Analysis of roles of Gomes, Carvalho

As the crisis in Portugal continues

By Sam Marcy

Aug. 27, 1975

The cause of the Portuguese revolution seems to be drifting from day to day without a rudder. But this is due in large measure to the great reliance that has been placed on the outcome of the split in the military. This, in turn, has made President Costa Gomes appear to carry a great deal more social, political, and military weight than is actually the case.

At the present time he is playing the role of arbiter, not merely between the military groupings but between revolution and counterrevolution historically an utterly untenable position.

It is scarcely possible at this late date for him to assume a Bonapartist role, as the New York Times of August 27 in its news dispatch seems to indicate might happen when it mentions the possibility of the President "taking over also as Premier."


A Bonapartist, in bourgeois society, can assume the position of straddling the classes or military factions only if he can afford to be independent of them on the basis of having his own independent military or police force. That at the moment does not appear to be at all the case. What has given Costa Gomes his preeminent position is the preponderant reliance that the left has accorded him. In an interview with syndicated columnists Evans and Novak, Costa Gomes was quoted as saying that the burning, sacking, and wanton destruction of Communist Party headquarters "was the work of small groups" that were "organized from the outside." He further stated that he "could arrest all these groups and imprison them" and the "Portuguese people would be educated" accordingly by this action.

This statement should come as a big surprise, both in Portugal and abroad, for in all these many weeks in which the counter-revolutionary mobs have been attacking the CP headquarters, the President has been demonstratively passive if not altogether silent.

At any rate, this statement seemed to put Costa Gomes once again on a tack to the left. But it did not take long for the President to veer right back again with another of his deliberately ambiguous statements regarding the replacement of Premier Goncalves.

It was followed on the weekend by more confusing statements. One of them, however, seemed to clearly indicate that Prime Minister Goncalves should remain in power until the present crisis is resolved. But this again was suspended or withdrawn from circulation, whichever way one wishes to interpret Gomes' statements.

But the fact that Costa Gomes has not yielded to the ultimatums which have been delivered more openly and more insolently from day to day by the right-wing military camarilla, headed by Melo Antunes, indicates that Costa Gomes is fearful of taking the plunge to the right.

This, however, is not at all due to any newfound sympathy for the cause of the revolution, socialism, or elementary democratic rights. It must not be forgotten that Costa Gomes was the former chief of staff under the Caetano regime. If he has not moved to the right where his sympathies really lie, it can only be accounted for by objective developments which compel him to stay, at least for now, where he is.


One of the most important factors which Costa Gomes has had to reckon with has been the apparent collapse of the bloc between the Antunes right-wing and chief of the security forces Carvalho. This bloc between the right and what has been described as the extreme left was an utterly unprincipled one from the point of view of working class politics and foolish and adventuristic in the extreme on the part of Carvalho. The fact that the bloc seems to have collapsed is in all probability due to the realization on the part of Carvalho that the right-wing was using him as a left cover for what would have surely been a right-wing coup. And he would have ended up as a captive within it.

If one disregards his political program, the bloc with the right could only be understood as an attempt at naked military power politics, in which case, Carvalho could not have played the lead role anyway. Given the vicissitudes of bourgeois military politics, however, repeated maneuvers of this kind cannot be ruled out for the future.

It should be noted that the bloc collapsed after the marines, originally under the jurisdiction of Copcon and therefore under Carvalho's command, had been shifted away from him, according to the Christian Science Monitor of August 26 back to their pro-Goncalves commanders. How and by what means this was accomplished is not known but it has been accepted as an accomplished fact.

Still within the framework of military politics, Goncalves received the backing of what the bourgeois press calls "a sergeants' group," but which is more properly called the non-commissioned officers' council of the Armed Forces Movement (AFM). They could be a lot more significant in the impending struggle than some of the generals and admirals, who may find themselves, once the struggle breaks out, without any support of the rank-and-file.


The imperialist press here now admits, in the words of the Christian Science Monitor (Aug. 26), "It is a mistake to think that General Vasco Goncalves is isolated. He has the backing of the navy, the marines, and many of the rank and file in the army and enough of the air force to neutralize the other moderate half."

That certainly makes his strength far more impressive than the capitalist media have led the American public to believe.

Two important and seemingly contradictory moves made this Monday have just appeared in the press. Acting in his role as arbiter, Costa Gomes apparently approved the reinstatement of General Carvalho as commander of Portugal's northern military region. Carvalho had been dismissed because of right-wing pressure, and would presumably take a much tougher stand against the right-wing attacks.

At the same time, however, the Revolutionary Council of the Armed Forces Movement decided to suspend the activities of the Fifth Division of the General Staff. This is an ambiguous but potentially very dangerous move. The Fifth Division in charge of internal propaganda and the "dynamization" campaign, had been under the command of a navy officer generally considered pro-Goncalves. This could turn out to be a far more significant move than the reinstatement of Carvalho.

The fact that Copcon security forces under General Carvalho's command have been ordered to guard the headquarters of the Fifth Division is even more ominous.

However, all of this is in the framework of military politics, where the class struggle can only be refracted in a distorted way. The true test of class forces, of course, will only come in the course of the impending struggle.


All the more welcome is the announcement that eight working class political organizations in Portugal have formed a United Front Against Reaction. These include with the CP organizations far to its left who have maintained a position for armed defense of the revolution as well as for workers' councils or popular assemblies. Indeed, this is the most significant development and should far outweigh the military maneuvering at the top. It lays the basis for a class alliance against the bourgeoisie, the landlords, and the capitalists.

(Workers World has so far been able to find out the names of six of the groups in the United Front. They are: the Communist Party (CP), the Portuguese Democratic Movement (MPD), the Movement of the Socialist Left (MES), the Popular Socialist Front (FSP), the Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat (PRP) and the International Communist League (LCI).)

This has struck terror into the heart of Mario Soares who characterized the united front as "an unnatural alliance of the insurrectional type." No not at all unnatural. From a class point of view, the alliance of the PCP with these revolutionary organizations ought to be quite natural, that is, proper from the point of view of organizations which may have fundamental differences among themselves but are united in the struggle against the counterrevolution. Were Mario Soares responsive merely to the very name of his organization -- socialist -- he should be in this alliance instead of in the embrace of reactionary forces he thinks he is leading but who in reality are leading him.

As in all unfinished revolutions, the question of legitimacy, of legality, assumes dimensions which nowhere correspond to reality. Costa Gomes was accorded the symbol of the legitimacy of the revolution when he became President following the defeat of the Spinola coup.

But the only real legitimacy in a revolutionary situation is the authoritative intervention of the broad mass of the workers and peasants. However, their organs of power have only begun to be formed. They alone can validate or legitimate the representatives of the new regime. That is why the recently formed United Front is a genuinely hopeful sign in that direction.

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