Perspective for the Portuguese Revolution
By Albert Weisbord
(From the magazine "La Parola del Popolo" May-June 1974)

AT LAST the long overdue Portuguese Revolution has started. There had been revolutionary attempts made before, but the elements of the progressive bourgeoisie were too cowardly to support their own vanguard and left it stranded time and again. The old landlord and imperialist banking cliques still controlled, with ubiquitous spying and unspeakable torture by their secret police. 

One might have thought that after World War II with the collapse of Mussolini's fascism and Hitler's nazism, the Portuguese Salazar dictatorship would also crumble. But no! There was always the "democratic" Common Market to befriend Portugal and to open its arms to Portuguese slave workers so as to drain off the rebellious elements. There was always the intimate relations with Britain. There was always the warm friendship of the United States to bring Portugal into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization with heavy military aid and subsidies in return to get a free hand for oil in African Angola, an invitation for mineral exploitation in African Mozambique, and the use of naval bases in the Atlantic and in the Mediterranean. And there was always Spain's Falangist Franco, whom Salazar had supported so loyally and who had to support the Salazar dictatorship in return.

And so, for close to fifty years "order," that is stagnation, was preserved in Portugal, the "order of the Holy Spirit and Commercial Bank (Banca Espirito Santo e Comercial --- it takes a Portuguese ruling class to name its bank like that!).With "order," the workers were paid the lowest wages in Europe, wages so low that Portuguese textiles could beat British competition in Britain itself, and little children of seven could work eighty to one hundred hours a week.

With "order," such little education was allowed that modern firms, such as those building railroad cars in Amadora for Portuguese African territories, had difficulties in recruiting workers with an adequate educational and technical background. With "order," there was such poverty that Portuguese workers had the highest tuberculosis rate in Europe and a little beggar boy could open his shirt to show me his pneumo-thorax operation, with the statement that every single member of his large family also had such an operation! "Order" made Portugal the laughing stock of Europe, a disgrace to modern times, dramatized by the wailing strains of the "fado" of the troubadour singers. The ruling class of Portugal, supported by the Vatican, was held in intellectual contempt by the entire post-war bourgeoisie of Europe. 

It was left for the lowest of the low to do the job -- the black African slaves of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, organized in their armed political formations, using friendly African neighboring countries as their bases, and armed with weapons obtained from Russia, China, Cuba, Viet Nam, Algeria, and from the Portuguese themselves. These heroic Africans carried on a war for close to fifteen years without let up, a war so costly to Portugal that 100,000 Portuguese draftees fled conscription, the Portuguese national treasury was drained, the people loaded with taxation, and thousands dead and wounded, with no end in sight. Miserable fifth-rate Portugal could not stand the strain. Bankruptcy was reality. The army cracked and the generals cracked overthrowing the Lisbon dictatorship as they did so. 

The fact that the generals have overthrown the old Salazar-Caetano dictatorship does not mean that this is merely a palace revolution. On the contrary, it must mean that the crack will widen more and more as the paralyzed government is no longer able to control the situation. The African dominions will have to be given up and become independent --- Guinea-Bissau immediately, Mozambique and Angola after a while, as the rebellious native movement takes advantage of Lisbon's bankruptcy and drives the sword ever deeper into the vitals of imperialism. 

These generals now in control have anticipated that theirs would have to be a mere transitional caretaker regime to prevent complete chaos and capitalist ruin. They know they will have to call a general election soon and great, new, mass, democratic, liberal, socialist, communist, anarchist, syndicalist movements will be rapidly springing up demanding power.

UP TO THIS point the Portuguese Revolution compares basically with the Spanish Revolution of 1931. There, too, royalist dictatorship under Primo de Rivera fell, to give way to General Berenguer who had to call for elections placing the government in the hands of republican liberals, socialists, communists and even anarchists and independent leftists such as the P.O.U.M. (Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxista or Workers Party of Marxist Unification). In Spain, also, the fall of Primo de Rivera took place over a background of general world economic depression and crisis, rebellion in Spanish Africa, heavy military losses, severe taxation, and general economic bankruptcy under an old landlord-royalist regime that could not govern. 

But here the parallelism tends to end. In 1931 fascism was growing stronger all around Spain, while the Stalinist "people's coalitions" were getting weaker. Catholic fascism was in control in Salazar's Portugal and in Mussolini's Italy. Nazi fascism under Hitler was soon to dominate all central Europe and compel the "neutrality" of France, England, and the United States. Stalin would not allow a single Russian subject to volunteer for the antifascist fight in Spain. 

In 1974, on the contrary, the only fascist form around Portugal is decaying Falangist Spain. Italy has the largest Communist Party in Europe and is moving to the left; socialists and communists combined have made an impressive showing in the election held recently in France; Labor is in office in Britain, and a Socialist Party controls Germany. Russia has increased her power throughout the world, especially in the Mediterranean, and even in Africa. 

Furthermore, in Spain in the 1936-1937 Civil War, Franco with his army kept intact, was able to call in the Moors from Africa to lead the counter-thrust against the Spanish people. This cannot be done today in the case of Portugal, not even if the revolution should catch on in Spain again. 

So great is the influence of Russia that it is clear that the Portuguese generals must have made some sort of secret agreement with Russia before they moved to overthrow and exile Caetano. How else explain why the generals could have immediately called in not only the head of the illegal Socialist Party of Portugal but the exiled head of the underground Communist Party so that these new arrivals could have an early and free hand in organizing their force into a "people's coalition" for the coming elections? 

The free hand given to socialist Soares and communist Cunhal is meant to guarantee that the Portuguese Revolution will not go beyond the capitalist framework. The "People's coalition" will allow the "people" to play around with democracy, but will the workers get control? Will this coalition establish the rule of the toilers? Will it seize the "Espirito Santo e Comercial" Bank? Will it nationalize the big industries? Will it confiscate the lands of the large agrarian proprietors? Will it disband the old army and create a real worker's militia? Will it hang the fascist generals and secret police? Will it close the U.S. military bases and leave the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Will it call on the workers of the world to aid them, especially the workers in Spain, Italy, France, Britain?

It is my prediction that this new "people's coalition" will NOT do these or dozens of other most important things they must do. This is not why the "arrangement" with Russia has been made. The new leaders are to form a new government in order to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for the bourgeoisie to save as much as possible of the old regime as they can, to give the industrial bourgeoisie a stronger base, to control the workers so that the workers cannot control themselves!

Let us take a look again at Spain 1931-1936 when the people's coalition government of liberal-socialist-communists won the government elections five years after they had first taken power. One of the first tasks of the people's coalition after 1931 should have been to disband the army. This the new Government would not and did not do, even after the worst provocation's by such royalist generals as Sanjurjo. This enabled the leaders of the reactionary army to plan the counter-revolution from the very heart of Spain and from all its military bases. 

Will the present Portuguese generals, now called "liberal" and "revolutionary" be treated worse than the counter-revolutionary militarists in Spain? Is it not clear that nothing has been learned from the disastrous recent experiences in Chile? The Portuguese workers should at least clean out the bulls from the arenas right now so that when the thousands of revolutionists are brought in to be machine-gunned by the "liberal" generals as in Chile (following Spain) at least the victims will die clean and not be pasted with bullshit! In Portugal the Stalinists are kissing the generals. 

Again, in the Spain of 1931-1936, a primary task of the new government there was to insure the liberation of Spanish Morocco and other conquered territories of Africa. Here, too, the new regime refused. Thus the royalist generals of Spain were able to recruit a vast army of Berbers, on the promise of freedom, and hurl them against the workers and peasants of revolutionary Spain. In Portugal the Stalinists are against complete liberation of African territories.

In the Spain of 1931-1936 it was most important to confiscate the property of such big capitalists as Gil Robles and turn over the plants to the workers and the big country estates to the peasants. Nothing of the sort was done. On the contrary, Gil Robles was left completely free to use his large fortune to build up his Spanish Falangist Party for counter-revolution. Will it be any different in Portugal? In Portugal the Stalinists are even against workers!

The generals may propose but events will dispose and these fellows will not be able to control entirely the events that now will begin to follow:

1) In regard to the African territories: An ever sharpening struggle for power and independence must now ensue. Perhaps there will be some more Portuguese draftees shot, some more national wealth wasted. Little Guinea- Bissau will be cast adrift and the Portuguese soldiers taken out (but not from the Cape Verde Islands). So far as the Frelimo African revolutionary force in Mozambique is concerned, the leaders will be "negotiated" with.

An offer will be made to give them some place now in the Mozambique government under Portuguese guidance, of course, with a promise of independence later; all this with the excuses to "train" the African how to form a "civilized" government (and this after five hundred years of genocide slaughtering of tens of millions of Africans by the "civilized" Portuguese), to bring the country into the United Nations, or to protect them from the racists of Southern Rhodesia or of South Africa. At this point Russia should enter the scene as the "black liberator" pushed on by the pressing claims of "third world" China. The nationalist rivalry of China and Russia may predominate over the attempts of the United States to play a leading role in Mozambique.

THE BIGGEST struggle will take place over Angola. Here oil has been found and exploited by Gulf Oil Company protected by U.S. interests. There will be no confiscation of U.S. oil, one may be sure, without the bitterest sort of struggle. But perhaps peace may be obtained by another compromise, one similar to that projected for Mozambique, but with the United States here playing the counterpart of Russia there. The Africans will have the illusion of "independence" and "freedom." The Portuguese will be merely the intermediaries to pick what crumbs may fall from the table. The Portuguese at most will have a role like the French in Algeria; at worst they will be kicked out and sent home -- after five hundred years as posing as "conquistadors"!

How Portuguese imperialism is to be withdrawn from Africa is a most important matter. The chief factors involved are: First of all the army; second, the settlers; third, the international and foreign corporation. The army itself may be considered as having three distinct elements: each ought to be treated separately, namely: the generals, the young professional officers, and the drafted soldiers.

In regard to the army, the generals should be returned as prisoners and brought to trial for genocide and slavery. Some of the younger officers, surrounded constantly by native soldiers, should be left to train a native army under the new native revolutionary government to be established, so as to stiffen the fight for the independence of Angola and of Mozambique and for the containment of Southern Rhodesia and South African imperialism, both definite threats. The draftees and ordinary soldiers should be disarmed, returned to the rank of the toilers in Portugal, and merged with the hundred thousand draft evaders now also coming back.

In regard to the several hundred thousands of Portuguese colonists and other settlers, they should not be shipped home if they will only feed the reactionary forces at home, as did the so-called "blackhead" French colonists in Algeria. On the other hand their land holdings and slave practices must be ruthlessly terminated. They must be carefully screened before being allowed to remain and the worst offenders must be tried for their crimes by the new African governments. The Portuguese settlers must not be allowed to vote or to form political parties or organizations of their own, as they are only invaders of another country. After screening, some should be tolerated as lawful merchants, professionals, managers and such wherever they can make a contribution to the African people and are no longer dangerous. This whole strategy, however, is fraught with danger, since some of these settlers may try to pull another "Brazil" or another "Mexico" where the Portuguese "settlers" in one case, and the Spanish "settlers" in the other broke away from the home country only to keep their slaves and the land for themselves. Much will depend on the relations between the African revolutionary governments and Portugal, and this, in turn will depend on the advancement of the Revolution in Portugal itself.

The entrance into the field of the foreign development corporation (such as Gulf Oil) should be controlled but encouraged not only for the funds and development it would bring (schools, roads, health, sanitation, etc.) but also as a means of freeing the people from the monopoly controls of the Portuguese. These foreign corporations must hire natives, must train natives for control, must school natives, and help really modernize the country. Above all, this process will create a modern working class that will push the revolution forward and stabilize it.

The withdrawal of Portugal from Africa will lead to a sharpened imperialist struggle for the enormous resources that southern Africa contains: copper, iron, oil, diamonds, coal, uranium, etc. Unless the Revolution develops in Portugal and spreads to Europe, the African territories may be overwhelmed. 

2) We turn now to the perspectives in Portugal itself. Even before the new general elections take place there the generals are going to be faced with a vast upheaval of the masses demanding better wages, hours, working conditions and social security equal to these levels obtained by workers in industrial Western Europe. These demands may mean increases in pay of as much as 200 per cent! Factory workers will be reinforced by fishermen and by agricultural laborers and toilers. What then? If employers grant, say 30 per cent increases, this will be only a temporary reprieve. The people should work fast now when the rulers are greatly demoralized. 

Capital is bound to flee the country. Internally, the cost of living will skyrocket with rampant inflation, while the valuta in foreign exchange will plummet to drastic lows as it did in Spain. Under the leadership of such corporations as "Espirito Santo e Comercial" the Portuguese bourgeoisie and landlords will have to reorganize their forces, offer a great place to the more modern sections of the industrial bourgeoisie and fight for time, in the meantime creating as much chaos as they can. By the time the elections take place there will be much unemployment and misery for the new government to solve. The generals will be waiting in the background. Here is where the "socialist" and "Communist" leaders are supposed to step in to save the day -- for a price.

The big question is: At what point can the people's revolution be stopped? How can the workers be prevented from trying to take full power over the production and circulation of commodities? At what point shall the peasants be prevented from driving out the reactionary absentee landlords and others who have so bitterly exploited them for so long a time? Who is going to stop the workers -- the moribund aristocratic landlords? The cowardly bourgeoisie? The timid fearful petty bourgeoisie? The fed-up draftees? The generals?

Only the workers can stop themselves through their own organizations led by their own leaders! Will Portuguese socialists ignore the lessons of Chile and order the workers to stop the revolution halfway? The Communist Party no doubt, will wait until the order is given from Moscow. Moscow will wait to make the best bargain it can for Russia. Were Portugal really to go "red," would not the "gentlemen's agreement" at Yalta in which East of the Elbe river in Europe went to Russia and the West to capitalism, be broken? Did not Stalin at Yalta pledge to prevent revolution in the West so long as he was allowed a free hand in the East, and will Breznev, the pupil, dare to do what Stalin, his master, did not dare to do?

But the people of Portugal are not entirely defenseless. Time is on their side. In a year or so probably all Western Europe will be in an economic and political crisis. The situation will get more urgent, not less. What about Spain, Italy, and France? Here are the keys to the situation! First of all, Spain.

Poor Portugal must do its best to extend the revolutionary mass pressure into Spain. Franco is not in a position to retaliate militarily. In its appeal to the Spanish masses Portugal will be able to get the help of the Cubans, of the Spanish refugees, of the Chilean refuge, of the Portuguese refugees who had fled to Brazil or to the United States, of the Spanish and Portuguese immigrant laborers in industrial Europe. The appeal to overthrow Franco will have special force in Galicia, in the Asturias, in Andalusia, among the Basques and in Catalonia. Were Spain to join Portugal who would dare to intervene --- the United States, England, France, Italy, Germany? No one of these!

Only Russia might -- not directly but through her controlled Communist Parties. If she does so, however, the chances are that she would fail. The French and the Italian Communist Parties would break from Moscow carrying with them the bulk of the communist forces in Europe. For once the Russian workers would see how "revolutionary" the Bolsheviks really are.

After Spain, it is Italy that would be most affected and that should be appealed to. The Italians can appreciate very well the dire straits of the Portuguese toilers. At various times the Italian workers would have taken power had not the choking hand of Stalin prevented them. By her appropriate action Italy can break the capitalist solid front of the Common Market of Europe and place the permanent revolution on the agenda for all Western and Central Europe, daring the Russian bureaucrats and U.S. capitalists to do their worst. These, paralyzed, will be able to do nothing but await their own internal storms!