The Revolution in Portugal

The intensifying class struggle across Europe highlights the need for all revolutionaries to study the revolutionary history of the continent and to digest its main lessons. In this context we republish here an article written in 1975 about the Portuguese revolution. Ted traces the roots of the revolution as well as analyzing its component parts. He brilliantly shows the overwhelming strength of the working class and its influence on all parts of society, including the army the bulk of which was ready for the most radical measures.

The Dictatorship Overthrown - The Workers Movement

After nearly half a century of Fascist dictatorship the revolution in Portugal ushered in a new stage of the European and World Revolution. Beginning as a military pronunciamento or coup it has shown what inexhaustible reserves of strength and endurance rest within the ranks of the working class, because of its role in society.

Despite the controlled radio, TV and press, the church and schools, the totalitarian system decayed. The corruption and oppression had its effect in weakening and sapping the regime. Because of the position of the proletariat in society, its collective work in factories and industry - its collective struggle against the bosses -- almost inherent is the idea of organisation, of struggle and of a different organisation of society. After more than two generations of domination by the Stalinist bureaucratic overlords, we can be sure that in Russia the first big events will awaken the Russian workers to their great traditions. They will shrug off the parasitic bureaucratic caste on their backs, as easily as the Portuguese masses moved into action with the fall of Caetano.

Before this the Hungarian masses in their political revolution had shown the emptiness and lack of reality of the power of the bureaucrats, once the masses move into action. The Bureaucracy of Russia and the other Proletarian Bonapartist states will reveal a like ludicrous and pathetic inability and inadequacy once the masses move. Their power like that of the capitalist class is dependent on the inertia of the workers and peasants.

Not the least consideration in the attempts at detente between American Imperialism and the Russian Bureaucracy is the fear of both of the movement of the masses which threatens to undermine completely the status quo.

As with the United States in Vietnam, the endless colonial war in Africa undermined the armed forces of Portugal. Fifteen years of warfare against the implacable guerrilla peasant movements in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea drained the regime of its last layers of support.

The weak economy of Portugal could not stand the drain of resources. The petit bourgeois and the proletariat suffered the burdens. Only the "Seven Families", the banks and monopoly capital profited from the bloody mess.

Because of the unending war, there was no enthusiasm to volunteer for commissions in the armed forces, consequently large numbers of the lower officers, were in effect students in uniform.

That same radical wave which has been reflected among students in all countries, also, has been evident in Spain and Portugal over the last period. They carried their radicalism into uniform.

At the time of the coup of April 25th 1974, the only section of the state apparatus on which the regime could rely was the secret police, bound by ties of fear to the regime, because of their bloody crimes against the people.

The conditions sketched out by Lenin and Trotsky for the development of revolution were in existence in the months before the collapse of the regime. Mass strikes, despite their illegality, by the proletariat, especially in Lisbon. Discontent of the peasants and petit-bourgeoisie. Outbreaks among the students and an endeavour by the ruling class to save itself by meaningless "reforms" which aggravated the situation.

All the conditions for an explosion were maturing. But the peculiarity of the Portuguese revolution - an indication of the ripeness and even over-ripeness of capitalism for revolution - revealing itself in the situation first in its weakest links was that the revolution was led in the first stages by the middle and lower sections of the officers, significantly all sections of the armed forces, army, navy and air force.

It is true that in the Iberian peninsula there is a tradition of coups by different sections of the armed forced, republican and royalist reactionary, at different stages. But one of the differences is that under the pressure of the contradictions engendered by two generations of Fascism and the unwinnable colonial war, the bulk of the officers were against the regime.

Indeed the explosive discontent and the desire to find a way out - evidencing the split in the weak ruling class - was the book by Spinola advocating a peculiar form of Lusitanian Federation with the colonies - in reality, a different shuffling of the pack but with control firmly in the hands of the Portuguese. The refusal to make the slightest concession - the removal of Spinola and Gomes from their posts - the blind obstinacy of the regime helped to precipitate the conspiracy: the MFA, Movement of the Armed Forces.

In Italy in 1943, the removal of Mussolini and the taking of power by Badoglio precipitated the movement of the masses and the establishment of Soviets even within 24 hours.

So it was in Portugal that the overthrow of Caetano precipitated an immediate movement of the masses and the intervention on the scene of history of the young Portuguese proletariat. If the Soviets were not formed, it was because of the policy of the leadership of the CP and the SP: The MFA stood vaguely for some form of "democracy" - bourgeois democracy, in fact they had no clear programme - no social programme whatever at that stage.

But the entry of the masses onto the streets changed the situation. This has been seen at every stage in the course of the revolution - as it will in the future also.

The movement of the masses resulted in fraternisation with the rank and file of the armed forces - soldiers sailors, airmen - workers and peasants in uniform. They supported the ideas of socialism and began to speak openly as supporters of the CP and SP - and even a small section adhered to the ultra-left sects. The Generals, Admirals and Air Force Commanders - the upper layers of the officers had lost control of the situation.

Had there existed a genuine mass revolutionary party it would have been entirely possible to organise Soviets and prepare for the rapid and painless assumption of power by the proletariat. There were no forces to oppose them.

That this was so was demonstrated on May Day a few days after the collapse of the Caetano regime, when more than 1.5 million participated in the demonstration. (That was the consequence of 50 years of systematic "eradication of Marxism"!)

Practically the entire adult population of Lisbon, and others from the surrounding areas must have been present. The soldiers, sailors and airmen marched with the workers. There was no possibility at that stage of ensuring any action against a movement of the workers. The leaders of the SP and CP merely fawned on their liberators; the officer caste. Like their bureaucratic caste brothers in the Stalinist states the CP leadership have learned nothing from the events of the last epoch and forgotten everything. The leaders of this generation of Stalinists and reformists have learned nothing from the teachings of Marx and Lenin.

They are, in reality, the most conservative brake on the development of revolution. They have a contempt for the masses, believing them "ignorant" and "pliable" and not capable of carrying though the revolution. Hence their search for bourgeois allies.

With no perspectives and no worked out theory of revolution or revolutionary processes, their solution of all problems is to attempt some deal with the real masters of society, the liberal bourgeoisie. They do not wish for, nor have confidence in the socialist revolution - in the sense of October 1917 in Russia - with the control of the masses, genuine workers' democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat. They are linked organically to the liberal bourgeoisie and in the case of the CP, with the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia as well.

The MFA and Workers' Leaders Without Perspective

The fundamental peculiarity of the Portuguese revolution was that the immediate insurrection began as a movement of the armed forces. The masses then came onto the streets to settle accounts with the secret police. In Russia it was the mass movement that affected the army. When the police were routed the army was brought in to restore order. The big majority of the officers remained loyal to Czarism. It was a revolt of the lower ranks, including many NCOs [Non-Commanding Officers] who came over to the revolution that brought victory.

But the movement of the masses, the lessening of discipline in the armed forces, meant that the situation in Portugal as later events were to demonstrate was even more favourable than in Russia in February 1917.

Lenin explained that the handing of power after February to the Liberal bourgeoisie was a question of the consciousness of the masses. In addition was the problem of the war with Germany, which the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries could play on as a threat to the revolution. But with Portugal it was involvement in an aggressive colonial war to keep in slavery the African people, moreover war waged far away, in a different continent. The main impact of the war, was the overwhelming desire to get out!

In addition the international situation was far more favourable. The rotting Franco regime did not dare to intervene for fear of provoking a movement among the masses in Spain. During the Second World War the [Spanish] Blue Division fought on the Eastern Front. In Portugal Franco dared not intervene to the extent of one division. World Imperialism has burned its fingers attempting to put down movements of the colonial peoples. But if now the Bonapartist regime in Spain had not intervened, the situation was even more unfavourable for the European and non-European Imperialist powers. In the sense of the world relationship of forces, the exhaustion of capitalism and the feebleness of bourgeois power in comparison with the potential strength of the world working class, the Portuguese Revolution was and is in a far more favourable position than the Russian and the inter-war or immediate post-war revolutions.

The rank and file of the armed forces supported the revolution. They would have immediately responded to the workers' setting up of Soviets or workers "juntas", by the setting up of soldiers' Soviets. They would have responded to the agitation of the authoritative workers' parties - especially the CP - to take like action.

The real peculiarity of the Portuguese Revolution in comparison with any revolution of the past is the involvement of the mass of the lower and middle officers - and even some of the generals and admirals - in the revolution.

If the powers of the state as Marx and Lenin have explained reduces itself to the control of armed bodies of men, then the decay of the Portuguese regime is shown in a naked form. The bourgeoisie staked all on the ultimate weapon of a ferocious and totalitarian repression of the masses. Over two generations, witnessing its consequences, the bourgeoisie lost its support also in the middle class and by contagion even in the greater part of the officer caste. The senseless war in Africa played its part but that is not the entire explanation. The even more lunatic massacre during the 1914-18 war did not lead the [Russian] officer caste in its overwhelming majority to abandon Czarism. They did not hesitate to go over to the counter revolution and support wars of intervention against their own country.

In 1918 the German revolution was opposed by the bulk of the officer caste. The counter-revolution of Hitler was supported by the overwhelming majority of the officers.

In the Spanish revolution of 1931-37, 99% of the officer caste went over to Franco. And to come nearer home, in 1926 the big majority of the officer caste supported Salazar.

Salazar Image public domain In 1926 the big majority of the officer caste supported Salazar / Image: public domain

There has been a titanic swing of the political pendulum to the left. During the past three decades the petty bourgeoisie have swung left too - as the student movement demonstrates - and in Portugal the impasse of capitalism and the hatred of the cliques of monopoly capital, who coined money out of the blood and suffering of the people and the soldiers, has been reflected in the isolation of the very rich circles. They supported and benefited to the last moment from the totalitarian or authoritarian regime. The hatred of these odious parasites extended to layers of the officer caste. This is an indication that capitalism has worn out its historic mission and is becoming further and further a fetter on production. Thus in Portugal even the general staff was split as the episode of the unhappy Spinola demonstrates.

The regime was so rotten that it was indeed a bloodless revolution. Most of the casualties were caused after the fall of Caetano by the desperate and vengeful shootings and snipings of the PIDE, the Portuguese secret police who could see no future before them but a cell or a bullet.

The masses immediately intervened to clear them out, eliminating any possibility of their regroupment and reconstruction. The Caetano regime expired without any defenders among any section of the population - even of the middle class.

However the blindness, lack of perspective, and lack of any clear programme or policy by the MFA was shown by the immediate handing over of power to Spinola - at the insistence of his friend Caetano!

Without the intervention and the pressure of the mass movement of the working class, which had its effect on the ranks of the armed forces the revolution would have been extinguished. The major power of the revolution in Portugal has been the movement of the masses. This has had its effect on the rank and file and also on the middle and even upper layers of the army. Reaction gathered round the figure of the new president Spinola. He had had no part in the conspiracy but as a man with connections, by marriage, with the monopolists and of great wealth himself, waited prudently for the results.

The demonstrations and movement on the streets already indicated - with the unleashing of the "mob" - that things had gone too far!

Spinola decided to bridle the masses and prepare to ride out the tide of revolution. He had no intention of abandoning the domination of the African colonies, but was working to maintain Portuguese Imperialist control in a disguised form. At a later stage when the struggle came into the open, Brigadier Goncalves was to reveal that Spinola had threatened to ask South Africa and the United States to intervene with armed forces in the African colonies!

However with the stormy movement of the masses in a series of spontaneous strikes and demonstrations against low wages and terrible conditions in Lisbon, with the vacuum of no organised bourgeois party forces, Spinola had no alternative but to form a coalition or Popular Front Government with the Liberals in dominant positions and with the CP and the SP represented in the Cabinet.

The armed forces movement had no clear programme of its own except a vague anti-fascism. The fact that they chose Spinola to be President is an indication of their naivety. Spinola was calculating on a dampening down of the revolution as the masses became weary and disappointed. He thought he could easily manipulate the Armed Forces Movement - a movement of the officer caste, which at that stage thought in terms of bourgeois democracy.

The programme of the Armed Forces Movement was vague. The declaration of April 25th, comprised "civil liberties, programme of salvation, general election to the constituent assembly…freely…own form of social and political life…military government as a phase of transition."

As late as May 6th Costa Gomes, now on the "left", declared in Angola that "Portugal had no intention of withdrawing." When asked if the Junta would grant independence if this was the democratically expressed wish of the people, he replied that "this is for the future government to decide. The Junta has only a limited function, which is to restore democracy in Portugal."

Behind the scenes, the imperialist embassies, especially that of America, were urging and exhorting Spinola to bring the revolution to a conclusion. The NATO allies looked askance at the cuckoo in the nest - the CP Ministers in the Cabinet.

Spinola was secretly plotting and reassuring the imperialists powers. The American Embassy assured the multinational companies in Portugal that "calm" would be restored and the CP and possibly the SP would be out of the Government by the end of 1974.

Spinola was attempting to assume a Bonapartist role with the support of the MFA; the CP and the SP leaders without perspective or policy especially the former, tagged behind Spinola. With Alvaro Cunhal playing a specially craven role, the CP were picturing Spinola, despite his record, as a great anti-fascist and democrat.

Without any flexible or overall organisation of the workers and soldiers, such as Juntas or Soviets - which the CP and SP leadership had no intention of initiating - there was an elemental and massive move into the newly formed trade unions, as the working class instinctively felt the need to organise in some mass organisation. Now more than 50% of the workers, a higher figure than in most industrialised countries, in semi-industrialised Portugal, are organised in powerful trade unions. It was this power which was worrying Spinola and the representatives of capital.

The organisation of the masses into trade unions reached a scale never achieved after the February revolution in Russia, and before the October revolution. The workers felt the need of organisation as a means of achieving better conditions and wages and as a defence of the revolution. The conditions of malnutrition and hunger amongst the workers forced them to struggle for their elementary demands. The CP and SP leaders tried to hold the workers back. The Stalinists argued that strikes would provoke "reaction". The concessions forced from the monopolies in higher wages were a "plot" to destroy the revolution. "70%" of Portuguese "industry" they claimed employed 1-5 workers, could not afford these increases and would go bankrupt!

In reality the bulk of industry was owned by the banks and the "Seven Families." The policies of the CP and the Reformist leaders if successful could only have led to the victory of the counter-revolutionary plot of Spinola.

Spinola and the Attempted Reaction

At each stage the moves of Spinola were to prepare for a Bonapartist manoeuvring of the revolution by concentrating the complete powers in his hands. This as a step to crushing it. From the very first days this was his preoccupation.

The selection of Carlos Palma as Prime Minister was the first move towards this goal - an aim to which the CP "leader" Cunhal and SP "leader" Soares were totally blind.

Their policies of coalition rendered them less capable of understanding events than even the former "non-political" officers in the army, who had been accustomed merely to carry out orders. Had it depended on these "leaders" Portugal today would be a Spinolist - Bonapartist dictatorship, of a totalitarian character.

Thus the programme of Carlos Balma, in July 1974 announcing his resignation, was to ask the council of state for "wider powers". When this was refused he and three other liberal Ministers resigned. Carlos Palma had asked for the election of the President to be held within three months in order to consolidate Spinola's power, for a provisional constitution and the postponement of the elections to the Constituent Assembly till 1976. This was a conspiracy put together in collaboration with Spinola. On July 9th Carlos Palma had resigned but the result was to the discomfiture of the Spinola clique. He retained the Presidency in order to prepare again for a more auspicious occasion. But he had sacrificed professor Carlos Palma and got a more left orientated Government instead. Most important he had failed to gain a grip on the MFA which, if shakily, was in control of the armed forces. In order to heighten tension Palma had explained in his liberal professorial way that the existing situation in Portugal (a wave of strikes, strike movement of the workers - dismissal of managers who were members of the fascist party by the workers, elements of workers control, control of hiring and firing by the shop stewards committees, demonstrations of the workers) "amounts to a climate of social indiscipline which is entirely contrary to my temperament and my ideas about democracy", and for that reason he had demanded greater powers.

The liberal professor, used to the calm of his state university building guaranteed by the boots and guns of the fascist police, must be having nightmares now! The raising of their heads by the workers, demanding rights and articulating their needs, sounds like lunacy to these gentlemen. In this the professor is plagiarising the Russian liberal professor Miliukov, the Minister who used almost exactly the same words to describe the situation in the Russian Revolution. On the contrary, it is the breaking down by the workers of the insane asylum of capitalism which required fascist jailers, which terrifies these august gentry as it terrifies world capitalism.

But to this process the leaders of the workers parties were completely blind. The CP organ Avante condemned the proposals of the servant Palma and appealed to the master Spinola, manipulating the servant behind the scenes.

Spinola Image Keystone Press Wikimedia CommonsMore and more Spinola was seeking to play some sort of Bonapartist role / Image: Keystone Press, Wikimedia Commons

Palma was out but Spinola continued his plots - and tried to prepare the atmosphere for a new attempt. In a speech on July 18th Spinola declared that the "climate of anarchy could not continue…any attempt to subvert discipline will be regarded by the nation as treason against freedom and democracy."

The CP and SP leaders were caught by surprise by the first crisis of the new Portuguese regime (as they were in the following crises). Carlos Palma, the bourgeois liberal Prime Minister resigned, by arrangement with Spinola. This was intended to push the Government to the Right,get rid of the CP Ministers and then later the SP Ministers from the Government. Elections to the Constituent Assembly had been postponed for a year to give time for the bourgeois parties to organise. But more and more Spinola was seeking to play some sort of Bonapartist role with the semi-Bonapartist Armed Forces Movement.

The masses reacted with enormous pressure. The Armed Forces Movement Council rejected Spinola's suggestions. Instead Brigadier Goncalves became Prime Minister, with the majority of Cabinet posts in the hands of Armed Forces officers.

Thus the attempt to push the revolution to the right miscarried, it gave a further impetus to the left, while the aims of pushing the CP Ministers out of the Government had failed! Far from achieving Spinola's assurances to the American Ambassador that the CP would be out of the government by the end of the year, Spinola's own position was undermined within the MFA. The officers were regarding his position with suspicion.

It was not due to the perspicacity, foresight and understanding of the leaders of the workers' parties, that even at this early stage reaction failed to gain a basis in Portugal. Thus, if it had depended on the policy that they put forward to the masses, Spinola, in his scheming, could have succeeded in gaining a basis.

They had joined in the fictitious, bourgeois clap-trap of picturing Spinola as a hero of the Revolution. Had it depended on them, the Portuguese Revolution would have followed the early days of the Spanish Revolution of 1931-37. Within two years the right wing republicans of Lerroux had established a basis and achieved victory at the polls.

But time and the decay of capitalism on a world scale have had their effect. The majority of the officers have been affected by the agonising bloody war in Africa. More important was the effect on the masses of 15 years of war, piled up on 50 years without rights under a barbarous regime of terror and torture. The mass of the people have lived under conditions of backbreaking labour and poverty, without perspective and with the daily ineluctable slavery.

The masses were looking to some lightening and leavening of their lot. World capitalism is now undermined. The feverish swing of the middle class to the left in Portugal and now in Greece is a symptom of the death agony of European and World capitalism, affecting first the Mediterranean fringe. Probably protracted over the next decade or two a similar development of events at a lesser or faster pace is inevitable in most or all of the European powers - and America and Japan also. Spain is next in line. Only the overture of revolution is being played out in Portugal at the present time. The glorious symphony will be played out in Spain.

Because of the lack of revolutionary leadership, in Portugal in contrast with the Russian Revolution, it has been a peculiarity of the Portuguese Revolution that each stage forward has been provoked by movements of the counter-revolution.

In this sense the working class has revealed an even more determined urge to resist attempts by reaction than during the course of the Russian Revolution itself. The working class is more numerous and powerful than were the Russian workers at the time of the Revolution. 10% of the population in Russia were industrial workers and 33% in Portugal. In Spain during the pre-war Revolution, the proletariat numbered 25%. With the officer caste standing on a radical basis, and the consciousness of the masses of lost wars in Africa, in which Portuguese blood and resources had been squandered, with the implacable will of the masses never again to return to the helpless hell of totalitarian Fascism, and the international background; these constituted enormously favourable conditions for the development of the Revolution. If the process has been slower in many respects than in the Russian Revolution, it is because the "leadership" has followed and been dragged along by the events of the Revolution itself, rather than given leadership as a conscious process. They, "the leaders", have followed or been dragged behind the movement of the rank and file. Spinola, having consulted the army leaders in Africa, was compelled to reluctantly concede "de-colonisation" and the giving of independence to the African colonies - simply because the armed forces, including the lower officers, were not willing to fight to retain the interests of Portuguese imperialism. Though he tried to hold on to Angola, with its treasure of untapped resources, longer.

But as the process of the revolution developed, the monopolies and international capital were becoming more and more alarmed. Spinola was the focus of reaction. Having tried to shake the armed forces, Spinola used his position as President to begin a Bonapartist campaign. Elections were postponed. Now a campaign began for a Bonapartist plebiscite, which would confirm Spinola, "the hero of the Revolution" as president, and give him a basis to rally reactionary officers plus the peasantry and petit bourgeoisie, especially in the politically backward North (of peasant small holders). All the preparations were being made to rally the reaction and then prepare a coup. Posters of the "silent majority" were plastered around Lisbon, Oporto and other cities, to prepare what amounted to a counter-revolutionary mobilisation in a demonstration in Lisbon on September 30th 1974.

Shady elements like the former fascist "Portuguese Legion" and other Fascist riffraff and supporters were involved. They were demanding elections for a "President" before General Elections. The monopolies, and probably international capital, poured out money for the campaign.

All the preparations had been made with a patriotic furore in the bourgeois press. Spinola arranged for the commandos to guard the presidential palace. Tens of thousands of reactionaries, were to be transported in lorries from Oporto and the North to Lisbon. In Lisbon itself the "silent majority" was to show itself.

Rumours began to spread that the reaction, especially the former members of the Portuguese Legion, were going to bring in arms to Lisbon. Reports that arms were already being smuggled into "Red Lisbon" began to circulate.

The masses became alarmed. While Cunhal was pleading with Spinola in the pages of Avante and in speeches to take action to curb the "Right" the masses acted. In the last days of September, barricades began to appear all round Lisbon on the roads leading to the centre, where the demonstration was to be held.

Soldiers on patrol refused to interfere, they looked on indifferently when officers were disarmed by the workers manning the barricades. Many of the workers had armed themselves with revolvers and even guns - some soldiers handed over rifles.

The basis was prepared for a bloody confrontation. At this stage Spinola found that he had no real forces on which he could rely. The electric atmosphere forced the MFA to take a stand. They demanded that Spinola speak out and cancel the demonstration.

At first Spinola wanted to make a stand and defy them. He summoned on the 28th the Prime Minister Brigadier Goncalves and the Minister Major Autunes to the Presidential Palace. He placed them under arrest! He tried to have a state of emergency declared which would have given him full powers and control of the armed forces.

The Commander-in-Chief, General Gomes, refused to counter-sign the orders to the troops. It would not have made any difference if he had. But the troops refused to move. Spinola found he could not even rely on the crack troops of the commandos, who were not prepared to fire on other regiments or even the thousands and tens of thousands of workers who were beginning to gather. Within two hours Goncalves and the other Minister were released.

Defeated in his objective, the mobilisation of reaction, by the counter-mobilisation of the masses, Spinola was compelled to call off the demonstration and resign.

Thus the attempt to gather forces for a counter-coup i.e. of an attempt at counter-revolution, again was defeated by the spontaneous movement of the workers. This pushed the revolution again further to the left.

Dr. Cunhal, leader of the Portuguese Communist Party in a interview with the Diario de Lisboa, as late as September 25th was appealing to Spinola, the fountainhead and organiser of this reaction to "take measures to quell the Right!" Thus they appealed to Beelzebub to take action against all the little devils!

The demonstration had been organised under the slogans against "the climate of anarchy...say no to the forms of slavery being prepared." Spinola's speech of September 10th had been an incitement to the right wing reaction to organise. The Portuguese Legion and other right wing and Fascist groups rallied round the banner of Spinola.

More serious was the appeal on September 26th of the Transport Workers Union to refuse to transport the demonstration by rail or bus. Then the organisers threatened to bring in their forces by lorry. This was crushed by the throwing up of the barriers.

On September 28th, left wing militants defied army orders to abandon the barricades thrown up on the outskirts of Lisbon. Armed groups of soldiers, sailors and workers wearing "security" badges on their lapels raided two of Lisbon's hotels searching for "right wingers", i.e. Fascists. All the preparations were being made for a coup to coincide with the demonstration for Spinola.

How pitifully inadequate in this light were the policies and preparations of the Communist Party and Socialist Party. How far from the foresight, analysis and understanding of the Bolshevik leadership of Lenin and Trotsky at each stage of the revolution.

Thus the second decisive move of reaction, at a time of its deliberate choosing, if we leave aside the turbulent pressures of the revolution, ended in defeat. But again, Spinola preserved his position and prepared to try again, under more auspicious circumstances. But this time he had lost the Presidency. Spinola had been forced to resign by the MFA, though his attempt at a coup, and the decisive taking of power into his own hands, was hushed up and kept from the masses.

The Revolution had received a further impulse to the left with the easy defeat of the attempted coup. Despite this inflation of 30% to 35% continued. Unemployment was rising steeply. The impoverished position of the masses received a further twist with this inflation.

Big Business and the banks continued a passive resistance. Investment dropped and production fell. The conditions of the masses was becoming critical. In the Air Force a large section of the officers had sided with Spinola. The bulk of the Navy and Army officers had been against him.

10% of the Navy officers were purged by compulsory retirement. 200 Army officers too had their commissions taken from them. Thus an important and sizeable minority of the Armed Forces, particularly among the tops were with Spinola. It was only the opposition of the mass of the people and the inevitable resistance of the rank and file of all three services, the overwhelming majority of whom had the same attitude as the workers which doomed the counter-revolutionary plot of Spinola to impotence.

MFA Begins to Consolidate Power

Having learned nothing from these epoch making events, the Communist Party continued with its programme of "Democratic Revolution". The same position as Stalin took after the February Revolution in Russia, except that they had even abandoned the prefix "bourgeois", and spoke and wrote about Democratic Revolution in the abstract.

The Communist Party Congress on October 20th 1974, nearly a month after the September events still continued to put forward only democratic demands, with vague references to "liquidation of monopolies in economic development," which could mean anything or nothing. This was to fob off their own supporters. The Government previously facing a situation where the shop stewards committees in many if not all the big plants and industries had accumulated a big part of the power of hiring and firing, belatedly conceded the right to strike. They hedged it with so many qualifications that had the law been obeyed, it would have been more difficult than a strike under the American Taft-Hartley Act or the Conservative Industrial Relations Act!

Sympathetic strikes were forbidden and so on. Yet the movement continued to develop despite the timidity of the Socialist Party and Communist Party and the fact that the MFA was merely reacting to events. The Strike Law was adopted before the above mentioned events. No doubt Spinola himself had a hand in influencing its terms.

While the Communist Party kept mum, even the leaders of the Socialist Party were compelled to protest. Thus on September 2nd the Socialist Party condemned the "restrictive nature of the law" and referred to the "present dynamic nature of labour conflicts." In fact they understood the impossibility of holding the pent-up dam of the workers movement - held down for two generations. It was precisely this irrepressible movement of the masses that Spinola wished to bridle.

The Fascists had tried to reorganise their forces in a series of small parties which had mushroomed. The monopolies - terror stricken by the elemental wave of the masses - probably provided the funds. No doubt foreign Big Business added their subsidies.

In September and October, the Government under fear of the masses taking the law into their own hands banned these Fascist groups, many of whose "patriotic" leaders were members or prominent in the dissolved Fascist Legion.

On October 2nd, a COPCON (newly organised security police of the MFA) raid on the so-called Progress Party headquarters in Lisbon revealed "an arsenal"…and…"plans" which were to be put into effect during "the 'silent majority' demonstration." The Party, among others was banned.

The right wing "democratic" parties were working in mid-air without a solid foundation. The pressures of the masses was reflected in a distorted way by the ultra-left who besieged the "Social Democratic Centre Party", in which elements of the former Fascist Government Party had found a haven.

The troops sent to "protect" the Congress were not unsympathetic to the left demonstrators, leading a serious bourgeois foreign commentator to declare that these actions were "creating fears of a shift to the left in the Government and of a possible Civil War"!

The officer caste, in this semi-Bonapartist Government - with the real power of decision in the hands of the MFA - were beginning to grope towards an institutionalisation of the Supreme Council - and thus permanent or semi-permanent control of the state and the country. The Socialist Party and Communist Party leaders spoke in favour. But the reaction, after the removal of Spinola, was beside itself with fear and rage.

Thus a curious inversion in the Portuguese Revolution! The reaction was against military rule and control while the "progressives" were vociferously in favour. The Socialist Party and Communist Party leaders had no organisation to put forward as against that of the state while the right wing parties had neither the masses nor their bulwark of the officer caste, as in all previous revolutions. Thus the PDP launched a strong attack on a MFA rally in Aveiro: "When we see the MFA discussing the composition of the Cabinet, examining the economic plan, pronouncing on trade union law, we must ask, as foreign countries are asking, are we or are we not living under a military Government? We have reached breaking point, he continued, "we cannot go on living in a climate of Civil War…We can no longer tolerate the escalation of revolutionary language which assumes increasingly triumphant tones. It is vital that the people are not submitted to revolutionary solutions which they have not chosen…"

The MFA Assembly on February 6th 1975, gave full powers to the Junta to "purge and give morality to the nation's way of life" and oppose manoeuvres against the economy, national defence and public order."

This language was vague but it clearly placed a soldier's boot firmly over the nation. On February 12th, Mario Soares appealed to the Junta to "dispel insecurity in Portugal by divulging their aims and objectives."

The Junta, at that stage, would have been hard put to oblige him, as they did not know themselves, apart from a determination to hold the power in their own hands and prevent a return to the old regime!

At this stage they were in a similar position to Castro in 1959, after he had crushed Batista's army. They had not waged a risky guerrilla war it is true, but they had been compelled to lead an army coup which had opened the floodgates of revolution, which they could not control even had they desired to do so.

The PPD (Social Democrats) on February 14th accused the Junta of "undermining" the role of the civilian parties.

More and more real power by decree was being taken into the hands of the Junta. Thus they decided that the MFA would have the power of veto on the election of the President and would control the Provisional Government and the Constituent Assembly, that they would decide the appointments of the military members of the Cabinet and insist on the independence of the military, independence of the Junta and the recognition of its place in the constitution.

Under different conditions these were the powers the Argentine military Junta possessed before its overthrow. A military Bonapartist constitution par excellence. But a power because of its relative independence and uncontrolled character which the Portuguese and international bourgeoisie were determined to oppose. Especially as they seemed to be leaning on the masses for support.

The conservative former supporters of Spinola in the Armed Forces were all opposed to these measures, They were in favour of "restructuring" the Armed Forces in order to get rid of the radical and "revolutionary inclined officers." As they said of the re-organisation: "it will not be easy, but if key revolutionary officers remain in politics it will be impossible…"

Alvaro Cunhal (1980)Cunhal and the CP had obediently and ecstatically followed every twist and turn of the Armed Forces / Image: Fernando Pereira, Wikimedia Commons

In November all the older Generals in all three services had been compulsorily retired: Admirals at 62, Brigadiers at 60, and Colonels and Navy Captains at 57. Thus they had officially pensioned off Spinola as well!

Cunhal and the CP had obediently and ecstatically followed every twist and turn of the Armed Forces. Soares the SP leader, who while demagogically speaking about socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, in the far distant future, was taking an equivocal position to this arrogating of power by the MFA.

On January 18th Dr. Cunhal put some rhetorical questions to the SP leader: "Declare who are your friends and who your enemies," and asking: "Are you allied with the CP and other democratic forces against capitalism and reaction, or with the conservative forces of the right against the revolution?"

Soares reflecting the uneasiness of the petit bourgeois and bourgeois circles at the strains in Portuguese society and the radical attitude of the MFA tried to frighten the radical officers and the masses with the spectre of the intervention of the capitalist powers from abroad. This round the time of NATO naval manoeuvres around Portugal obviously intended to threaten the broad masses and even the radical officers!

He proposed a new agreement to the MFA and declared at a press conference on February 27th "a deep split in Portuguese society and ultimately an economic blockade or foreign intervention" were he said "possibilities which cannot be excluded or taken lightly." This was the atmosphere in which the new Spinolist conspiracy was being hatched. As in the Russian Revolution the masses were manifesting an enormous pressure on the employers, who wanted a strong hand at the helm of the state, i.e. to return to some form of military police dictatorship in order to halt the revolution and the unbearable pressure of the masses. Expropriation was in the air and they wanted to exorcise this spectre.

On February 21st the Government adopted the "Three Year Economic Plan" in which the hand of the CP and SP Ministers was plain to see, as the officers would not have considered themselves to be economists. What a miserable and timid travesty! It was less radical than the post war measures of France and Italy let alone of the Labour Government of 1945-51 or even the present Labour Government! It foresaw partial state control of certain industries (like the NEB) the take over of some large estates (land) and increased foreign investment. Like the measures that Tony Benn wanted to introduce with the NEB and exists in Italy with the IRI and "Dirigisme" in France and the French "plan" it foresaw greater political control of the economy, the injection of state aid to prevent bankruptcies and unemployment, improved health services, plus a Social Security reform At the same time similar to the suggested arrangements by Tony Benn in the NEB, there would be 51% state holding of the major mines, oil and natural gas, steel, oil refining, petrochemicals, electricity, tobacco and arms manufacturing, most of these industries are already completely nationalised in Britain.

Major De Melo Antunes who was supposed to have drafted the document declared it to be a "revolutionary" one but made haste to reassure Big Business that there would be no changes in an "abrupt or violent" manner!

At the same time, presumably as a reward for the boldness of the MFA, SP and CP leaders, they announced, a "Tighter Prices and Incomes Policy" to control inflation. The working class was warned to "take account of the particular historic situation we are in…"

Before this as early as August 1974 the MFA and Government had declared their intention to nationalise three of the major banks - the Banco de Angola, Banco National Ultramarino and the Banco de Portugal.

Perhaps that had been one of the factors leading the bourgeoisie to push Spinola into his September conspiracy. Now once again these mild measures - plus the situation of "indiscipline" of the soldiers, of the workers acting "as if they owned the factories" pushing out and arresting Fascist managers, establishing elements of dual power and workers' control in the factories and industry, generally - rendered the situation intolerable to the ruling class, especially the seven families. And further afield was the pressure of the imperialist great powers especially America. We can be sure that the American Embassy discreetly was pushing Spinola…to ruin.

It is an ironical fact that the petit bourgeois leaders of the workers' parties, under conditions of revolution are sometimes pushed by revolutionary events and the favourable pressures of the masses to go much further than they wish or intend.

That the "leaders" had no idea of nationalising even the "commanding heights" of the economy is shown by the three year "plan". They saw "socialism" in the dim and distant future, generations ahead. Now was the time for the "democratic" revolution. The CP in particular resisted the pressure of the masses, preaching patience in order not to "provoke the reaction." If this time their policies were not to end in disaster it is thanks to the elemental flood of the revolutionary tide and in spite of their policies. They have been blind to the dialectic of events. If it depended and still depends on them, the revolution would have been wrecked.

March 11th Coup - Reaction Thrown Back

With the revolution on the boil, with the authority of the employers undermined, with the political and social situation indefinite, reaction could not wait for the elections. They knew that the mass of the people would reject capitalism. Like the Russian bourgeoisie they understood that the weak and isolated capitalist class would be in a small minority in the Constituent Assembly. They had had to accept Fascist or Bonapartist totalitarian, or authoritarian control for 50 years in order to safeguard their property. Now they could feel the seething pressure of the revolution they looked to some General to save them in a new military dictatorship to re-establish "law and order".

On March 11th 1975, Spinola, an even less successful adventurer than General Kornilov, decided probably in consultation with the NATO "allies", the embassies of Western Europe and America, to put down the revolution once and for all.

Like Kornilov, he moved what amounted to a phantom army, on Lisbon from the air base of Tancos. He told the paratroops - and the airforce officers had been the least radical and the biggest section of open supporters of Spinola - that there had been a seizure of the artillery barracks in Lisbon by Tupamaros, Anarchist conspirators. This was the most radical section of the troops where the Maoists had some support. A few planes were used to strafe the barracks with rocket fire and call on the commander to surrender. The paratroops were marched against the barracks, rifle fire was exchanged and there were a few casualties.

They had arranged for support from ground units who they had expected would give "considerable support" to the attempted counter-coup. There was a confrontation between the commander of the paratroops captain Martin and the Artillery Captain De Almeida. The barracks of the Republican Guard was occupied by Spinolist officers. The commanding officer General Ferreira was taken hostage. Spinola denounced the "communist dominated chaos".

But in reality Spinola had even less forces at his disposal than Kornilov. Kornilov too had deceived his troops - the Savage Division of Caucasian mountaineers - by denouncing a "Bolshevik rebellion".

Portugal in Angola Image public domainSpinola had even less forces at his disposal than Kornilov / Image: public domain

When there were mass demonstrations by the workers, the forces of the counter-coup melted away. The paratroopers and commandos are always the most conservative force in the Army, composed usually of the most adventurous and wild elements of the population, and usually an elite force of crack troops, the most reliable and the last to crack like the Cossacks in Russia. Now the paratroops assured the demonstrators "we are no Fascists." They fraternised with the workers and the troops of the Artillery Regiment. Some gave away their rifles to demonstrators as proof of their good faith.

Within hours of the coup the air base had been taken over. Spinola and many of the clique of officers supporting him fled to Spain. The coup fizzled out. It could be reckoned in minutes rather than days. It is perhaps the most ludicrous and comic attempt at counter-revolution in history. But it was a fiasco precisely because of the red hot atmosphere of revolution which affected not only the workers and peasants but practically the entire rank and file of the Armed Forces. There was not a single regiment in all Portugal which was willing to be used for the purpose of the counter-revolution.

The Portuguese people had vomited out Fascism, which they had come to understand as the dictatorship of capital and were not prepared to tolerate any steps which would lead to a similar regime. That is the real explanation of the fiasco.

This was the third attempt at steering the revolution into the channels of bourgeois Bonapartism. In the fable when the boy cried wolf, on the third occasion, not being believed, he was gobbled up. This time it was the wolf of reaction which suffered disaster!

That Spinola had forces within the officer caste on whom he could rely was seen by the tendency towards reaction in the elections to the Military Junta in the weeks before the attempted coup. Spinola had maintained political and military contacts after his resignation from the Presidency. He was only waiting for a better moment to strike.

So-called centrist officers - supporters of Spinola - former aides and colleagues had been voted onto the Armed Forces Assemblies replacing radical left wing supporters of Couthino and Goncalves, and Carvalho. Brigadier Carvalho himself, and three of the five members of the co-ordinating committee were defeated in the officers elections. Carvalho only retained his position in the General Assembly as an ex-officio member, as head of COPCON the Army Security Force.

There had been a perceptible swing to the right among the officers which posed an ominous threat to the revolution. Especially as the workers' leaders were completely myopic as to its implications.

Now steps were taken by the radical officers. The open right wing officer supporters of Spinola were removed. The structure of the ruling Armed Forces body was changed. A Junta of National Salvation was set up with full legislative powers for "directing and putting in practice the revolutionary programme in Portugal." Commander Correira Jesuino headed a council with power to veto legislation of the Cabinet and enact legislation with or without approval of the Cabinet. The General Assembly was remodelled with 120 from the Army, 60 Navy and 60 from the Air Force.

On the "Supreme Revolutionary Council" elected by this body there was not a single member below the office of captain; Brigadiers, Admirals and Air Commanders predominated!

Marx had written that in the heavy and apparently obscure writings of Hegel could be seen the revolution at a certain stage in history. Now the inventive genius of history had presented us with the spectacle of the revolution moving through the vehicle of military generals and admirals! This is because capitalism had exhausted itself in Portugal - a country semi-colonial and semi-imperialist - with no way forward after the loss of empire under capitalism. At the same time the road of open bourgeois military dictatorship has been utterly discredited with even sections of the military caste as the result of the 50 year experience of dictatorship.

But the main reason for the enormous role of the military has been the paralysis of the workers organisations by the lack of a genuine Marxist party and Marxist leadership. In reality from the beginning of the revolution - real power has been in the hands of the workers and soldiers - the MFA has filled the vacuum caused by the failure of leadership of the SP and CP organisations.

The Constitutional Democrats, the party of the liberal bourgeoisie in the Russian Revolution rapidly went over to the counter-revolution and supported Kornilov because there was no room for bourgeois democracy in Russia and because it was necessary for capitalism to bridle and curb the workers and peasants under the bayonets of military dictatorship in the interests of capital. So in the same way the "Liberal" parties in Portugal - Christian Democrats and others - were compelled to back the Spinolist reaction. For the same reason they could see nothing but "chaos" and "disorder"…"economic collapse" and "bankruptcy" in ill-disciplined soldiers and the menacing encroachment on the prerogatives of management and "unreasonable demands" not only of blue collar workers but the organised office staffs as well. It was no accident that in the Spanish and Russian Revolutions this was the inevitable behaviour of the liberal bourgeoisie. This had been worked out theoretically by Leninism-Trotskyism on the basis of experience.

We predicted this inevitable behaviour of the democrats in Portugal too because of the situation in the country and the nature, course, and conditions of the Revolution in Portugal and internationally.

Unfortunately to the leadership of the SP and CP these considerations of "theory" were a closed book. They were "practical" men and were seeking the collaboration of the liberal capitalists in "their" democratic revolution.

Consequently the support of the liberal bourgeoisie and their parties, rejecting the hand of collaboration in a "Popular Front" came as an unpleasant surprise and shock. No thanks to them the result was not that in Spain and Chile. But only because of the weakness of the bourgeois counter-revolution and thus the ineptness of its leadership.

Many businessmen were arrested including seven members of the Espirito Santo family who owned one of Portugal's largest banks. Also arrested were Jorge and Jose Manuel De Melo, directors of Portugal's largest conglomerate, CUF. They were all released.

131 of the conspirators were arrested including the commander of the paratroops Rafael Durao and Major Jose Sanchez Osorio the leader of the Christian Democratic Party.

The Supreme Revolutionary Council decreed the dismissal of "incompetent" officers, and any officer not prepared to make a declaration of "loyalty" to the MFA was placed in the reserves. All military members involved in the March 11th coup were expelled and their property confiscated. This was extremely mild and tolerant treatment of their brother officers involved in the coup. Had the reaction succeeded - as in Chile - there would have been executions and concentration camps for radical officers as well as trade unionists, Socialists and Communists.

The radical officers acted decisively because their own heads were at stake as well as the immediate fate of the revolution!

Behind the attempted coup was Big Business in Portugal, the threads linked the attempt to the Governments and the multinationals in Portugal and the West.

Almost as if at a prearranged signal the media in Britain - radio, TV and press - immediately slanted the news to support the coup. The coming elections by the Portuguese people, only six weeks off, were ignored by these professed constitutionalists. A valuable lesson for the working class! When the interests of capital are at stake "necessity knows no law" becomes the rule.

The radio commentators spoke of a revolt of "moderates" against the "Communist" Prime Minister and a "Communist" Government. The Evening Standard headlines were "Moderates Revolt Against Extremism"! The entire press ranging from the Times to the Mirror pictured the situation as the last move of "democrats" driven into action by the "Anarchy" and "chaos" in Portugal.

All the preparations were being made for a campaign to support the reaction in the civil war, the international bourgeoisie now expected to begin.

For 50 years they had been silent on the crime of the former dictatorial regime, only seeing "order" and "calm" in the country, and popular support for Salazar and Caetano. Unfortunately for them reaction was too weak. The hot breath of the revolution dissipated the vapours of reaction. They were relying on phantom forces and phantom figures. This is an indication of how far the situation has changed since the Revolution in Spain in 1931.

"Capitalism in Portugal is Dead" - The Times

Capitalism and landlordism in Portugal had used up its main reserves of support in the population by the 50 years of dictatorship and the years of colonial war and repression in Africa. Apart from the Fascist riffraff - a small portion of the population - and a minority (probably) of the officers, no one followed the call of Spinola. Yesterday's artificially built up "Hero of the Revolution" had no real support even in the Armed Forces.

The attempt of reaction to correct the situation in the interests of capitalism had failed but again the result was to push the revolution far to the left. The mass of the workers were aroused against Big Business, which they understood was behind the now spectral monocled Spinola.

The clerks in the banks had observed the financial transactions of the oligarchy. The swindling transfer of tens of millions of pounds abroad and the money made available to Spinola and his conspirators.

These sections, historically are politically and industrially (trade union consciousness) a backward section of the workers. The advanced layers of the workers are the industrial workers in engineering, steel, mines, transport and so on.

These advanced layers had been bamboozled by the Communist Party leaders as to the long term (decades) perspective of nationalisation and the socialist revolution. Now was the period of "democratic revolution" and the liberal bourgeoisie must not be provoked and driven into the arms of reaction.

In the Portuguese Revolution up to this point, the Communist Party, as well as the Socialist Party leadership, played an even worse role than that of the Mensheviks in the Russian Revolution.

They tried to damp down the struggles of the working class. They kow-towed to the military rulers. They tried to force the workers to "respect" the "rights" of property and not to anger the military. They tried to make the workers accept lowered standards and tolerate managers who tried to act as if Caetano was still in power.

Their perspectives for the revolution were the perspectives of the Mensheviks in Russia. A generation of bourgeois democracy before the issue of "Socialism" could be raised. It was utopian to think that in backward Portugal in which the bourgeois democratic revolution had not been carried out that socialism was possible.

But now the indignation of the bank workers at the support of counter-revolution by their masters, exploded. The Communist Party was not strong enough in their ranks and influence among them to confuse them with their sophistry. The bank workers occupied the banks and announced they would not open them till they had been nationalised! The soldiers, like the workers, were well aware what interests lay behind the coup.

Portuguese Rev 1974 Image Flickr Hemeroteca DigitalAt each stage in the Revolution it has been the activity and pressure of the masses which has defended the Revolution and pushed it forward / Image: Hemeroteca Digital, Flickr

Moreover, the officers in control of the MFA had no love of the financiers behind the coup. They knew their own lives would have been forfeit had the bankers aims been successful. Having none of the inhibitions of the timid petit bourgeois leaders of the Communist Party and Socialist Party, they followed the lead of the workers. They accepted the fait accompli and announced the nationalisation of the banks, with compensation only to small shareholders who would otherwise suffer. This was within three days of the occupation on March 14th.

Following on this, the insurance workers followed the lead of the bank workers and occupied the insurance companies, demanding their nationalisation, and the insurance workers are hardly a vanguard of the revolution in any country. This too was then decreed by the MFA. The objective of the Revolution - by the MFA, ex post facto - was then declared to be "Socialism"!

At each stage in the Revolution it has been the activity and pressure of the masses which has defended the Revolution and pushed it forward! It is the movement of the workers and soldiers, even without an organisation, Juntas or Soviets, which has been the motive force of the Revolution.

The "parties" belatedly embraced "Socialism" as their immediate aim once it had been made respectable by the radical officer caste. Forgotten were their jeremiads as to the "democratic stage" through which Portugal had to pass. The officer caste by this endorsement of the initiative of the masses had made a fundamental change in Portugal.

The banks and insurance companies own 50% of industry in Portugal and a large section of the landed estates. Thus having taken over the decisive financial power - in the logic of the situation the MFA has been forced to nationalise the monopolies. Most of the important industry and the land - up to 75% - has now been nationalised.

Thus as did Castro, the MFA has been forced to move in a direction in which they had not the least intention at the beginning of the revolution.

At the same time they are determined to keep the power in the hands of the military caste. The workers and peasants, as an interview given by Admiral Couthino indicates, are too "ignorant" to be safely entrusted with the power! Thus the ingrained prejudices of the military caste are revealed in naive statements.

At the same time they have no intention of surrendering the power to the political parties.

In 1974, after Spinola's second attempt, as a bourgeois commentator had declared after the projected nationalisation of the three main issuing banks: "The nationalisation of Portugal's remaining banks had not been foreseen in the three year plan…large sectors including the newspapers were thus nationalised…The Prime Minister (Goncalves) had said the Government did not intend to nationalise the whole economy…"

On April 10th, a few weeks before the elections, the military Minister for Social Communications (the military had taken a large number of seats in the rubber stamp Cabinet) declared that in retrospect it was perhaps an error to allow the formation of political parties in Portugal! Thus the MFA must have the decisive power for three to five years after the elections - in reality so far as they are concerned permanently. As Correira Jesuino explained: "After all, it was the Armed Forces and not the clandestine political parties, not the intellectuals, who made the April 25th [1974] Revolution…We are the vanguard of that Revolution, and thus have the right to assume direction of the nation…"

Thus we had the repulsive spectacle of the Stalinist Party with Cunhal in the forefront bowing down to the military officers - many of whom honestly now wish to defend the Revolution and advance it forward - without advocating and explaining workers' power - which the Stalinists have forgotten or in this generation never understood. The Russian bureaucrats would be in mortal terror of such a perspective of course, as it would raise the spectre of political revolution at home.

Now Cunhal and the Portuguese CP have been holding forth on the weakness and sins of "bourgeois" democracy. No longer the beautiful abstraction without the prefix - contrasting this with "socialism" i.e. an idealised version of the one party totalitarian state, of Russia and China, but with a nationalised economy.

The Morning Star for a few issues carried material on this question, then lapsed into silence. The French and Italian CPs with immense power and looking to collaboration with the Radicals and "their" Christian Democrats, bit their tongues with embarrassment.

We must use the disarray of these parties, including the Spanish CP as a means of propaganda.

International capitalism regards the revolution in Portugal with dismay. They are impotent spectators who cannot - especially at this stage - directly intervene as they intervened against the Russian and even the Revolution in Asia in Vietnam. Yet this is the edge of Europe and can have a big influence on the developing revolution in Spain.

Proletarian Bonapartism or Proletarian Democracy?

The General Election in Portugal was, if a pale echo, an indication of the processes in the revolution. They showed why the bourgeois staked everything on a military coup to prevent the elections!

More voted for "socialist" parties than in any election in history, more than in the elections after the October Revolution for the Constituent Assembly in Russia. Two thirds voted for socialism including the vote for the CP and SP, the ultra-lefts and the blank ballots for the MFA. This on a 92% poll! If the 26% for the Social Democrats (PDP) are included it would be 93%! Only 7% voted for the open bourgeois party!

The lack of a clear Marxist Party and the lack of any clear understanding of what to do, or clear sense of direction by the military leadership which is wobbling uncertainly at the present time, leads to the possibility of a renewed attempt at bourgeois counter-revolution. That explains the honeyed words of the EEC powers including Britain and the suggestion of aid and loans from America. Yesterday they supported Spinola, today they are lecturing the Portuguese rulers on the virtues of democracy, socialism, yes of course, but a "plural" bourgeois democracy at the same time! They are fighting for time for the reaction to organise! There is still a big section of the officers, silent and keeping their heads down at this stage, on whom they can rely. Despite the massive nationalisations, there is still no centralised plan. The masses have not been involved in administration or the running of industry. The old bureaucracy in the civil service is still largely intact.

If the masses become disillusioned at the unemployment, still high inflation, lower living standards and activity ebbs, they hope that a new coup could have more success in restoring reaction. That is why the EEC and America are hinting at aid with strings. But a new coup would galvanise the masses once again. It would make certain that as far as the economy is concerned complete nationalisation would be carried out.

Though not absolutely excluded, bourgeois reaction seems highly unlikely. It would only provoke further movements of the masses, and endanger (from the bourgeois point of view) the grip of the military on Portuguese society.

That would be a worse danger to the world bourgeoisie than the present position. They do not wish to push the military rulers into the arms of the Russian bureaucracy, as they have a relatively independent role at the present time as Portuguese nationalists.

Thus the EEC and America are trying to maintain the present uneasy balance of forces in Portugal. As the Times woefully admitted, "capitalism in Portugal is dead." The world ruling class wishes to make the best of a bad job.

At the present time they are hoping for the support of reaction, of the peasant small holders in the North on whom Spinola tried to rely and on sections of the officers. They are banking on the conflict between the CP and SP leadership.

According to reports 7,000 armed ex-Portuguese secret police are still waiting in Spain for an opportunity of revenge. If splits break out among the officers they, together with mercenaries, might try to intervene in Portugal. However, as each attempt at reaction has shown, the danger of counter-revolution would provoke an extreme reaction among the masses and without direct military intervention - and even with foreign intervention - would fail after a terribly bloody conflict. In the bourgeois "Centre Democratic" Party, even in its MPs in the Constituent Assembly, are members tainted with having had leading positions in the Fascist organisations. One was a Minister in the Caetano Government and another General De Melo was involved in the Spinola putsch. They are hoping to reassert the prerogatives of capitalism by banking on a split in the Armed Forces Movement and a paralysis of the working class.

Mario Soares has reluctantly accepted the programme of nationalisation as a transition to "socialism" but is in conflict with the CP over the question of abstract democratic rights. The bourgeoisie of the West hope to drive a wedge into the situation by playing on this contradiction.

If Soares had raised the question of a democratic plan of production through the Soviets, election of Workers', Peasants' and Soldiers' Soviets (Workers' and Soldiers' Committees) and control and management of industry and the state by the working class, the SP would undoubtedly have gained the support of the overwhelming majority of the people, the workers, soldiers and peasants. The programme of Lenin - the famous four points for the dictatorship of the proletariat or workers' democracy, should have formed the basis of a programme for the revolution.

  1. Setting up and election of Soviets with the right of recall.
  2. No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.
  3. No standing army but an armed people.
  4. No bureaucracy. All officials jobs should gradually be done in turn by the workers representatives. The jobs of the state should be reduced to accounting and control. Every cook should be able to be Prime Minister.

Such a programme put forward by authoritative leaders would have gained enormous support within the ranks not only of the supporters and members of the SP but the CP as well. It would have given hegemony to Portugal of the revolution in the Iberian Peninsula and then throughout Europe.

MS Image Claude Truong Ngoc Wikimedia CommonsSoares' programme is a programme of impotence / Image: Claude Truong Ngoc, Wikimedia Commons

But Soares' programme is a programme of impotence, he wants to build a bourgeois democracy where the basis of that democracy has disappeared, and in reality never existed in the revolution in Portugal. There was a basis for proletarian democracy, for a period, if only on a national basis, or bourgeois dictatorship, and a new and more ferocious Salazarism. Now the choice is between proletarian Bonapartism or proletarian democracy.

Soares' empty gestures will merely irritate the military caste. It will not prevent the CP from consolidating in bureaucratic fashion its grip on the unions and press and other institutions. Only if there were the democratically controlled Soviets - which would take control of the press and give access to all the media on the basis and in proportion to support in the Soviets would there be genuine freedom of opinion.

Banking on the organisation and control of the rank and file in the armed forces, in industry and in agriculture, the pressure for socialist democracy would be irresistible.

But Soares' empty calls to demonstrations - without perspective and without any aim or strategy for wresting power - will merely demoralise the working class. Social democrats are pathetic buffoons when the time for decisive action arises. It is the same as demonstrations and strikes against Fascist provocation and violence - without a strategy and tactics aimed at power these are empty and allow the Fascists to redouble their violence - when the demonstrations are ended and the workers go back to work. So the Stalinists maintain their grip, Soares continues to fawn on the "Revolutionary Generals".

The masses are offered no alternative. There is no flexible democratic organisation of the rank and file in industry (apart from the unions) and the armed forces which could unite on an all national basis to pit against the power of the officers' Junta, and the union organisations are controlled from the top bureaucratically by the Stalinists.

Undoubtedly while the revolutionary Junta of officers has great support and prestige among the masses, the massive vote for the Socialist Party was a vote against totalitarianism.

The masses want socialism, but they want a free and democratic socialism. They endured two generations of authoritarian terror and do not want a new totalitarian dictatorship. That is the element of strength in the position of the SP.

But Soares, while playing on this theme that runs through the thinking of the masses, has no concrete answers.

For example, a real plan of production, involving a monopoly of foreign trade, would involve participation at local level in the factories of the workers, a thorough analysis of the resources of Portugal, its strength and weaknesses involving scientists, engineers and technicians, the shop stewards and even housewives to draw up one or two plans of production over five years. The masses to have the final say through local representation, and then national representation of workers' Juntas. Because of the Parliamentary cretinism of Soares, he will remain suspended in mid-air, in the powerless Constituent Assembly.

As things stand at present, the final decisions will be made by the officers Junta, in collaboration with their obedient stooges, the CP leadership. The Junta itself will drift with the tide of events. Not having a worked out philosophy and acting purely empirically, they will drift from one expedient to another. Without the intervention of revolution in Spain, which will buoy and raise the activity and enthusiasm of the working class, they will tend to drift towards totalitarian solutions, a la Cuba because that would be the natural training and inclination of military men bent on "order" and "tidiness" in social relations.

The leaders of the CP steeped in bureaucratic manoeuvres, tricks, horse deals, demagogy, will outmanoeuvre Soares completely because the SP has no alternative programme for power.

Consequently the officers of the MFA who are dithering and uncertain of their next move at the moment, not a usual position for a military trained caste, will inexorably be pushed to take complete control in their hands. This will be especially because of the dithering and quarrels of the Constituent Assembly.

They will move to split the CP - or form an ostensible Armed Forces Party in which the other parties must be amalgamated. Soares' hope of support from the SPs and CPs of Western Europe, is a trifling card to play against the realities of power in Portugal.

The MFA is already playing a Bonapartist role without the trappings of a military-police state, but events themselves will force a decision on them. There is a vacuum of power. The bourgeoisie has been largely dispossessed. Only remnants of Big Business remain. In that sense power is now in the hands of the proletariat. But the officers control the power of the state, formally, in the sense that control of armed bodies is control of the state. Either the officers would be compelled to submit or participate in soldiers councils where they would be a small minority or inevitably they will brush aside the "bumbling and quarrelling politicians."

There are suggestions of this already. The officers are critical of the taint of social democratic faint-heartedness, cowardice and indecisiveness of Soares. They have spoken of the need for a "real Socialist Party." Through the CP they will exert pressure.

The control of the press, radio and TV is already in the hands of the CP intellectuals who have begun to bureaucratise with the usual methods of uncontrolled Stalinism, The episode of Republica is no accident.

Whether the SP leaves the Cabinet and the Government or not over this question will not make a fundamental difference to events because they are offering no concrete, organisational alternative. If they remain in, their fate will be sealed. If they move out that too will be a gesture of parliamentary cretinism because it will merely lead to a new round of purposeless rhetoric and demonstrations, without any organisational aim in view which could be taken up by the masses.

Whatever peculiar twist or nuance will be given, Portugal is on the road to a form of proletarian Bonapartism, or deformed or distorted workers state. The economic basis is already largely laid. "Socialism", in the language of the Stalinists and Socialist leaders, of the conception of the MFA leadership too, is being accomplished. The military leaders are examining the models. The Cuban system, no different in fundamentals from that of China, Yugoslavia, Russia or Eastern Europe seems to be the favourite model.

At one pace or another, the logic of events, of an uncontrolled military bureaucracy, will force them to take action.

Portugal is still one of the most backward countries in Europe. In Western Europe it is certainly the most backward and poor, with 40% illiteracy. A lost empire, weak industry, formidable problems in a backward agriculture, the difficulties and problems are mounting.

With purely a national perspective and without the conception of workers' democracy and international socialism, which on their own resources and initiatives would be completely foreign to ruling soldiers, without looking to the coming Spanish Revolution for succour on the basis of an Iberian Socialist Federation, as a step towards a Socialist Europe, Portugal will move inexorably towards a one party totalitarian state.

The tragedy of the Portuguese Revolution, so far, is that there was not a tendency which basing itself on the tested theories of Marxism and the history of the last three decades could have intervened in the Socialist Party and won its ranks to a Marxist policy.

As our tendency forecast, the masses moved in tens of thousands into the traditional organisations of the working class, the CP and the SP, and in millions into the unions.

The active advanced workers were organised in the SP and CP. Had there been from the beginning a conscious Marxist group in the SP it would have grown by leaps and bounds on the basis of the experience of the revolution and a correct interpretation, anticipation and explanation of events. Today it would be a big majority of the Young Socialists, possibly also of the Socialist Party.

How the ideas of revolutionary Marxism have been crushed by the development of world events has been shown by the split in the CP before the revolution and the formation of the pseudo-Maoist MRPP. This has played a dangerous and provocative role in the revolution by its irresponsible ultra-left tactics. It has played into the hands of the CP with its fantastic resurrection of "Social Fascism" with which it dubs the CP.

It is mainly a student organisation, in so far as it has gained some support among workers that has been because of the opportunism of the CP and its bureaucratic methods. Serious workers would be repelled by its infantile and hysterical tactics. As one of the leading officers of the Junta pointed out, its frenzied methods leave it open to provocateurs, just as do the ultra-left and Anarchist sects in Italy. It acts as a demoralising and disorganising force. It plays at revolution in an infantile student fashion. But its very existence is due to the vacuum created by the temporary obliteration of Marxism as a mass current. It feeds on the opportunism and lack of democracy of the CP but has no future as a serious tendency in the mass movement. It will merely conveniently supply the Junta with an excuse for repression at a suitable moment.


Students can play an important role, if they are prepared mainly to learn as well as teach, within the framework of the Labour movement. Outside, without the discipline of genuine Marxism, all their weaker and worst sides become prominent.


To turn from light relief to serious matters, the Portuguese Military's "own road to socialism" however, is strewn with formidable problems and difficulties. Apart from Czechoslovakia and possibly Poland, wherever proletarian Bonapartism was victorious in the post-war world, it was with a weak and scattered proletariat.

In the case of Poland where the towns were practically destroyed and Warsaw razed to the ground (Warsaw contained a big percentage if not the majority of the proletariat) and where the peasants constituted the overwhelming majority of the population it was not possible for the proletariat to play a role independent of the CP and the Red Army.

There was no revolutionary Marxist party. The proletariat was decimated, especially the skilled workers. Its Jewish section was practically exterminated. Without a victory of the proletariat in one of the highly industrialised countries there could be no perspective of democratic workers' power.

It required some years for the wounds to heal, with the development of Polish industry. In 1956, and even more in 1970, the Polish proletariat showed that its great traditions are not dead. It demonstrated its hatred of the new overlords, the bureaucracy, and the desire for genuine workers' democracy.

In the case of Czechoslovakia there were similar considerations. The CP was the dominant organisation in the proletariat. There were bitter memories of Munich and their surrender to the yoke of a foreign Fascist oppressor. There was no organisation with the perspective of workers' democracy. The Stalinists played on chauvinism and the German masses were expelled from the Bohemia-Moravia provinces. In this atmosphere it was possible to impose a Stalinist totalitarianism before the masses understood the implications.

In the case of Russia the proletariat having risen to the height of workers' power and workers' democracy for the first time in history, succumbed to the rule of bureaucracy because of the isolation of the revolution and the backwardness of Russia. (See documents and the material of Trotsky.)

The Bolshevik wing was defeated in the struggle between 1924-27 despite the traditions of October and the existence of a revolutionary party - by the failure of the revolutionary wave internationally - defeat of the workers in Germany, Britain and China. The tired, exhausted and decimated proletariat fell victim to the bureaucratic usurpers.

Today on a world scale the situation is entirely different. Without exaggerating it would be correct to say that European and World capitalism is pregnant with revolution, even if in its initial stages. The world proletariat is immensely more powerful than at any time in history. Immense events are yet to unfold, as the proletariat moves into action in one country after another.

The world bourgeoisie is decayed and decadent. The early post-war euphoria has been dissipated. The bourgeoisie is partially demoralised as they wait with dread on events. They have not been able to intervene directly by military means in a revolution in a small country, which is at the opposite end of the European continent to Russia. This is much more dangerous for world capitalism than the Stalinist distorted revolution in Vietnam. The main contradiction in world affairs is the lack of a strong revolutionary party. This is the contradiction which it is our task to eliminate.

On the background to world events the Portuguese military bureaucracy is extremely unlikely to be able to consolidate a Military Police, Bonapartist Proletarian Dictatorship because of the coming revolution in Spain and the reverberations which this will have in Europe and the world. The Portuguese and Spanish Revolutions will move in tandem, the one reacting and interacting with the other. This will make it very difficult, if not impossible to bureaucratise the Portuguese Revolution completely and organise a Stalinist totalitarian state in Portugal (progressive in the elimination of capitalism and landlordism and giving an impetus to the further development of the productive forces, therefore demanding the support of the working class internationally, reactionary in the lack of workers' democracy and a blinkered and narrow nationalism). This laying the foundation of new contradictions and the necessity of a second political revolution to institute workers' democracy.

Ted Grant, May 1975

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