Portugal: class war in the barracks

By Sam Marcy

October 7, 1975

At last, at last, the class struggle has broken out in Portugal in the most sensitive and most decisive area of bourgeois society -- the military establishment. With almost lightning speed, the rank-and-file soldiers in Portugal are asserting themselves against the officer corps. The demand for what is now called in the armed forces "internal democracy" is sweeping all the military garrisons and bases in the country -- north and south.

The New York Times of October 4 ruefully admits that the military rank and file are demanding and exercising the right "to discuss and determine every military decision" and this "has been asserted in all the country's major regions during the last 24 hours." A truly stupendous development! It's a real breakthrough for the revolution. It opens wide the gates to a working class transformation of Portuguese society.


As almost always in previous revolutions, it was the whip of the counter-revolution that urged the revolution forward in Portugal. It was the ill-fated moves to assert the authority of the Sixth Provisional Government, headed by Admiral Azevedo, which provoked the revolutionary storm among the rank-and-file soldiers.

When he sent military units to take over the Lisbon radio stations, the soldiers refused to dislodge the workers on the staffs and editorial boards and instead fraternized with them.

This sent a revolutionary tremor throughout the entire military establishment. It was the first open break with the military hierarchy.

The ferment of the rank and file is not confined to the Lisbon area alone, as the capitalist press claimed earlier when it railed against a "small minority" in some units on the outskirts of Lisbon. It is true, of course, that the Ralis light artillery regiment is on the outskirts of Lisbon and it is the Ralis regiment that set up the big anti-tank guns and mounted soldiers with automatic rifles right outside its barracks on October 5. Of course, this was occasioned by a deliberate fabrication by Socialist Party leaders that extreme left-wing elements and Communists were plotting a coup. In reality, it was the SP leaders and the right-wing military camarilla in the government who were seeking to dissolve the revolutionary military units.


The "military dissidence," as the New York Times calls it, is deep and widespread. It has struck fear into the hearts of the Antunes Azevedo-Gomes government Now the government is even more worried about the flow of arms into civilian working-class hands, handed out by friendly units in the armed forces. Virtually thousands of guns, particularly G machine guns plus ammunition, have been distributed by the soldiers to the workers.

The demand by the rank-and-file troops for the right to virtually make their own military decisions has split the military along class lines. Of course, not all the soldiers, sailors, and marines have moved over to the left -- to the revolutionary, working class side. Nor has every military commander moved over to the right. But on the whole, the so-called "military dissidence" has opened wide a class struggle in the barracks which was previously muffled.


As far as appearances went, the military was seen as a paragon of unity. Military commanders and rank and file were one, and the Armed Forces Movement (AFM) was its organized political expression. The AFM was passed off as virtually a non-class or supra-class social phenomenon.

This was never really true. And the ascendancy of the Antunes Azevedo-Gomes military clique tore the mask of false unity off the face of the governing officer corps, which had utilized the AFM as a screen until they were able to discard it.

The awakening of the rank-and-file soldiers and the inability of the Azevedo government to enforce its orders have exposed it as being isolated from the popular masses, who regard the government as their class enemy. Such is the revolutionary ferment among the troops that, no less than President Gomes himself is forced to use the language of the class struggle in order to try to foist upon the soldiers the reactionary discipline of his military clique. But to no avail.

Only 2 weeks ago, the Azevedo government seemed to have the country in its hands. Today, it appears shorn of authority indecisive and incapable of enforcing its authority Most of all it is fearful of the wrath of the masses.


It is precisely at such a time of a confluence of auspicious circumstances for a working class seizure of power that the traditional parties of the working class are showing more clearly than ever their reluctance to cut the umbilical cord which binds them to the capitalist government.

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) still holds a cabinet post in the Azevedo government. It matters not that it is only one cabinet minister sitting unofficially or that the PCP puts up a struggle here and there against the Azevedo government, The main thing is that it continues to support the government precisely at a time when it is most urgent to cut its ties with it completely and throw in its lot with the masses.

General Otelo Carvalho too, although shorn of some military authority, proclaims that he is for the revolution and the masses -- but nevertheless says he still supports the Sixth Provisional Government.

"Make a class choice, Otelo," shouted the masses to him at a demonstration last week. But Otelo to this day is still part and parcel of the provisional government. Some of the Maoists, too, such as the PCP (Marxist-Leninist), support Antunes and hence the Sixth Provisional Government.

In these decisive days, there is only one over-riding issue -- are you for or against the provisional government? Support for the provisional government, no matter how qualified, no matter how tenuous, aids and abets the cause of the bourgeoisie and helps wittingly or unwittingly , consciously or unconsciously, bring about the fascist coup Washington and its imperialist allies are plotting.

Time, however, is the essence of the matter. Only a few weeks ago when the counter-revolution seemed to be growing by leaps and bounds with the burnings, wreckings, and wanton destruction of the PCP headquarters, some hand-picked units selected by the military camarilla seemed to standby while mercenaries of the counter-revolution did their wrecking and burning.

Now the situation has radically changed. It is clear that the soldiers, sailors, and marines are not the easy minions of the right-wing military that the ruling class press thought they would be. The situation cries out for a drastic re-alliance of working class forces to reach out to the soldiers and make a wide, united class front to overthrow the reactionary landlord and monopolist servants of imperialism and bring about the socialist transformation of Portugal.


In one of his last introductions to The Civil War in France, Engels said something about the Proudhonists and the Blanquists which is apropos to present-day Portugal. In the interests of the revolution and of the Commune, said Engels, the Proudhonists abandoned the dogma of "free association" and an antipathy to all centralism. The Blanquists, on the other hand, were forced by the course of events to abandon their total reliance on conspiratorial methods and were obliged to take into account the role of the masses in the struggle for the revolution.

In like fashion, it is time for the PCP to abandon its class collaborationist policy, as it is time for the Maoists to junk their social-fascism and false "superpower" theory. But these dogmas are no less of an ideological obstruction to the victory of the revolution than were Proudhonism and Blanquism during the Paris Commune.

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