread publicity only because the radio station belonged to the church.
The seizure of Republica by the printers and other employees is merely part and parcel of the general trend of seizures and occupations by the workers. The capitalist press, however, would have us believe that it is really a conspiracy of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) to obliterate freedom of the press in Portugal by singling out the Socialist organ for suspension.
It must be understood that the CP leadership did not, out of a clear blue sky, decide to pounce upon the SP organ, particularly after the SP had received a vote 2-1/2 times that of the CP. If that had been the case, it would have been completely self-defeating and a howling blunder. The fact of the matter is that the CP, according to the Daily World here, has "the grand total of five members" in the entire establishment, although its influence unquestionably goes beyond that.
But does the CP or the military have the right, ipso facto, to try to seize the paper and oust the management?
Under ordinary circumstances the answer would be no. But the situation in Portugal is by no means ordinary. It is in the throes of a revolutionary situation. The workers everywhere are trying to take the reins into their own hand and are forcing management, as with the Otis Elevator Company, to "obey the instructions of the workers committees."
The Republica seizure was started by the workers. According to the New York Times of May 27, when Commander Jorge Correia Jesuino, the Minister of Information, went to Republica the night the printers occupied it, he berated them sharply.
"The Republica belongs to its shareholders," he told them. "These are represented by the management which has the legal right to run the paper. I repeat, the newspaper has the right to publish any kind of information it chooses. Nor do I think it is as one-sided as you gentlemen insist. If any of you disagree with its policies you should work somewhere else. I only wish there were more newspapers like it."
As the reader can see, this is exactly how an indignant boss addresses militant, recalcitrant workers. The workers stood pat. And at this writing, although the government, through the AFM, has been forced to intercede more than once, the workers have not allowed the management to take over again.
Of course, the CP is most anxious to undercut the SP and is vitally concerned in the struggle. But it did not initiate it. It has become an issue in spite of the CP and is due wholly to the momentum of the nationwide struggle and the temper of the moment, which is one of intense revolutionary struggle. Of course, the CP plays an enormous role in the struggle, while at the same time it has frequently tried to restrain and limit the workers' struggle.
One may ask does this nevertheless still justify the takeover of a paper that stands for socialism and represents large sections of the workers?
SP ON THE WORKERS' DICTATORSHIP
Mario Soares, the leader of the SP, summed up most superbly what the SP leadership at this time fundamentally stands for. While the AFM leadership was debating the issue, he was asked what he thought of the communique which was finally issued on June 22.
"Today," he said, "there is more hope for parliamentary democracy than yesterday." Why is he "more hopeful"? The Christian Science Monitor and the Times quoted his answer (June 23 and June 22, respectively). "Because the document was very explicit in rejecting the dictatorship of the proletariat and people's democracy for Portugal."
There you have it in a nutshell. It sums up the program of the Portuguese SP and Mario Soares its leader, superbly: to obstruct the path to a proletarian dictatorship in Portugal. Now, one may say that Soares was merely rejecting that form of a proletarian dictatorship as practiced in Eastern Europe. But that is not so. He is happy that the junta is rejecting the very concept of a proletarian dictatorship. (Of course it sounds fantastic that a bourgeois junta would even entertain such a concept.) What he is really alluding to are radical elements in the AFM, some of whom are to the left of the CP and really do espouse the dictatorship of the proletariat.
But the dictatorship of the proletariat is precisely the emerging issue in the Portuguese Revolution today. There can be no socialism without a transitional phase of proletarian dictatorship as a first stage in the development toward a socialist society. All talk of a classless society without a proletarian dictatorship is nonsense.
DIFFERENT FORMS TODAY
It would be one thing if Soares rejected a particular form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The dictatorship of the proletariat can take on many forms. The Paris Commune was one form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. In Lenin's time the Soviet state presented another form, modeled after the Paris Commune to a large extent. It took on an extremely onerous and repressive form during Stalin's period, and still is repressive today, but less so.
Another form of the dictatorship of the proletariat took place in Cuba, and still another in Vietnam. And, of course, there is the form of the proletarian dictatorship which has taken deep root in China. The models of Eastern Europe, because of the fact that the old capitalist regimes were basically overthrown by the Soviet Red Army, are not the best models by any means, but their class content is nevertheless that of the dictatorship of the proletariat although in a very distorted form.
Nevertheless, no matter how varied the forms taken by the dictatorship of the proletariat, with some more democratic than others they are nonetheless dictatorships of the class of the workers and are a hundred times superior to the best, most popular, most democratic dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Mario Soares rejects the dictatorship of the Portuguese proletariat under the guise of rejecting a particular form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. He has thus revealed himself to be for the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. There is no middle ground. Under such circumstances, he, as leader of his party, and the paper which espouses his line are counter-revolutionary. Rejecting the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat at the very time when the Portuguese proletariat is emerging in struggle to exercise and elevate itself to be the ruling class is treacherous.
Those who are sincerely concerned with the fate of the Portuguese proletariat should not shed tears over the seizure of Republica by the workers, even if it was done under the leadership of the Portuguese Communist Party. The bourgeoisie has mobilized world public opinion and international finance capital has made it a principal issue in a united, unrestrained assault against the Portuguese working class under the guise of defending freedom of the press. In reality the real issue is the deprivation of the right of the workers to seize the means of production, transportation, and communication.
It is one thing to criticize the bourgeois character of the AFM top command or to refuse to give it the unqualified endorsement to rule over the workers that the CP does. It is another thing entirely to fall prey to bourgeois propaganda under the guise of "freedom of the press," which is aimed at destroying the progress of the Portuguese Revolution.
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