Theses on the situation in Portugal

Printer-friendly versionSend by email

The theses and their introduction were written on 21 September, 1975, while points 6-8 of the last part of the theses date from 1 November. Since that date important events have taken place in Portugal which seems, at first glance, to totally contradict the perspective outlined in the thesis. Indeed since 25 November, following the mutiny of the para­chutists at Tancos (who had recent1y been converted to ‘leftist’ poli­tics), the government has vigorously taken the situation in hand and has totally eliminated from the wheels of state the faction which is put forward in the thesis as being the best adapted for taking over the defence of the national capital - that is, the COPCON/Carvalho faction. The pushing aside of Carvalho, Fabiao, Coutinho, the arrest of Dimis de Almeida, etc, signify that the extreme left has now lost what was its main strength: the control of the forces of repression and intervention. Although the Sixth Government remains practically un­changed, it is the right which now governs in Portugal to the extent that in the country it is the army really exercises power.

The fact that it was members of the extreme right - such as the comman­dos of Amadora and the National Republican Guard who ‘re-established order’ on 26 November and who have taken charge of the repression since then indicates the true colours of the present political power. The return in force of the Spinolist officers to the posts left vacant by leftists who have resigned or been put in prison and the freeing of a number of important agents of the ex-PIDE, confirm this trend.

Therefore what this present trend clearly demonstrates is the validity of the essential idea of the theses: “The Portuguese experience represents a setback for the political mechanism of classical democracy as a means of managing society, and as a means of integrating the working class”. (thesis no 4) In fact ‘democracy’ as represented essentially through the SP and the PPD - who dominate both the Constituent Assembly and the Azevedo government - can only ensure its survival with the assistance of the extreme right; and this deprives it of any possibility of mystifying the class and of any chance of controlling it except through open repression.

In Portugal the economic and political crisis is so catastrophic that there is no ‘middle of the road’ way of dealing with it. In order to force the working class to accept the terrible sacrifices which alone can stave off total bankruptcy, only extreme solutions can be envisaged: immediate, open repression by the extreme right a la Pinochet which is advocated by Spinola and, the commando leader Jaime Neves, or else the ‘leftist’ brand of containing the class, as outlined in the COPCON document of August, 1975.

For the moment, it is the first solution which seems to have won out. But Portugal is not Chile. Portugal is not a ‘far-off’', ‘exotic’ country where tens of thousands of workers can be massacred with no problems: on the one hand the proletariat in Portugal is more powerful than the proletariat in Chile; and on the other hand the European bourgeoisie is not ready to accept a premature civil war that would reveal the true stakes of the class struggle today. It is for this reason that the political solution which prevails in Portugal at the mo­ment cannot last very long - although a gross error on the part of the bourgeoisie is always possible. With the reawakening of the proletarian struggle which has been paralyzed since the summer by the smokescreen of a leftist alternative, but which cannot fail to develop in the face of the austerity measures now being imposed, we will once again see the Portuguese bourgeoisie making use of its most ‘radical’ forms of govern­ment, which are the only ones capable of derailing the combativity of the workers.

3 January, 1976

Introduction

Since 21 September 1975 when the theses were written, the analysis contained in them has been confirmed by the course of events in Portugal.

* The inability of the Azevedo government to control the economic, social, political and military crisis has confirmed what was stressed in the theses: the increasing ineffectiveness of traditional forms of management of the bourgeois state and of the traditional means of integration and mystification of the working class. However, that inability has made it all the more urgent for the bourgeoisie to find a solution based upon the most left-wing faction of the army, in particular the supporters of COPC ON, and the use of different method of mystification of the working class, such as workers’ commissions and tenants committees.

* The fact that the sixth provisional government’s only success was to obtain aid from the EEC and the USA, despite the fact that its domestic policy was even more incapable of stabilizing the situation than that of the fifth government, confirms that the crisis of last summer was principally and temporarily, the result of problems of foreign policy. The choice of the principal protagonist in the attack against the pro-CP faction of the army, Melo Antunes, as Minister of Foreign Affairs tends to confirm this interpretation.

A new element which has emerged since then, and which falls within the perspective of these theses, is the appearance of the S.U.V. (Soldiers United Will Win) and soldiers committees. Although these are an expression of the decomposition of the entire social structure, they are in no way a revolutionary manifestation of the working class, unlike the soldiers’ committees of 1917-19. On the contrary, these organs are essentially instruments of democratization in the army, in order to make it more effective in its repression of the working class.

1. Events in Portugal provide a glaring illustration of the fact that in the period of' capitalist decadence there is no room for any real economic development in underdeveloped countries, even the strongest of them. A great colonial power, Portugal has not been achieved economic ‘take-off’ in the twentieth century, despite her large share of the imperialist cake. Thus on the eve of 25 April 1974 she had the distinction of being at one and the same time the poorest country in Europe, apart from Yugoslavia, and the last to hang on to her colonial possessions.

As a consequence of her economic weakness, Portugal granted independence to her colonies very slowly, which was in turn a severe handicap for Portuguese capital (because of the cost of arms expenditure, the cost of colonial administration, the four-year call-up of potentially productive workers, and political emigration) to the extent that in 1974 Portugal had most of the characteristics of a ‘Third World’ country:

- Annual income per head: $1250 (Compared with $1790 for Greece and $4900 for France.)

- An important agricultural sector employing 29% of the working population (France: 12%, U. K.: 3%).

- The archaic structure of the agricultural sector, which is basically composed of ‘latifundia’ and tiny smallholdings (less than 1% of agricultural holdings cover 39% of cultivated land; 92% cover 33% of cultivated land). In both cases output is extremely low.

- Modern industry is intensely concentrated in two areas, around Oporto and around Lisbon and Setubal. It exists side by side with archaic and uncompetitive small-scale industry (32,000 enterprises employ less than 100 people while only 156 employ more than 500).

2. The open crisis of capitalism which began around 1965-7 struck the Portuguese economy with its full force after 1973 because of:

- the structural weakness of the economy, which was becoming less and less competitive;

- the ever more crippling burden of the colonial wars;

- the unemployment which developed among emigrant workers, who on their return to Portugal, deprived the Portuguese economy of the foreign currency they had been sending home.

At the same time that the crisis was expressing itself in the highest rate of inflation in Europe, the class struggle which had died down after the wave of 1968-70 intensified again at an increasing rate until the beginning of 1974 (viz. struggles at Timex, Lisnave, TAP, etc.).

3. The coup of April 25th represented an attempt on the part of more enlightened sections of the bourgeoisie to put the national economy back in order, which could only be achieved:

- by the liquidation of colonial debts;

- by putting a check on the working class.

Only the army could be the executor of this policy, as practically the only organized force in the country (apart from the only legal party, the Salazarists). Furthermore the army:

- was directly confronted with the hopelessness of achieving a military solution in the colonies;

- had no particular connection with the specific capitalist interests associated with the regimes of Salazar and Caetano, and was thus able to see the interests of the entire national capital in a global context.

Although the first effects of the coup were compatible with the interests of ,the large private capitalists (Champlimaud, CUF, etc.), of which Spinola was the principal representative within the junta, the objective needs of a national economy embroiled in a catastrophic crisis led the army to take more and more state capitalist measure.

In any case, the army identified more readily with state capitalism, because:

- it was not directly linked to private property, especially since the colonial wars had necessitated the call-up of large numbers of the intellectual petty-bourgeoisie;

- its centralized, hierarchical and monolithic structure closely resembles that of state capitalism.

July 74, September 74 and March 75 marked a series of crises and attempted coups by anachronistic factions of the bourgeoisie.

But even if at first they expressed the resistance of the anachronistic bourgeois factions, all these crises finally led t he same conclusion, namely:

- the diffusion of a working class offensive (the strikes of May-June, August-September, and particularly the TAP movement of February March) by diverting the focus of discontent onto ‘fascists’ and ‘reactionaries’, whose importance was totally exaggerated.

- the reinforcement of economic and political state capitalist measures (reinforcement of the ‘left-wing’ of the AFM and the elimination of the ‘right-wing’ factions like that of Spinola; and nationalizations presented as ‘great victories’; agrarian reform, etc.)

Through these different crises the army took control of the state more and more openly, and the pro-CP faction of the army strengthened its position. The convergence of the positions of the army and the CP is explained by the fact that the CP is one of the most dynamic state capitalist tendencies, and also that at first it was one of the best weapons with which to attack the working class. This convergence was also an expression of an attempt made by Portuguese capital to free itself to some extent from the influence of the United States and the western bloc, through establishing relations with the Soviet bloc. Although the PCP like all Stalinist parties is above all a party representing the national interest, it is nevertheless the case that the world is divided up into imperialist blocs, and each nation must orientate itself towards one of these blocs. In this context, the PCP represents an attempt to steer Portuguese capital into the Russian orbit, or at least out of the American orbit.

4. Of all the objectives set by the coup of April 25th, only that of decolonialization was attained. And even here, the result was not particularly beneficial for Portuguese capital, since this basically came down to a withdrawal of Portuguese influence in favour of the great imperialist powers (especially in Angola, the richest colony). It led to the repatriation of half a million colonial residents who couldn’t possibly be integrated into the struggling home economy. In fact, despite the battery of state capitalist measures and bursts of ‘anti­fascist’ and ‘revolutionary’ demagogy from the government, the working class has not really been kept under control, nor enrolled in the ‘battle for production’, the constant war-cry of the Stalinists and their Intersyndical.

For Portuguese capital the basic problems posed by the coup of April 25th remain:

* How to revitalize the national economy.

* How to contain the working class.

The only possible solution, whatever the detours and hesitations on the way, lies in the increasing statification of the economy, and an ever increasing concentration of political and economic power. Only such a policy will be capable of preserving some sort of order in the economy - which like the whole of Portuguese society is in a state of anarchy, verging on disintegration - while at the same time being presented as ‘revolutionary actions’ to the proletariat the main enemy of capital.

Now more than ever the time is right for state capitalism in Portugal - which with the rest of the world is embroiled in ever increasing social and economic convulsions - and only those political groups which represent the most dynamic expression of this tendency have any future. Those which still cling to anachronistic forms of capitalism, or less developed forms of state capitalism, like the SP and the PDP, which are essentially based in the propertied petty-bourgeoisie, can only recede from the fore­front of the political stage, along with the anachronistic political forms which they stand for (constituent elections, democratic parties).

In Portugal, as in most of the ‘Third World’, the army represents the chief executive power of state capitalism and the factions within the army which will play an increasingly important role is that which is the most concentrated, the most operational, and at the same time the clearest: that is, COPCON. Grouped around COPCON are the two other main state capitalist tendencies, the CP and the leftists, who one way or another are destined to play an important role as part of the state capitalist apparatus - since they represent the most important means for controlling the working class.

The Portuguese experience represents a setback for the political mechanism of classical democracy as a means of managing society and as a means of integrating the working class. It is as much a setback for parliamentary elections as a means of mystification as it is for the parties in their function as managers of the state. The army comes to represent the real power of the state and the parties become mere appendages of the army, following the army line. In the same way the unions show themselves to be more and more incapable of integrating a working class which has not been subjected to years of ‘democratic’ and union mystifications. In order to replace the old techniques as they become progressively more ineffective, the only solution for Portuguese state capitalism lies in direct enlistment of the class by the army in ‘grass-roots’ organizations such as ‘workers’ commissions’ and tenants’ and community organizations, whose function is to take responsibility for local administration and factory management. In place of the traditional parliamentary democracy, state capitalism increasingly substitutes ‘non-party’ forms of participation by the working class, which basically means participating in their own exploitation and oppression. As such, ‘self-management’ and ‘workers’ control’ will have an important role to play in Portugal, and this is exactly what is envisaged in the document put out by COPCON in August 75. These non-parliamentary forms are an objective necessity and hence power will necessarily be removed from the hands of SP and PDP. This means a strengthening of the tendency towards a state capitalism based on the integration of the working class through ‘grass-roots’ organs and a lesser dependence on traditional unionism. The ‘critical support’ of the leftists for the CP threatens to become the ‘critical support’ of the CP for the leftists.

5. On the basis of the above analysis it seems impossible to understand the present situation in Portugal. If one sees that the CP is better adapted to satisfy the real needs of the Portuguese economy than the SP, then it is hard to understand its retreat before the latter following the recent extended crisis. It would be easier to understand if the new government was more ‘left-wing’ than its predecessor instead of more ‘social-democratic’. This is not the case.

In fact it is in the long term that capitalism’s objective needs find expression in its economic and political forms. Capital will be forced to resort to the necessary forms of economic management and of mystification and integration of the working class, as well as to the political forces and organizations which are to be the executors or vehicles of these policies. But only in the term are these tendencies destined to emerge out of a whole series of seemingly contradictory convulsions. There are several reasons for this:

- Unlike the proletariat for whom control of society can only be a fully conscious activity, class prejudices prevent the bourgeoisie from reaching a real understanding of its political actions. Thus it is often forced to adopt the most suitable positions for the defence of its class interests only by way of manoeuvres and conflicts between its different factions which may have a greater or lesser awareness of the total class interest.

- There are ‘no holds barred’ in bourgeois politics. Today’s allies may be the adversaries of tomorrow. Strange alliances which seem to be ‘unnatural’ may be formed to deal with the needs of the moment, only to dissolve with the disappearance of those needs.

The depth of the present crisis is expressed throughout the world in the contradictory nature of the measures taken by the bourgeoisie in its attempts to overcome or shorten the crisis. This is true both with respect to economies where the inescapable alternative is between recession and inflation, and with respect to the different political ‘solutions’. Thus the contradiction between the necessity to use the leftists in an attempt to paralyse the working class offensive at the outset and the need to hold on to their ‘last card’; and the contradiction between the need on the one hand to strengthen the imperialist blocs - a need imposed by the heightening of inter-imperialist tensions as the crisis deepens - and on the other hand the growing need for an ‘anti-imperialist’ policy of ‘national unity’ capable of luring the class into support for the national capital. The bourgeoisie has to attend to its most urgent problems, and thus adopts a certain measure one day only to retract it the next day when other problems created by the measure itself become even more urgent. This is wily the deeper the crisis becomes, the more erratic and contradictory the political course taken by the country seems to be.

In order to understand this summer’s crisis and its ‘solution’, one has to take many different considerations into account - not only the long term interests of Portuguese capital, but also the more immediate needs.

In fact the real origin of the crisis lies not only in internal political conditions but equally in external conditions although it was the events at Republica which provided the detonator. Certainly the more the class struggle becomes a decisive factor in the determination of national policy, the more the latter develops in response to needs which arise internally. However, this does not mean:

* that the national needs arising from the international situation disappear;

* that they will not come to the forefront during a momentary lull in the class struggle as in July 1975.

At the beginning of July the faction of the AFM which was closest to the CP, led by Vasco Goncalves, was in an extremely powerful position, having a majority in the ‘real’ government - The Revolutionary Council - as well as in the civilian government. It had control over all means of communi­cation and propaganda (especially through the 5th Division), and control of the unions (the Intersyndical). But this did not correspond to the needs of Portuguese capital on two counts:

* the power of the CP and its Intersyndicil was diminishing.

* Portugal had to abandon any idea of disengagement from the western bloc, either militarily or economically. Attempts to establish trade with Eastern Europe have come to nothing since the latter, with its own economy in a weak state, had little to offer Portugal. Thus the conditions attached to aid from the EEC, Kissinger’s public statements and the response of the USSR showed that Portugal’s place was within NATO and the western economy.

Even if the CP continues in part to represent the needs of state capitalism, it must necessarily lose its place at the centre of power in favour of another more ‘left-wing’ faction, less committed to a pro-Russian policy. Thus we have seen a struggle whose length and bitterness, as well as the disorder which it provoked throughout the country, have resulted in a shift in the balance of power between the three opposing forces: the remaining representatives of traditional capitalism, standing for ‘democracy’ and a pro-American orientation, who regrouped around the SP and the PDP and to some extent round the Antunes faction in the army; the Goncalves faction, with a pro-Russian orientation, which is based in the CP; and the COPCON faction which is supported by the leftists, with a ‘realistic’ foreign policy. (Their slogan is: “Against all imperialism, for national indepen­dence”.)

The crucial struggle has taken place within the army which is where the real power lies. And the Antunes faction, by calling for a pro-European orientatton has scored a victory over the Goncalves faction. The success of the Antunes document is the result of a coalition of all those forces hostile to Goncalves for whatever reason, i.e. on the basis of both internal and foreign policy. The momentary success of the Antunes faction, which has been brought about by particular circumstances, has given it a powerful position in the AFM, in which it has become the dominant force at the expense of the CP/Goncalves faction (the latter however still retains some of its former power.) The COPCON/Carvalho faction has remained neutral, and remains the clearest about the real needs of Portuguese capital.

In fact, the ‘victory’ of the SP and the PDP is merely an expression of the immediate needs of Portuguese capital with regard to foreign policy, and of a shift in the balance of power within the CP faction. It cannot hide the following facts:

- that the struggle in the army is still decisive. The army retains all real power, despite recurrent talk of ‘restoring’ the constitution.

- that there is no alternative path than toward state capitalism.

- that the problems posed by foreign policy which were at the centre of much of the recent conflict (cf Antunes’ document) will not retain such central importance after a resurgence of class struggle.

- that the present government has practically no weapons with which to mystify the working class.

In fact, the COPCON/Carvalho faction, at once the strongest militarily and the clearest politically, has merely made use of ‘democratic’ factions in order to weaken the CP. As far as possible it has avoided doing the job itself (with the exception of the occupation by COPCON of units of the 5th Division, and the letter from Carvalho to Goncalves ‘amicably’ urging him to resign). Such caution is explained by the fact that the Carvalho faction will need the support of the CP to be able to govern effectively and cannot put this necessary alliance at risk by attacking the CP too openly.

While expressing ‘very critical support’ for the present government, the Carvalho faction can let the government and the political forces which dominate it (Antunes, the SP and PDP) assume responsibility for the drastic austerity measures which Portuguese capital must urgently take. Thus the power of these forces can only be eroded in favour of that of the Carvalho faction .

Consequently the present government will not remain in office for long and fairly soon the solution foreseen by COPCON and the leftists will be the order of the day: a military government using a ‘popular national assembly’ of representatives of various ‘grass-roots’ organisations whose function will be to contain the working class.

6. Because Portugal is situated on the edge of Europe and because it is of relatively minor economic importance, Portugal is not destined to play a fundamental role in the coming class confrontations. Nevertheless, at the moment, economic and political problems have been posed more acutely there than anywhere else in Europe on account of Portugal’s inherent social instability. To this extent Portugal is a testing ground for the different weapons to be used by the bourgeoisie against the world prole­tariat and, thus, provides a very rich field of analysis for the developing consciousness of the working class. These are the essential lessons of the events in Portugal:

* State capitalist measures remain the only possible response of capitalism to the present crisis, both to prevent complete disintegration of the economy and to mystify the working class. The present situation confirms capitalism’s need to develop a means of containing the working class within a political structure with which the class can identify as much as possible. This is the only means capitalism has of enforcing its ‘discipline’.

* The mystifications of ‘anti-fascism’ remain capitalism’s most effective weapon and it will use such mystifications wherever possible. The role of revolutionaries is to mercilessly denounce such mystifications and all who propagate them.

* The present situation in Portugal has made clear that where they are not already fully developed, the traditional means for integrating the working class are quickly transcended as the class struggle deepens. This phenomenon has already been witnessed historically in Russia in 1917. But the present impotence of such institutions in Portugal indicates that such a phenomenon has a general significance for the class struggle and was not merely the product of specifically Russian conditions. For fifty years these institutions have existed not on the basis of the historic function for which they were created, but purely and simply as a means of mystification; however, they are now unable to completely fulfill the latter function. The parties associated with these out-model forms of mystification, that is the SP and the CP, have themselves been weakened. Having performed their essential tasks for capital in the period of deepest counter-revolution, they are not necessarily well-equipped to cope with the new resurgence of working class struggle.

* Faced with the diminishing effectiveness of traditional forms of mystification and learning itself from the Portuguese example, world capitalism will increasingly attempt to take over forms of struggle which the working class itself has developed, and turn them into weapons to be used against the workers. This represents no more than a return to a tactic decadent capitalism has already found most useful: the recuperation of working class forms of struggle and working class organizations which it dare not attack frontally. This was the fate of the unions years ago. Later, workers’ councils, thrown up by the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, suffered the same fate. With the resurgence of the class struggle these methods will again be made use of on a wide scale by the bourgeoisie and revolutionaries themselves must be careful not to be deluded by fake ‘workers’ councils’ or ‘soviets’.

* No doubt the world bourgeoisie, taking its cues from the current situation in Portugal, will adopt on a wide scale the policy of co-option of ‘workers’ councils’ and use them as instruments of ‘self-management’ and ‘workers control’. This policy has the following advantages for capitalism in:

- that it seems to be a more ‘left wing’ variety of state capitalism.

- that it provides a means to prop up a host of failing sectors of capitalism, which are themselves the inevitable product of the crisis.

Thus, in place of the traditional parliamentary and syndicalist forms of participation through which society is indirectly ‘controlled’, workers will be called upon more and more to participate directly in their own exploitation and oppression.

* On a more general level, it is obvious that the autonomous activity of the class can only manifest itself in factory organizations and workers’ councils, and that only these can survive as organs in the service of the class. These organized bodies are not simply ‘forms’ of no impor­tance in themselves as the Bordigists claim. However, contrary to what the councilists think, the mere existence of workers’ councils and factory committees does not automatically make them a form of activity which coincides with the interests of the class. In 1918, the experiences of the German workers’ councils, among others, have already indicated this. The situation in Portugal tends to confirm this today - not with respect to those commissions which are simply created by the leftists, but to those which arose spontaneously in the course of class struggle. It is, therefore, not enough for revolutionaries to complacently eulogize these autonomous organs, but it remains their fundamental task to defend communist positions within them, so that such factory committees and workers’ councils can develop into real expressions of working class struggle.

* From the above it is clear that the various ‘anti-fascist’ and ‘anti-­imperialist’ leftist factions, which are less tied to the traditional forms of integration of working class struggle into capitalism than the official left wing parties, are destined to play a fundamental role in discrediting these parties when they are not powerful enough to supplant them altogether.

Here again the role of revolutionaries will be to denounce all these tendencies as forcefully as possible and to clearly demonstrate to the working class the repugnant function such groups will continue to perform for capitalism.

The resort to ‘grass-roots’ and other ‘popular’ forms of organization as a means to integrate the working class struggle, in addition to the 1eftists rise to prominence, will progressively pose in turn for capitalism the problem that these methods of mystification will lose effectiveness the more capitalism has recourse to them. This will then open up the possibility of the proletariat gaining a clearer under­standing of its real class interests. The exhaustion of the traditional means of mystification is already well-advanced in Portugal today; in future this will become a generalized tendency operating at varying rates throughout the world. As a result of this, the perspective for the autonomous organization of the class, struggling for its historic interests and in so doing directly confronting the bourgeoisie, arises. This fact must be fully understood by revolutionaries so that, both with respect to organization and intervention, they are able to fulfill the responsibilities such a perspective places upon them.

See also :