The Social War in Portugal

All this world is like this town called Lisboa[1]

All over the world, the first act in the new revolutionary drama has begun. From now on, no power will be protected by the immaturity of its particular socio-economic conditions: it must choose between the risk of being swept away because it cannot put an end to the drama or being swept away because it has put an end to it and thus, by rejoining the conditions of modern power, it is immediately subject to the current precariousness. Now that the modern revolution has penetrated into Portugal, we can speak of the last gasp of a period that is itself a single and painful last gasp: the proletariat reappears in all of its historic youthfulness and puts an end to all the local sub-developments by projecting on this world the threat of the only possible development of universal history: the international power of the [workers] councils.

A year of revolution in Portugal has thrown in the face of the world the brilliant truth that obligates all the variants of State power, in existence or in the process of formation, to determine themselves with respect to it and that has already modified the course of the revolution in Europe as a whole, at least.

Even in Portugal, the beautiful revolution, the revolution of general sympathy, had to begin to give way to the real revolution (that is to say, the ugly one), starting with the evening of 25 April [1974], with the awakening of the antagonisms – between bureaucrats, capitalists, technocrats and soldiers, and between all of them and the proletariat – that slept side-by-side in the fascist night. That imaginary suppression of class relations, the people united [povo unido] under the leadership of the Armed Forces Movement, immediately encountered the challenge of the actual facts; and everywhere else, the various States and all the political parties used their journalistic servants to communicate with premature enthusiasm the photogenic docility of a people submitting en bloc and at gunpoint to all of the country’s managers and structures. The nostalgia for the Holy Union of the period immediately after the Second World War dreamed that it had a future; the Stalinists especially believed it had already arrived. They hastened to cash in on this undreamed-of certificate of good conduct: in Italy and in France, they served the democratic order; in Spain, they accommodated themselves to the old fascist putrescence. And all the Spanish political factions are either already in power or have reached the antechamber to it and anticipate a painless post-Franco period.

All through this period, which goes up to the dissolution of the first Provisional Government, Spinola’s power[2] certainly had more authority in the global press than in Portugal itself. And the old world comically sought therein a reason for hope that its political resources could manage the social crisis, whereas, at the same moment, Portugal encountered the exhaustion of its social resources in its attempt to settle the global crisis, which had only seemed political at first.

But the conspiracy of noise – the first phase of the cordon sanitaire that surrounds the horrible Portuguese reality, which each day becomes more horrible and more reel – had to end after the crisis of July: the fall of Spinola on 28 September [1974] definitively showed what the governmental coherence of “New Portugal” was. If the April pact had been sealed by the silence of the proletariat, the proletariat’s existence in actions had to break it down into its primitive element. The awakening of reason in the masses began to dissolve the monstrous hybrid of bourgeois and bureaucrat that had the Armed Forces Movement as its guarantee and that could only be for each protagonist the image of unity with the other because it was actually divided in itself.

Then one had to admit that the oasis of governmental vitality in an exhausted world was only a mirage and, what’s worse, that everything continued. If social peace is too expensive for Portuguese capitalism, European capitalism could no longer pay for a democratic Portugal, as it has tried to do for several years in Italy, but without positive results.

Of course, it was on Spain, at first, that the revolution that was at Europe’s door cast its shadow. Though [Mario] Soares, the [Portuguese] Socialist Minister of Foreign Affairs, cynically declared, “An escalation of the violence could go very far and would be dangerous for Portugal as well as for Spain. We are in agreement with Madrid” (Le Monde, 24 December 1974), Spanish capitalism saw it political plan discredited [déconsidérée] before it became far-reaching [considérable]: it didn’t have the Armed Forces Movement nor even someone like Spinola, but only an unusable leader like [future King] Juan Carlos and someone like [Santiago] Carrillo, who had served too much.[3] The question of succession became a struggle of cliques [camarillos] in possession of bulletins of good health, while the “democratic junta” that had been pompously founded in Paris in July by Carrillo and Calvo Serer,[4] and that changed from Stalinist to monarchist without any intermediary step, since all the others were already in Madrid like a phantom cabinet of a phantom government, remained alone with its demands for a job and was liquidated in Lisbon in September. All that was lacking was the burlesque note provided by the Carlists,[5] who declared themselves in favor of “pluralist and self-managing socialism”: post-Francoism died before Franco himself did. And the Spanish revolution found itself confronted with its uncompleted past and the task of taking up where it left off in May 1937 in Barcelona.

In France and in Italy, the Stalinists began by denying that the house was on fire, and provided as their proof the fact that they had the keys in their pockets: the “democratic” officers. Then, when the flames had lit up the landscape, they cried fire and pointed at the fascists so as to cover themselves with anti-fascism, and it isn’t clear to what degree they were toasted by what their Portuguese counterparts were obligated to do. Berlinguer, for whom this was certainly worse than Marchais, was even obligated to disavow Cunhal.[6] The rest of the Left, which, as always, wants Stalinists but not Stalinism, desperately sought a savior in this melee and transferred its stake from one general to another, being democratically ready to descend the ranks of the hierarchy down as far as the captains. In any case, the unified Left is dead in France, and the “historic compromise” in Italy died even before it existed: it is always better than nothing. Poor Kissinger, who is definitely to Metternich what Raymond Aron is to Tocqueville,[7] found in this blunder the occasion to congratulate himself. Perhaps he thinks that, if needed, he can do better with his Marines than Mitterrand[8] with the Stalinists.

As for all the others, that is to say, the politico-strategic thinkers of the second rank, they updated their references by tapping into the journalistic stock of historical parallels: after the dream of the Liberation, there was the nightmare of the Prague coup, but this inept comparison omitted such crude details as the agreement between NATO and the Warsaw Pact nations and the fact that the Russian Army isn’t in Lisbon, and it tried to hide the fact that, in this case, there aren’t many Stalinists who are manipulating several “progressive” bit players before throwing them out the window, but, instead, a Holy Alliance of the global powers that must support them as its last line of defense and, for this job, needs to see them partnered with several bit players, the extras of a democratic State.

But, since September, what the obsessive evocations of the past and the anguished silence about the present have poorly hid is the birth and progress of a modern revolution that has no flag or ideology. Each period of black-out[9] in the information that one has been given, animated by the hope that everything would return to normal without the need for speaking about what had changed, was broken by a new thunderbolt: 7 February [1975] revealed to the world that the workers of Lisbon had begun to organize their autonomy; and 11 March revealed that the Stalinists and Leftist militants were in the front lines of repressing those workers, all the other cards having failed to work. The race that began on 25 April between the repressive organization of the modern State and the revolutionary organization of the autonomous masses was set in motion by the events of March. Thereafter it was clear to all the powers of the world, and to all those in Portugal who would be their executants, that, whether it was either Cunhal or Carvalho,[10] or both of them, the ordinary means would not be sufficient and would even be harmful in such circumstances. Extraordinary measures, violence and weapons, would be necessary; one would have to be the absolute master of the State and its army, and be able to make use of them at will.

But the Portuguese Revolution, precisely because it had more possible allies that any other revolution in the past, also had fewer supporters: people like Sartre salivated over the Armed Forces Movement’s stripes. The revolution could only count on itself to communicate its truth, and even its very existence, to the only ones who could defend it, especially in Spain. And here one must say that it was only thanks to the collaboration of Portuguese comrades that this book could be written (quickly but not hastily).[11]

The immensity of the current task for the Portuguese workers is that of the modern revolution in all the other countries, and the foreign nature of what is taking place in Portugal is not at all geographical but historical: proletarians, who everywhere come from the same night (only their guards are different), must learn from what they themselves have done and reinvent everything on their own; but today more than ever they can do it because all the ideological mediations that interpose themselves between them and the meaning and direction [le sens] of their own actions have decomposed and, in Portugal, they must do it, because their first acts have already struck such terror in their enemies that it will only be by annihilating them that they will be able to avoid their reprisals.

[1] A détournement of a line from a song from the Spanish Civil War: “All this world is like this valley called Jarama.” English in original.

[2] Antonio de Spinola, a Portuguese military officer who, as a representative of the Movimento das Forças Armadas (Armed Forces Movement), assumed power on 25 April 1974 and resigned on 28 September 1974.

[3] General Secretary of the Communist Party of Spain since 1960.

[4] Rafael Calvo Serer, a Professor of the history of Spanish philosophy and a journalist.

[5] Spanish monarchists who traced their lineage from Infante Carlos, Count of Molina (1788-1855). The Carlists fought alongside Franco's forces in the Spanish Civil War.

[6] Enrico Berlinguer was the head of the Italian Communist Party. Georges Marchais was the head of the French Communist Party. Alvaro Cunhal was the head of the Portuguese Communist Party.

[7] Henry Kissinger (born 1923) was a National Security Advisor and Secretary of State. Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich (1773-1859) was a celebrated German diplomat. Raymond Aron (1905-1983) was an anti-Marxist political scientist and author. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) was a celebrated French historian.

[8] François Mitterrand was a Socialist politician who, despite signing a document (co-signed by Georges Marchais) that was intended to unify the French Left, was not elected president in 1974.

[9] English in original.

[10] Manuel Carvalho de Silva was a Communist trade-union leader.

[11] Cf. Guy Debord’s letter to Jaap Kloosterman dated 12 May 1981: “It is because current revolutions and counter-revolutions are so slow that they leave Semprun the time to write about what they were at the beginning and to publish his writing before they become a victory or a defeat.”

To Contact NOT BORED!