Right-wing offensive grips northern Portugal

Power of workers yet to be felt

By Sam Marcy

Aug. 12, 1975

The specter of fascist counter-revolution hangs over Portugal. In the North right-wing and fascist lynch mobs have been burning, sacking, and destroying Portuguese CP (Communist Party) and PDM (Portuguese Democratic Movement) headquarters in more than 40 towns. All this has been instigated and carefully orchestrated by the Portuguese bourgeoisie in the service of the U.S. and Western imperialism.

In the North the struggle has all the elements of an incipient civil war. Everywhere there the PCP is fighting with its back to the wall, as are the PDM and all other progressive working class organizations.

The soldiers sent out to defend these working class organizations have, in the main, sided with the fascist lynch mobs. In reality, they have put up only a pretense of defense to make the public record. There are some exceptions, of course, but the conclusion cannot be drawn from this that they represent the sentiment of the rank-and-file soldiers or of the progressive officers in the AFM as a whole.


The soldiers in the North are, by and large, under the command of regional officers who in any case would be counted for the most part with the counter-revolution. By striking in the North first,' the counter-revolution has put forward its strongest foot. It is in that area that the CP and all other working class organizations had only a very thin layer of the rural population, mostly the poor, and some following in the urban areas among the industrial workers.

The PCP has, so far as the rural areas in general go, claimed only 1 percent of the peasantry in its ranks as of its last convention. It appreciably raised its standing with the landless peasants following the wave of land seizures, mostly from absentee landlords. The PCP supported these and on that basis broadened its support among the peasants, but mostly in the South.

If one were to judge the outcome of the impending struggle in Portugal by press reports in this country, particularly by the capitalist electronic media success for the counter-revolution would already be in the bag. It is noteworthy that the burning, sacking, and wanton destruction of working class party headquarters has evoked not a scintilla of sympathy or protest from precisely those bourgeois liberals who were so enraged at the closing by the workers of Republica, the SP newspaper, which incidentally was privately owned.

The last word in the struggle has, however, by no means been said. The broadest section of the working class, particularly in the great industrial areas, and the most advanced and class conscious element of it, has not yet been heard from. It is very true that the PCP, PDM, Intersyndical (the Portuguese Trade Union Federation), and all other working class groups and political organizations are on the defensive. But the struggle has not even begun in the South as yet. The bourgeoisie is banking everything, at least for the moment, on a right-wing military coup -- but not in the accepted sense of the word. It is counting on the so-called moderates in the military to come out on top in what has been a developing wide-open split.


Specifically, the bourgeoisie is counting on the nine so-called dissidents or moderates, a euphemism for right-wing bourgeois, in the military who have been suspended by the High Council of the Revolution. Among their leaders are former Foreign Minister Melo Antunes. It was he who urged the dispatching of some 28,000 troops to Angola for the dubious purpose of "defending lives and property" and he also favored UN intervention, without consulting the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, of course. The other eight are well known rightists who, while they favored the ouster of the Salazar-Caetano regime, have by no means ever favored a revolutionary transformation of Portugal.

Bourgeois speculation is rife and may be well founded that Costa Gomes, the President, and Carvalho, the Security Chief, are either wavering or favor throwing in their lot with the rightist faction. (see Workers World of July 18, 1975.). The military maneuvering at the top may change from day to day or from hour to hour, but the outcome will, in the final analysis, be decided not by them alone but by the broad struggle of the masses.

Is there any reason to believe that such a struggle is possible at this late date?

One must take into account the historical evolution of the present regime and who really saved it on the occasion, for instance, of September 1974 when Spinola launched his attempted coup with his Mussolini-type projected march on Lisbon. It is instructive to examine the basic reason for Spinola's defeat.


In an interview given on August 1 and printed in the English edition of Le Monde of August 9, Spinola explained why his attempted coup failed. He was asked, "Was the intervention of the people's militia against a demonstration in your support really enough to make you resign?"

Answer: "I summoned the chief of the armed forces general staff, Gen. Costa Gomes; Prime Minister Vasco Goncalves; and the deputy commander of Copcon, General Otelo de Carvalho, ordered them to take all the necessary measures to remove the barricades that were blocking the entrances to Lisbon and to disperse militia that had been illegally formed."

We see in Spinola's own words a frank admission (and confirmation of our earlier writings) on the existence of the (people's) militia -- his own word -- and that he had ordered the militia dispersed. "The Prime Minister (Goncalves) issued a communique along those lines. It was read over the national radio by the minister of social communications. General Costa Gomes took full responsibility for putting this decision into force . ... I was therefore very surprised to learn that the soldiers who had been sent to remove the barricades were fraternizing with the people's militia."

Those soldiers fraternizing with the people's militia are still in the Lisbon area and in the South generally. But of far greater significance even than the soldiers fraternizing with the people's militia is the very existence of the people's militia (again, Spinola's own words). It is still there. It has not been dissolved. It has not vanished into thin air. It is highly doubtful that it has become subject to demoralization, although there is plenty of confusion. The greater likelihood is that those who participated in the militia last September have become more galvanized, more ready for struggle. Even beyond that, the AFM has validated the organization of what, for lack of a more formal name, may be called community organizations, neighborhood committees, popular assemblies -- in a word, organizations of the workers and the popular masses generally.

This is what really will decide the outcome of the struggle. This is what is decisive. The rank-and-file soldiers will again fraternize with the popular militia. The military officer corps as a whole, however, is as constituted today a bourgeois institution, as we have pointed out time and again. The CP leadership has apparently banked everything on its alliance with the AFM. At the present time it is on the horns of a real dilemma -- and in an acutely contradictory position. It can no longer fully support the AFM in the light of the open split within it and the emergence of a right wing -- outspokenly anti-CP, and potentially fascist and counter-revolutionary.

On the other hand, the CP cannot easily break away. Procrastination, however, in organizing an independent working class defense of the revolution can only lead to an ignominious and decisive historic defeat of the dimensions of the Spanish or Chilean tragedies.


Unquestionably, the CIA has made deep inroads into the AFM. Moreover, as is shown elsewhere in this issue of WW, the CIA is financing practically all the opposition parties against the CP, including, of course, the SP. The incipient counter-revolutionary war against the CP and all working class organizations unleashed in the North has of course been instigated by the CIA.

(Of course, other branches of the U.S. imperialist state are doubtless involved. There is no principled difference between the CIA and other arms of the capitalist state's repressive apparatus. And even when they are supposedly under investigation or undergoing a change of personnel, even at the top, this is merely regarded as "continuing to do business during alterations.")

But it would be a howling blunder and a caricature of Marxist sociology to believe that the CIA alone can conjure up a broad counter-revolution in the historical context of the given situation. No, it is not the CIA alone. It is also the eagerness of the possessing classes (or rather those who have already been dispossessed and forced into exile and who are anxious for a restoration of the status quo ante).

Even more important is the international factor. The entire West European bourgeoisie is solidly opposed to the current regime precisely because it is recognized that the impending events will either bring about a proletarian revolutions genuine socialist transformation -- or a fascist dictatorship. They have therefore made their choice in accordance with their class interests -- and have chosen the latter. This explains why Soares' "comrades" in the Common Market, "comrades" Prime Minister Wilson, Schmidt, Mitterand, etc. have refused financial aid to the Portuguese regime now and have made the existence of a "democratic regime" a condition for any aid -- a condition which could only be fulfilled for a brief transitory period and would be only a precursor for a fascist dictatorship.

But it is precisely the existence of these two polar opposite alternatives, fascism or a workers' state, which makes support for the latter by all truly progressive and democratic forces so urgent.

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