As in all unfinished revolutions,
Can the Azevedo government rule?

The quasi-coup in Portugal

By Sam Marcy

September 30, 1975

The Azevedo government in Portugal, formed September 19, has now been in power 12 days. In normal times of slow, gradual, so-called peaceful capitalist development, 12 days is very brief, a fleeting moment in history.

However, 12 days in a period of tremendous revolutionary upsurge in a period truly characterized by an historic crisis of the social system, is the equivalent of 12 months, perhaps even 12 years!

For in these few days are compressed the experiences of many months and years. All the great Marxists, beginning with Marx himself, have attested to the correctness of this historical generalization.

The Azevedo government has been in power only 12 days, but in these 12 days, Vice Admiral Azevedo, who is the premier and also the acting president while General Costa Gomes is conveniently out of the country has by his deeds thoroughly exposed himself and his government as implacable enemies of the working class and of the revolution.


He has ordered troops to disperse the revolutionary demonstration against the hated Spanish regime, he has disrupted by force of arms the demonstration of wounded veterans, and finally he has tried, also by military force, to muzzle the press which he promised to keep free. None of this should really have come as a surprise to any of the advanced elements in the working class movement of Portugal at this late date.

The ascendancy of the Azevedo-Antunes-Vitor Alves military grouping is the nearest thing to a cold counter-revolutionary takeover. In one sense it may be properly characterized as a quasi-coup. However, in the context of the present political situation in Portugal, it can only be a shaky transitional regime like its predecessors. It has the unanimous support of the world bourgeoisie in Europe and America, but as the capitalist press makes crystal clear, it is uncertain whether the Azevedo government can exert any authority over the masses or over the rank and file of the armed forces.


Witness what happened the other day, when even the distorted press accounts in this country showed that the troops Azevedo sent to take over the press and radio networks fraternized instead, at least to a large measure, with the workers -- the printers and editorial staffs and broadcasters. The troops were in flagrant and in open disobedience of Azevedo's orders. It was his first true test, which fortunately he has failed.

It was for this reason that the bourgeois press has given the Azevedo regime only qualified support. Unquestionably the U.S. and its imperialist allies in Europe are still searching around for a firm and thoroughgoing counter-revolutionary grouping from the military, with or without Spinola, which can, in their reckoning, deliver the coup de grace to the Portuguese working class and the revolution. Azevedo and Co., may not be able to do this.

But as of now, the installation of this new coalition government merely reflects the shift to the right that has taken place in the officer corps of the armed forces and in the higher councils of the AFM (Armed Forces Movement). This is not to be confused with the rank and file of the enlisted men. As early as September 16 an article in the Chicago Daily News, one of many in the world capitalist press about the Portuguese army, flatly stated that the "army -- as a military structure -- simply does not exist. What you have now is a coalition of individual units, some of them less bad [translated: less revolutionary -- SM] than others. If the revolution has failed to establish democracy in Portugal," the writer says, "it has created a good bit of it in the army. There are almost countless accounts of units refusing to obey orders or to accept some officer or other as their commander."

Isn't the refusal of the units Azevedo ordered to suppress the radio network and the press the most eloquent testimony to the sharp division between the rightist military camarilla and the rank-and-file soldiers?

All this proves that the successive provisional governments, the shuffling and reshuffling on the top by the military hierarchy, does not reflect what is happening below, either among the soldiers or among the workers and the oppressed.

The quasi-coup engineered by the Antunes military forces is a development on top and has its origins in the severe and unremitting external pressures from world imperialism, particularly the U.S. and in the inability of successive coalition governments to in any way solve the acute economic problems, or resolve the sharpening class struggle raging throughout the country.

The most important point to emerge during the 12-day period in which the Azevedo government has been in power is that in spite of the fact that there has been a quasi-takeover, it has in no way been able to substantially modify the correlation of class forces in the country. The shift to the right has been confined to the ruling class circles only. There is not a scintilla of evidence to indicate that the decisive class forces of the oppressed of the workers of the poor and landless peasants, and of the impoverished petty bourgeoisie have in any way been affected by the shift to the right on top.

The decisive working class forces are basically intact as of now. The PCP (Portuguese Communist Party) as well as other working class organizations have retained all of their cadres, or most of them. There has been no diminution of working class strength in the large industrial centers. There may have been shifts politically from the PCP to other more revolutionary, working class organizations or to so-called Maoist groups. But there has been no shift to the right of measurable significance.


The fact of the matter is that there has been, thus far, no real test of strength, there has been no struggle of a decisive character. The class struggle of the workers, poor peasants, and oppressed sections of the petty bourgeoisie may have been muffled to a degree, confused, but there has been, no mass shift to the right. Even the bourgeois press with all its lies and distortions has steered clear of making such a generalization.

The basic question which the working class parties face particularly the PCP is on their attitude to the Azevedo government.

It seems that the most elementary of all elementary questions for a Marxist-Leninist, working class party to face up to, the day after the formation of the Azevedo government, is to define for itself and for the working class the class character of the new provisional regime.

Just what is the class character of the Azevedo government? On this question should hinge whether or not any working class party should support it. Let us forget (but only for the moment) about the previous five governments since the overthrow of the Salazar-Caetano fascist regime. Let's not argue whether the Spinola regime or the others that succeeded him were bourgeois governments or not. Let us just concentrate on the question of today's government.

What is its class character? Is it a bourgeois government or not? If so, then support for it, such as the Portuguese CP is now giving in a backhanded way, is utterly opportunist, self-defeating, and destructive of working class interests and the revolution.

On the one hand, the PCP says it will carry on a struggle against reaction, against all who try to turn back the gains of the revolution, and that it will struggle for socialism. On the other hand it has taken a post in the cabinet. Oh, no, not officially. Its cabinet minister will only act as an individual ... and so on and so forth.


It was precisely by pursuing such a course that the Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution would have surely ruined all the hopes of the workers, had not the Bolsheviks posed a revolutionary alternative. The Mensheviks, the compromisers, wanted to be in the bourgeois cabinet and at the same time, like the Portuguese CP, wanted to build and maintain the Soviets. The PCP too is trying to build popular assemblies, neighborhood committees, commissions, in other words a true working class parliament outside of the framework of the bourgeois state.

But the PCP is also saying, just like the compromisers of 1917 were saying, that yes, we want to be in the bourgeois government together with the ten capitalist ministers, while we also want to retain a foot in the Soviets. The Bolsheviks, however, resolutely denounced such evasion, equivocation, and double dealing or any attempt to have their representative in the cabinet of either Kerensky or his predecessor. They knew this invariably meant acting as a left cover for the capitalist government while it prepared to deliver a counter-revolutionary blow against the workers. They knew too that it also meant reducing the popular assemblies to mere appendages of the bourgeois government -- which, in Portugal's case, means appendages of a military camarilla. They were solidly for the Soviets and for a complete break with the bourgeois government.

This is precisely what Cunhal and the PCP must face up to, as must other working class organizations. It is the only hope for a genuine socialist transformation in Portugal. It is the only way to guarantee the victory of the proletarian revolution.

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