Portugal: There is still time

By Sam Marcy

Dec. 2, 1975

There is no longer any doubt about it.

The Portuguese working class, in particular the revolutionary vanguard elements have suffered a very heavy defeat. The essential question now is whether the defeat is of such dimensions as to be decisive.

A decisive defeat is that kind of crushing blow against the working class that took place in Germany and brought Hitler to power. Like the fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War, it means the uncontested rule of the most reactionary forces for many years to come. Such a defeat was suffered in Indonesia in 1965 and led to the decimation of the progressive forces -- from which the revolutionary elements are only now beginning to revive.

And most recent and vivid was the tragic and brutal counterrevolution by the rightist military in Chile. All these were decisive, historic defeats for the workers' movement.

A decisive defeat is one after which it is absolutely impossible for the working class to achieve a swift recovery and go on to take the revolutionary offensive. It usually takes many years for the movement to recover. Even in the case of Chile, where the objective conditions -- utterly unbelievable inflation and extreme deterioration in living conditions -- are the most favorable for revolutionary agitation and propaganda and where the regime is weakened by lack of any strong social base of support and must completely rely on U.S. imperialism, even there a recovery is slow.


Certainly the reactionary onslaught by the Costa Gomes-Azevedo military camarilla goes far deeper than a mere "military purge," which is how the Daily World, newspaper of the CP-USA, has characterized it.

But has the offensive by the rightist Portuguese military reached the same proportions as the decisive struggles in Germany, Spain, Indonesia, and Chile?

As of today, the answer is no.

However, it unquestionably has the potential for turning into a full-scale fascist military takeover, with the aim of annihilating all the working class organizations and reducing the workers' movement to complete subjection.

At the moment the Gomes-Azevedo regime has been unable to unleash a full-scale terrorist offensive against all working class organizations and impose a fascist totalitarian solution on the Portuguese people. The central question at the moment is whether the working class organizations can in sufficient time reorient themselves, regroup, and refashion the united front which they reached in late August and which for a brief period showed considerable promise.


That united front -- often called the Unitary Front -- was composed of the Communist Party, the Portuguese Democratic Movement (which is closely allied with the CP), and six other organizations which have generally been known as the extreme left. These are: the League of Revolutionary Unity and Action (LUAR), the Popular Socialist Front (FSP), the International Communist League (LCI), the Proletarian Revolutionary Party (PRP), the Left Socialist Movement (MES), and the May 1st Group.

It will be remembered that a part of the agreement for the Unitary Front was to support Premier Goncalves, who at that time had not yet been forced to resign. That, however, was not the main point about the front.

The main point, regardless of the wording of the agreement, was that the CP had joined with revolutionary elements in a common front to combat the reaction. Unquestionably there was disagreement on just how to combat the reaction, but at least there was a get-together of the basic working class organizations which could, on the basis of the then existing conditions, forge the beginning of a mighty working class united front. This in and of itself was a considerable achievement in the light of the sharp political disagreements and disarray of the working class movement.

Mario Soares of the SP is quoted in the December 1 New York Times as saying, "The failure of last week's rebellion is a major defeat for Alvaro Cunhal and the Communist Party's hard line which aimed to repeat the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia."

Unfortunately, it is not true that the Communist Party aimed at repeating the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Portugal. Had this been the case, the Revolution would not be in the sad state that it is today.


There is nonetheless a grain of truth in that the CP had begun belatedly to retreat from its complete and disastrous reliance upon the military. There might have been some reason for the CP to block with the military, and in particular with the progressive officers, in the very early stages during and immediately after the April 1974 coup. But its abject submission to them long after it became obvious that the military had become a drag on the Revolution and an instrument for maintaining bourgeois rule and domination of the working class, led to a slow but steady decline of CP influence in the ranks of the working class and progressive movement.

This was clearly and most visibly illustrated by the energetic anti-strike campaign of the CP among the workers and constant exhortations to them to maintain and increase production.

Now, it would be one thing if the CP had said, "Let the workers take the factories, and the peasants the land, and expropriate the landlords and the bourgeoisie," and on that basis with these prior conditions, urged the workers to increase production and not engage in strikes that would disrupt the organization of production. That would have been another matter.

But to ask the workers to abstain from the struggle while the bourgeoisie is still in command of the land and factories is an altogether different matter.

This certainly was not a repeat of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. It is the very opposite and in part explains why a party which had earned tremendous prestige among the masses over the long and difficult period of fascism dissipated its basic capital -- on the altar of class collaboration.


Be that as it may, when the bourgeois reaction raised its ugly head last summer with the burning ransacking and wanton destruction of CP headquarters all across the North, it did appear that the CP might be orienting in a revolutionary direction Cunhal himself had on a number of occasions particularly in his interview with Oriana Fallaci the Italian journalist, said (and did not repudiate) that he was opposed to a "Western-style bourgeois democracy." By inference he favored a proletarian dictatorship with the CP, of course, as the vanguard party, in a coalition which would effectuate a revolutionary socialist transformation. Now, of course, he didn't say that in so many words.

Nevertheless, the subsequent formation of the Unitary Front to which the CP was a party lent credence to the possibility that the CP was orienting in a revolutionary direction.

There were two hitches to this development. In the first place, the CP made it clear that it would not leave the Azevedo government. Second, it either broke away from the Unitary Front for that reason or was ousted from it, it is not absolutely clear to this day just how the break came about, so far as available material here goes.

The key point as far as revolutionary Marxist strategy goes was the failure of the CP to break with the Azevedo government and withdraw its minister from the cabinet. It can be claimed that the minister was in the cabinet solely for the purpose of serving as a lookout, and keeping the Azevedo government in a state of confusion and imbalance. This interpretation, however, would give the CP an enormous amount of revolutionary credit which, on the basis of its objective politics, it does not merit.


By agreeing to take a cabinet post in the reactionary bourgeois Azevedo government, the CP had in reality hoisted a flag on which it was written, "We are opposed to a proletarian insurrection. We are opposed to the seizure of power. We will continue a course of zigzagging and trying to work through existing bourgeois institutions."

It follows from this that the CP did not encourage, let alone plan, any rebellion.

The CP, however, was vigorously attacking the Azevedo government but in a purely defensive manner not calculated to retaliate, in case of need, with revolutionary working class force. (Of course it may also be questioned whether at this late date the CP had or believed it had the necessary wherewithal to strike at the Azevedo government.)

It was inevitable under the circumstances, given the fact that class warfare had broken out in the barracks that the on Costa Gomes-Azevedo forces could plan a timely assault using this or that revolutionary initiative by the soldiers as a pretext for unleashing a counter-revolutionary assault.

It is quite obvious, even from the sketchy reports received thus far, that there was "no coordination, no liaison and no plan of action" which involved the leadership of the CP as the Daily World of December 2 states.

The blow fell most heavily on the revolutionary elements in the armed forces and to a more limited extent on the revolutionary organizations which now compose the Revolutionary United Front (FUR). The CP has, of course, disassociated itself from any responsibility for the events which the rightist military calls a rebellion.

It now seems that the CP will steer a course (assuming it is permitted to legally exist) of "moderation" and obedience to bourgeois legality. This, would surely deepen revolutionary resentment against the CP for betraying the Revolution. The revolutionary left plus the working class as a whole, have good and sufficient reason to reject the CP policy as the cause for the ensuing disaster.


It must be borne in mind however that not all who attack the CP have any right to do so.

The Maoists would not even join the Unitary Front, which was the most progressive aspect of CP politics. And the reason they rejected the Unitary Front was based on the false theory of "social-fascism," which Stalin originated and which Mao reinvigorated. Naturally the Chinese CP won't take any direct responsibility for the Maoists in Portugal. But they nonetheless are responsible in the sense that such a mendacious theory could not have been revived without the CCP leadership having embraced the theory of social-imperialism and social-fascism.

One of the Maoist groups, the MRPP, in its conduct in relation to the CP as well as other tendencies seems to us to be stark mad and little better than the NCLC (National Caucus of Labor Committees) in the United States.

Another Maoist grouping supported the Antunes military rightists against Premier Goncalves. No, these Maoists in Portugal cannot claim to be one whit better than the CP, but in fact are a great deal worse.


With respect to the revolutionary groupings in the Unitary Front, the CP could not altogether regard them as principled opponents. When the wild witch hunt broke out against the CP (engineered by the bourgeois reaction), almost all the elements that stood to the left of the CP, with few exceptions, seemed to fold their arms and watch the burnings, ransackings, and destruction of CP headquarters.

In a way there was even malicious delight and a feeling of vengefulness for the CP's failure to act as a revolutionary vanguard.

But it should never be forgotten that in all this, red-baiting has gone a long, long way -- especially in a country with a history of over 40 years of fascism. The class enemy knows how to use the mistakes of the CP for its own highly reactionary purposes.

This doesn't serve to excuse the CP for its false policies, but must be understood as an element in the struggle.


None of this, however, ought to foreclose the possibility of refashioning a united revolutionary front while it is still time.

The ruling military camarilla is not at all sure of its ground at the present time. It has not forgotten how isolated it was just a bare 2 weeks ago, and still is today, from the vital sections of the working class, and from the broad mass of peasants and urban poor. It is still far from consolidating its position. The basic cadres in the working class parties are, as of today, still intact.

Above all, the deteriorating economic situation does not lend itself at all to an easy, let alone quick, solution. If it is true, as the New York Times reported last week that Foreign Minister Antunes (the ringleader of the so-called nine and one of the chief plotters in the current struggle) said that "the support of the Communist Party is indispensable ," then it means that the Gomes-Azevedo government has only the thinnest social base and is fearful of embarking on a new course without CP support. Antunes is saying that CP support is "indispensable" to bourgeois rule, that the ruling group can't stay in power without social and political support from the CP.

But if that is true, it means that the CP is still an enormous political factor; if its weight and influence were thrown in a revolutionary direction against the government and toward reconstituting the Unitary Front, this could be of decisive significance.

Above all, it means that there is still precious time left for the working class organizations which formed the August Unitary Front, including the CP, to reorient themselves, gather their forces together, and prepare to take the revolutionary offensive.

Of course even the most revolutionary policy is not necessarily a guarantee of a revolutionary outcome. But without it, the revolution is virtually impossible. The other way would lead almost inevitably to a decisive working class defeat.

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