The Social War in Portugal

From 25 April to 28 September 1974

“It isn’t always by going from bad to worse than one falls into a revolution. It happens more often that a people who have supported the most oppressive laws without complaining, as if they didn’t even feel them, reject them violently as soon as their weight has been lifted (…) The evil that one suffers patiently as unavoidable seems intolerable as soon as one has the idea of getting rid of them. Everything abusive that one removes seems to better highlight what remains and renders the feeling bitterer: the evil has decreased, it is true, but the sensitivity to it is more vivid.”

(Tocqueville, The Ancien Régime and the Revolution)

Portugal has belatedly joined modernized alienation, only to arrive at it in advance of its collapse. The general crisis that it is currently going through isn’t the consequence but the cause of the fall of fascism: its fall was only its first visible manifestation and the false baptismal name that the spectacle hung on it. In fact it is the crisis that shakes the capitalist societies (both bourgeois and bureaucratic) of the entire world and is aggravated in Portugal by the longstanding immobility of fascism and the anticipated decomposition of all the political substitutes. Thus all the current dilemmas of the property-owning classes of the world are concentrated in time, and these classes, not able to save the economy or be saved by it, disagree about the manner of administering their failure and, if possible, rendering it useful for the reinforcement of the State by disguising it as an “energy crisis” or an “economic crisis.” Thus they must make good use of the Stalinists who are in similar circumstances. In the words of a well-informed statesman, who was more honest than the others because he was out of power: “If in the months and years to come Portugal provides a model that takes form and succeeds, it will be a precedent for Spain, Italy and Greece. Even France will be influenced.” (Mendès-France, quoted by Le Monde, 13 March 1975.)

The events of 25 April did not begin the ruin of Portuguese society; it had already happened. On that day, Caetano,[1] encircled and already defeated, let it be known that he would cede his place to Spinola “so that power wouldn’t fail in the streets.” He thereby revealed the secret of the “democratic revolution,” that is to say, its original and essential reaction against all that the collapse of the Salazarist[2] State caused to shake.

It was necessary that power, once it came to the streets, could not remain there. The crowds, besieging the secret police forces in their buildings and determined to give them a rough time of it, were obligated to end the “neutrality” in which they could only await a changeover in their bosses, and the sailor-gunmen took sides against the police. The weakening of the new State began even before it was founded. Right from the start, the workers and soldiers refused Spinola’s conditions, and the Rightist generals proclaimed their support for the captains’ coup d’état: the continuity of the State, that is to say, its police forces. (Likewise, the only political prisoners to be freed were Stalinists and Socialists.) Finally, the torturers of the PIDE[3] had to be imprisoned and thus saved from the hatred of the masses.

Every era finds in its end the reality of what had been the illusions of its beginnings. If Salazarism died encircled by revolution and the disorder that it always claimed to have banished forever, the Second Portuguese Republic was born in the illusion that its democratic “revolution” put the class struggles into order and set aside the civil war indefinitely. On 25 April 1974, the two encountered each other and crossed paths in the same error. The birth of the new republic was as unreal as the death of the old regime, but it already contained all the contradictions that heralded a real end.

In the festival of democracy that celebrated the events of 25 April, the new power did not choose those who were invited: it had to tolerate everyone so that it was tolerated. The proletariat of Lisbon abandoned itself to the generous drunkenness of fraternity, but gave it a practical content that already exceeded the redundant phrases about “anti-fascist unity” by fraternizing with the soldiers who were against military hierarchy, thus beginning to liberate its liberators. All the political parties came together to subscribe to the proclamation of a new State, mutually accepting the others as allies under the collective guarantee of the Armed Forces Movement (AFM), which allowed them to respectfully reject what they had never wanted with the arms of critique and the critique of arms. But the fraternization in the streets had already advanced the critique of the army, and the army was then all that remained of the Portuguese State.

The era that began then was founded upon the extreme poverty of State power in Portugal. Fascism had become inseparable from perpetual war in the colonies. The people and the combatants wanted to stop the war; the colonialists and the generals wanted to win it. Fascism and its archaic political institutions were hemmed into the homeland by the modern conditions of capitalist exploitation. The workers wanted to destroy capitalism, while the political parties wanted to maintain it by modernizing and democratizing its institutions. Incapable of anything, even lasting, Caetano’s regime committed suicide through powerlessness, thereby leaving to the workers the initial flaw of their movement: the fact that they had not killed his regime. But those who stole the first act of the modern revolution from the workers saved for them the final act of the old era. The proletariat took its entrance ticket to the historical stage from the hands of the soldiers who abandoned the theatre of operations of the last colonial war. And the Portuguese revolution thus began with the final necessity of revolution in all countries: the subversion of the army.

Not only did the ruinous war that the Salazarist regime had conducted in Africa obviously not resolve the colonial problem, but it also exacerbated all the others. It had appeared to avert two quite different dangers that were represented by the students and by the unemployed workers: the technocratic reformist opposition and the revolutionary proletarian opposition to the dictatorship, respectively. But transporting these contradictions to the heart of the army only served to arm them.

Because the Portuguese State had tied its fate with the [outcome of the] colonial war, it depended on the army. Because the military hierarchy had to get its soldiers to accept combat against a guerilla army that was better armed than it was, it depended on the refusal of the rank-and-file to rebel against such conditions. The captains imposed themselves on the rank-and-file as its political representation in the attempt to end the war, and they imposed themselves on the dominant class, under the cover of Spinola, as its substitute social representation to start the peace.

The students, who saw their employment in technocratic modernization blocked by fascism, dreamed (just like their counterparts in the other countries, but with better reasons) of taking the bureaucratic shortcut of “revolution” to get there. As a general rule, if the students and the unemployed executives adhered to a bureaucratic ideology (Leftist or Stalinist) in the hope of accelerating their promotions, and if they dreamed of being the leaders of troops of armed workers, in Portugal they found themselves effectively transformed into commanders of workers and peasants dressed as soldiers. This is the primary peculiarity of the Portuguese revolution, and it explains all the others: here Leftist bureaucratic extremism, which is unarmed everywhere else, is armed by the State. The bourgeoisie’s sons, whose promotions to the executive level were interrupted for four years in the blood and mud of Africa, encountered there those who had chosen the army as their road to promotion, constituted the Armed Forces Movement with them, and set the end of the colonial war and the saving of the Portuguese economy as their goals.

Thus the AFM contained the original contradiction of wanting to transform the State and needing to defend it, since its program could only be realized by the State; the AFM claimed to be “revolutionary” because it legalized the social contradictions and [yet] remained at the center of the mediation that was necessary for their preservation; and the AFM wanted the armed forces to be the “motor” for the transformation, but without being transformed, as well.

From the beginning, the AFM only gathered together the power that was falling everywhere, and subsequently it had to fill up the emptiness that ceaselessly grew at the summit of society with the successive failures of bourgeois democratic normalization. At least the new tasseled version of bureaucratic power had the undeniable originality of edifying itself despite itself, under duress. The captains were only semi-Leftists because they already had class-power: their Sierra Maestra[4] had been the African jungle, but they fought against the guerillas. Yet they were Leftists to the extent that everything pushed them to become the new class-power.

But they were only so at the beginning. The captains had to rally around Spinola to be accepted by the reactionary bourgeoisie, which had to accept them so as to have Spinola, who bore all of its hopes. United by their weakness with respect to the threat of the proletariat, everyone else knew that they did not have the necessary luxury of a Communist Party among the opposition. For their part, the Stalinists did not hesitate when faced with the respective risks of defending power by acceding to or by not acceding to it, because, above all, it was a matter of allowing power to be constituted by gaining time with respect to the masses. Spinola was pressed to invite Cunhal to join the government, which the latter accepted: they were [two faces of] the same enemy.

Socialists and Communists were made part of the first Provisional Government as “representatives of the masses,” but their mandate and the little power that they had obtained didn’t come from the masses but from Spinola himself. In fact, they represented Spinola to the masses, rather than the reverse because they saw in him the only guarantee of the Rightists’ tolerance of them. The poor relations of power, but hoping for their inheritance, they respectfully besieged power, but did not attack it. On the contrary, they defended it, because the opportunity to manage political life, from they had been excluded for 48 years, was only available to them because one had permitted them to visibly become what they essentially already were: the political parties of law and order. Organizing themselves upon the terrain of the State against the workers’ struggles, they transformed themselves from the Junta of Health into the Junta of National Salvation [Junta de Salvação Nacional].

With the Left as its ally, the new State risked its existence by tolerating what had always been and what would be newly prohibited, and did so with the sole aim of assuring its future through the preparation of new anti-worker laws and the creation of a structure of political parties and unions that, under the auspices of “anti-fascist national unity,” would construct class-collaboration.

All the powers of Europe applauded the false youth of the workerist bureaucratic ideology, that is to say, those who panicked at the sight of union lies that had worn out and become more and more unusable. But as early as 1 May, during the first mass-demonstration in Lisbon for a half-century – while everyone was in the streets and unanimously euphoric – a worker marched alone with a placard (the only one we remember) that said, “Attention, workers: you have too many friends today!”

Because the facts are hardheaded. For 48 years, fascism had deep-frozen the contradictions and the illusions about them. It only took 48 days of democracy for the contradictions to die and the illusions to rot. The old political confrontation between fascism and anti-fascism disappeared from the stage; the social question returned (in its always-new practical truth).

If a half-century of Salazarist oppression had made the workers believe that it wouldn’t ever end, then, as soon as it ended, they were so surprised, enthusiastic and carried away that they went from one extreme to another; rather than believing that revolution was impossible, they believed that it would be easy, and this disposition is sometimes able to bring revolution about on its own.

In the euphoria of the liberation, the workers gave the AFM a blank check, but one quickly perceived that it was a rubber one. They had only recognized their enemy’s right to exist so that they could exist, and their formal rejection of their class autonomy was refuted every day in practice. Showing that their faculty of memory worked perfectly well, and continuing the struggle that they had never broken off, they began making their demands. The State gained time; they played leapfrog [ils brûlaient des étapes]. During the first wave of strikes, the majority of the population was joined with the urban and rural proletariat in the protest movement, work stoppages and occupations whose extent, intensity and form at the end of May surpassed what the bourgeoisie had expected or would have believed it could tolerate. And the best was yet to come.

To rapidly reorganize and develop economic production and modernize the State’s institutions, the new Republic of Capital needed social peace. To obtain it, the Republic counted on its own pacifism. In April, it sought to alarm no one (offering this as its principal merit), continually frightening itself, and thinking that its leniency and passivity would allow it to acquire the right to live and disarm the resistance. Fascism was dead; everyone was a democrat; “a people united will never be defeated.” But when the fraternity of the antagonist classes (in which one exploits the other) – the fraternity proclaimed in April and written in large letters on Lisbon’s forehead – found its veritable, authentic and prosaic expression in May (in the social war that began during that month), power, with the Stalinists out front, had to play the dangerous game of increasing the dose of the ideology and, raising the specter of fascism, evoking the common enemy of the masses and the State so that the masses believed that they had something in common with that State. At least the Spanish Stalinists, when they pulled the same trick for the Republic during the Civil War, had (in the form of Francoism) an effectively frightening form of blackmail. The great misfortune of the Portuguese Stalinists was not having presentable rightist enemies, because the ones that they had had been baptized “democrats” by the Stalinists themselves.

Since the proletariat hadn’t appeared on the historical scene for 50 years, the bureaucrats had absolutely ceased to believe that it would ever reappear there, and in fact it wasn’t thanks to the proletariat that they had obtained their ministerial positions. Because the proletariat didn’t listen to their “democratic and national[ist]” injunctions, the bureaucrats judged it to be deaf, and those who most feared the proletariat’s anger spoke in a loud voice, in its presence, of the cruel injustices of which it had always been the victim. Carried away by the routine of their false language, they had the comic misfortune of seeing their empty phrases become endowed with a content that worked against them. The proletariat responded to the presumptuous scorn of the bureaucrats by advancing masked behind the very slogans of the State and its political parties. Sanitation [Le saneamento], the purging of the fascists, taken literally, became a settling of accounts with the entire ruling class, which had to declare en bloc what was said by a police officer in the PIDE: “We are democrats, too. We want to adhere to the [events of] 25 April, but no one will let us.” The bureaucrats could easily protect the big capitalists and the compromised politicians, whom no one in fact cared about, but not the underlings that kept control of the workers in the factories and town halls. Thus it was precisely this layer of executives that the bureaucracy, acting on behalf of the new State, had to quickly include so as to reorganize exploitation.

As the workers at LISNAVE, the naval construction site in Lisbon, wrote in their first communiqué to the general population: “By conducting this political struggle, the purge, the working class becomes aware of struggling, not only for the fall of the fascist structures in LISNAVE, but also against the entire exploitative bourgeoisie.”

Since the era had emphatically declared itself to be revolutionary, the workers had to become so without further ado. Utilizing the means of communication, which had momentarily been freed from censorship, but especially recognizing themselves through their actions, which brought the battle to the terrain of economic production and the sale of commodities, the workers began to strike the mysteries of political economy at their roots. When they denounced everything that existed outside of themselves as “economic sabotage,” they in fact discovered the fundamental irrationality of the economy, which any bureaucratic development could only reinforce. To definitively escape all Stalinist manipulation, they – just like all the workers of the world – had to know the economy itself as the sabotage of life. But everything led them to this knowledge.

Such a process was initiated to frighten the Stalinists, and it succeeded in this. This is the misfortune of the bureaucratic parties in this era: they are only believed when they make the power of the workers felt, and it is almost always in their interests to make that power believed more than felt. Stalinism assuredly could only fear the stupidity of the masses to the extent that they remained conservative, and could only fear their intelligence when they became revolutionary. Knowing that they would be made responsible for what was done despite them, the Stalinists had to sacrifice everything to defend a State that was disposed to sacrifice them all, and they could do nothing other than work to create a situation in which they would no longer be necessary.

As the most-aware revolutionaries wrote on 26 May,

Unlike the Bolshevik bureaucrats, with Lenin at their head, who, to appropriate governmental power for themselves, eliminated Kerensky, the PCP [Portuguese Communist Party] gained access to State power with Kerensky associated with Kornilov. Though it is apparently presented as a force of the Portuguese State, the provisional government is the exact synonym of its real fragility. No political party, on its own, can appropriate all power for itself; each one is obligated to share it with the others. The real, instituted agreement is the immediate acceptance of bourgeois democracy, big steps along the parliamentary road, for which everyone is allied, even those who find it undesirable. If Mario Soares is a good ally for Spinola, Spinola is not very presentable [as an ally] for either Alvaro Cunhal or Mario Soares. Both of them seek to liberate themselves from the ally that history has given them, and this is the veritable discussion between them, but [greater than] the fear of having to accept an even more authoritarian version of Spinola is [their fear of] the masses, whom they must disarm immediately.” (Poster from the Conselho para o desenvolvimento da revolução social.)[5]

All the factions of power, initially in agreement about disarming the proletariat in order to obligate it to pay for the “debt of fascism” and perceiving that the little that had been obtained by the workers – and especially the fashion in which they obtained it – was already too much, began to separate off by accusing each other (and with reason) of aggravating or being incapable of resolving the situation.

But the central question of the differences at the heart of the governmental coalition concerned the manner in which national and foreign capitalists would be convinced to pay the “price for democracy”: the costly reforms that are necessary for the rationalization and modernization of Portuguese capitalism. While some had to respect their old compromises, others had to protect their future electorate. By trying to convince the financial and industrial bourgeoisie of these things, the new power recognized that the bourgeoisie dominates the situation, above and beyond Portugal. Having refused from the beginning the idea that it might abandon, without any resistance, political power in order to keep its social power, the bourgeoisie practiced economic sabotage by limiting credit and employment. The capitalists had confidence in Spinola’s promises to bring back social peace and retain a large part of Africa. And in fact the minimum salary had been the maximum that the bourgeoisie had accepted to pay for its own cause.

Portugal’s “multi-racial and multi-continental” empire had been the unlimited and always-wasted space that had allowed the country’s bourgeoisie to maintain its timeless present. (The following best expresses the retreat of the bourgeoisie from its modern tasks: in Portuguese, the same word[6] designates both exploration and exploitation.) The bourgeoisie had always wanted and had succeeded in ignoring the “bad side” of its world, using police methods to organize the invisibility of the proletariat and arbitrarily putting the breaks on modern conditions of production and [thus] the development of generalized pollution. The coup of 25 April, which wasn’t made against the bourgeoisie but alongside it, announced to it what it was obligated to become rapidly, and Spinola had to be the bridge that allowed it to cross the abyss that separated it from its own necessities.

Thus the figure of Spinola dominated the rightist bourgeoisie, which could only accept its future if it appeared with the traits of its past, and it was only in this that the endless journalistic comparisons with De Gaulle were justified. Miming De Gaulle in much more difficult conditions, he could not be him to the extent that he would have to be the De Gaulle of 1944, 1958 and 1968, all at the same time. In the final analysis, he could only be the pitiful De Gaulle of 1969, a political cadaver worthy of the following epitaph: “Every man whom fortune alone has made a public man almost always becomes, after a little while, a ridiculous person. He never returns to his former state.” (Retz).

If the image of the President-General dominated the rightist bourgeoisie, the President-General himself was dominated by what he represented to the government: the formal continuity of the State. For everyone, he seemed to identify his person with the cause of law and order, but in fact he identified the cause of law and order with his person. And if he dictated laws and demanded powers to defend law and order, he was only able to do so because he had accepted that, at certain moments, he would have to break the law. This man’s contradictory role explains the contradictions of his government, its confusing groping, which sometimes strove to win over, other times to humiliate, this or that political party, and ended up with all of them working against him. He had a lack of practical assurance that comically contrasted with the presidential and categorical style of his speeches. An emotional nationalist, Spinola wanted peace at home (at any price) to save what could be saved in the colonies. A cerebral nationalist, the Left wanted the opposite.

But one most note that Spinola was not extraordinary, not even in his imbecility: his incoherence was that of governmental power in such a situation. Forced into “neutrality” by its contradictory situation as both the representative of the superior interests of Portuguese capitalism and the agent of the “democratic revolution,” the State had to mediate between the bosses and the workers and intervene everywhere to maintain the status quo. But without police officers in the unions and even without any police forces at all, the State was obligated by its difficult necessities to rely ever-more heavily upon the political parties that spoke in the name of the working class, and to abandon to them more and more often the reality of the State, with its police-related tasks of repression and ideology conformity.

Calumnies, lies, provocations and divisive maneuvers from the Stalinists were used against the workers in the same way that, in the past, Salazar used shock troops and the cops. In an accelerated fashion, this taught the Portuguese proletarians what their comrades in the most advanced countries had learned over the course of 50 years of permanent counter-revolution.

What is a State that cannot use “special detachments of armed men”? Portugal showed us what this unfortunate wonder looks like. It had to put the PIDE-DGS[7] under wraps; and the other police forces – since they were negligible and quite risky if they were put to work too quickly – had to submit to the same fate as the PIDE. Spinola had named General Galva Melo to head the commission charged with “dismantling” the PIDE-DGS. To characterize this sad henchman, dismissed on 28 September [1974] and arrested on 11 March [1975], it is sufficient to say that, in the course of an official voyage to Brazil, he coldly compared the events of 25 April [1974] to the March 1964 military coup d’état against Goulart. To substantiate this very special thesis, right from the start he did everything he could to save what he could of the PIDE. As for the Leftist bureaucrats who were tasked with scrutinizing the innumerable dossiers of the old secret police in the greatest secrecy, they quickly agreed not to publish them and to hide what was essential about them: the network of spies that had assured the PIDE of its efficacy. Certain “revelations” were used in the struggles against the bureaucratic gangs,[8] but, under the control of the Stalinists, the commission in charge of dismantling the PIDE was progressively transformed into a commission that organized the secret police of the future.

Meanwhile, to deal with the burning necessities of public law and order, it was necessary for the government to have recourse to regular troops, which after 25 April enjoyed great prestige among the masses. But since this ambiguous prestige was based upon fraternization, it involved respect for dialogue and the free discussion of problems. Thus, by involving the army in every conflict, power rendered it less and less trustworthy: it wasn’t the army that brought about calm; disorder won over the army. The soldiers didn’t use their weapons, they spoke to people, and, as they spoke to people, they listened to them, and each time they did so they were impregnated with the spirit of freedom and the workers’ taste for contestation.

The Portuguese working class occupied the terrain that democracy had opened for it, but democracy hadn’t had time to develop that terrain in order to control it: it was the terrain of unionism, but it was empty of unions. Thus, from the start the workers had the custom and taste for direct democracy, and if their demands weren’t particularly subversive at the beginning, the manner in which they formulated them certainly was. When the unions, which are schools for inculcating passivity, were instituted from above, on the model of fascist corporate structures, they found themselves confronted with workers who had already been transformed and who had educated themselves in the organization of their struggles: they met in general assemblies and elected their own delegates and strike committees. The bureaucrats’ fear and hatred of this spontaneous movement was reflected in the remarks of the Stalinist who straightforwardly declared that he avoided the general assemblies, in which “manipulations are easy, given the very weak politicization of the rank-and-file” (Le Monde, 30-31 March 1975). This same ideological authoritarianism, which calls free discussion “manipulation” and the submission to systems “politicization,” had already led the Spanish Stalinist J. Hernandez to decry (in March 1937) the “mania for socialization and seizures” that had taken hold of the masses: “Why have the workers made these errors? In the first place, due to a misunderstanding of the political moment in which we live, which has led them to believe that we are in the midst of a social revolution.” One knows that this kind of interpretation is generally followed by its demonstration with gunshots, which is what happened in Kronstadt [in 1921] and Barcelona [in 1937].

Obviously it was Socialist militants and Stalinists who occupied the important positions in the unions, if they hadn’t already been infiltrated into them during the fascist period, but those who weren’t disgusted by their new jobs only succeeded in quickly demonstrating their ignominy. Their difficulty in stopping the strikes or the threats of strikes that affected all of the factories in the country – they weren’t even able to limit the damages – was the first sign for power that the new order was built on sand and that this sand was shifting. After the first wave of strikes in May, a minimum salary of 3,330 escudos was hastily implemented to bring about calm (during its clandestinity, the Portuguese Communist Party [PCP] had demanded a minimum of 6,000 escudos). The workers, who first discovered their strength in the weakness of their enemies, now learned that their strength was revolutionary thanks to the hatred and calumnies of the bosses and all the political parties. The Left began to openly combat what at first it had been constrained to tolerate.

There then began the era of harsh strikes; occupations during which production continued without the presence of bosses or administrators; the purging of fascist executives (that is to say, almost all of them); wildcat sales to the public and other companies; the proliferation of strikers’ newspapers; and the organization of liaisons between factories. The turning point was the strike of the post office workers, during which the Stalinists used all their weapons and the strikers began to forge their own by communicating the truth of their struggles. The latter had learned that, in the words of an agitational tract, “the price for being able to freely make demands is knowing how to ‘freely’ renounce them” (19 June 1974).

The intensification of the strikes in June led straight to the governmental crisis of July, but one also saw in the workers’ movement the beginning of the autonomous formulation of its own tasks, which obviously had to include ridiculing what had always been insignificant: organized Leftism. The party of nothing, organized Leftism quickly came to grief. Condemned to always be overtaken on the right by the Stalinists and on the left by the workers, the Leftists remained stupid, with their sickles [stuck] between the hammer and the anvil, bitterly brooding upon their scraps of orthodoxy, which were useless and even without any prestige in such an era. After having proclaimed their final stammerings about the just struggles of the African liberation movements, their only prospect, faced with the Stalinists in power, was to have done what Stalinists do when they are not in power. But if the Stalinists fought them, the workers scorned them. Having arrived too old in a world that was too young, they could only follow. And their final immaturity was to believe that they had arrived too soon.

Embodying the bureaucratic reality of which Leftism only possessed the inopportune illusion, the PCP came out of the longest period of clandestinity [experienced in Europe] as the last Stalinist party to retain the ideology of Bolshevism and to support itself on an essentially working-class base. Jumping over 50 years in several months, like the real movement did, the PCP was, at the time of the “historic compromise,” the first to show the modern counter-revolutionary face of Stalinism. If it lost the most combative of its militants in the working class, it had gained from among the students, the journalists, the employees and the officers those who could be its best supporters in its new role as active ideologist in the maintenance of class domination against each particular class. Because it is no longer Stalinism that is decomposing, but society, which, by decomposing, becomes Stalinist.

As for Spinola, he was the victim until the very end of the only procedure of intimidation by which the reactionary Right, although it was in the minority, imposed its policies on the government: the myth of the Communist Party that works to take control of power. The PCP, which didn’t seek to do this at all, was in fact at the service of power without ever managing to impose its policies upon it. The Stalinists wanted to save Spinola, but he believed that it was possible and necessary for him to save himself without them: one must not neglect the role of stupidity in history.

By spectacularly expelling his Socialist and Communist deputies from the first Provisional Government in July, Spinola reproached them loudly for not having accomplished their task, which was to neutralize the workers, while the Left discreetly reproached the President for not having accomplished (and having delayed) the compromise with the liberation movements, which was necessary to assure the international opening for Portugal and the neutralization of the African masses. The colonial war continued and the social war had only just begun.

United with the governmental secret until that point, on the colonial question and the others as well, the dismissed Leftist ministers were obligated to take the initiative, not so much because they wanted to eliminate the Right, but because the Right had not been able to eliminate them. Vasco Gonçalves, who represented the Left of the AFM and was a little more intelligent that Spinola, saw that the weak bureaucrats were still the best defenders of existing society and thus were indispensible. But what determined the Left’s support of the AFM and, with the loss of Prime Minister Palma Carlos, produced the weakening of Spinola, was especially the colonial question: closer to reality than Spinola’s plans for there to be 50 years of federalism before the total independence of the colonies was granted, the AFM was quite aware of the fact that a month more of war would have completed the decomposition of the army and thus the State. One had already had to arrest entire companies of troops that, with their officers out front, had refused to embark for Africa, and each departure was marked by demonstrations at the military airports.

With the advent of the liberation movements, to which Spinola denied any other significance than a reason to stop combat, the alliance was not only desirable, but possible and urgent. These movements were themselves obligated to ally themselves with the Portuguese State to repress the revolt of the African masses and the [domestic] strikes that threatened everyone’s prospects. They had to show to the world that they were able to construct and manage a new State, sacrificing the rebellious masses in order to proclaim their independence even before they were actually independent.

The AFM thus could only support the Left and oppose Palma Carlos, who, after several days of secret crisis, had to resign on 9 July, thereby provoking a week of public crisis of which no one knew the origin. On 17 July, Vasco Gonçalves was named Prime Minister.

The second Provisional Government was presented a victory for the AFM, but with the precaution of not saying who it was a victory over. Spinola’s gambit had failed, but the modus vivendi and the secrecy concerning the differences at the heart of the government were renewed; unfortunate Palma Carlos was made a scapegoat. If the victory of the Leftist parties and the captains of the AFM in this governmental crisis marked the real end of the colonial war in Mozambique and Guinea, thereby obligating Spinola to accept the liberation movements as allies and “necessary evils” to stop the civil war that threatened to break out in Africa, it was in fact a defensive victory on both sides, that is to say, a victory that everyone accepted but that no one wanted.

The only offensive measure taken by the AFM at that moment was the creation of COPCON (Commandement Opérationnel du Continent) [Operational Command of the Continent], which was intended to back up the policies of the second Provisional Government. Officially created to maintain internal law and order and to coordinate the defense against hypothetical external aggression, COPCON immediately found its internal enemy when it defended the government against reactionaries in the government and defended everyone against the proletariat, the veritable external enemy that was camped at the doors of “Portugal novo” [New Portugal].

The special command of the companies of troops in the various armies that were judged to be the most trustworthy, COPCON was an authoritative measure and the first sign of the restoration of the State on the basis of the AFM, but it was a measure that showed the weakness and timidity of an authority that could not make use of specialized corps in the repression, after transferring troops [away from the war] and giving them special training, because above all it was necessary to maintain the fiction of having a “democratic army.” And this remained to be seen, because the army was all that remained “trustworthy” in the Portuguese State, and COPCON was all that remained “trustworthy” in the army, which would guarantee COPCON. The command of COPCON was given to Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, a young captain who was immediately made Brigadier-General and the military governor of Lisbon, and who had been the organizer of the military aspects of the coup of 25 April. From the start, he did not hide his contempt for the right-wing generals, which was discernible in his declarations and in his actions. With respect to Spinola, Carvalho represented the Leftist military alternative, and his star began to shine to the very extent that Rightist police-related authoritarianism gave way to Leftist authoritarianism.

On the one hand, in an army that was already as divided as the rest of the country (as one would see later), COPCON assured a real operational protection for the AFM; on the other hand, COPCON institutionalized the division of repressive work that, for the moment, only needed a handful of soldiers and the moral caution of the PCP to interrupt the most-threatening struggles of the workers. At the end of August, one saw both in action against the aerial transporters’ strikes. At the same time – on 27 August – the new State equipped its anti-worker statutes with a law about strikes (prohibited outside of periods in which collective contracts were being renewed and in cases in which political motives or expressions of solidarity are involved; occupations were also prohibited), which gave bosses the right to lock out[9] strikers. If work partially resumed (under military supervision) at the airports on 28 August, the agitation continued during the following days, thanks to the autonomous liaisons that began to be established. On 19 September, six thousand workers at LISNAVE went out to the streets to demonstrate, despite the orders of the Stalinist-controlled Interunion [organization] and despite the presence of troops from COPCON at the doors of the naval construction sites: first the naval gunners and then the paratroopers gave way to the determination of the workers. In Lisbon, these workers distributed their first communiqué, issued from LISNAVE to the general population, which affirmed their solidarity with all the strikes and their determination to struggle against all the anti-worker laws.

The Interunion [organization] and the Stalinists having been disavowed, COPCON showed its weakness: a police force that believes in the ideology of “the people united,” saluting the workers with raised fists, will not easily accept orders that command them to fire the first shots against strikers. Since the Left’s repression was obviously insufficient, the hour had come for the Right to show what it could do. And the Right thought they could do better: the Stalinists tried to make it accept their advances, but the Right persisted in its hardened intransigence, counting on the easy success of its collusion. Thus the second Provisional Government fell.

Spinola’s violently anti-Communist speech on 10 September was the voice of the bad conscience of the State, the good conscience of which was the AFM. Fittingly supported by the legal Right-wing of the PPD[10] and the “Christian Democrats,” this speech was an appeal from the General-President to the “silent majority” to provide it with the necessary guarantee for a coup within the State, but it was only the “lumpen-bourgeosie,” the fascists and the illegal Right-wingers who, wishing to intervene in power in a legal fashion, responded. The fact that Spinola still counted on his bad Right-wing allies when it came to the difficult task of eliminating his bad Left-wing allies, even after the fiasco of the ridiculous demonstration of his partisans on 10 June, can only be explained – apart from the upper-level complicities that he expected – by the fact that, being their leader, he had to follow them. . . .

When the extreme-Right went on the offensive, as everyone expected it would do, the masses were ignorant of what was really going on and of the position of the General-President, because the capitalist sources of information and the political parties had followed their natural tendency to do everything to hide the danger and the internal agony of the government from the majority of the population. Indifferent in the face of the upcoming, false electoral alternative between the moderate Right and the restraint of the rather utopian Popular Front, the population only saw the pronunciamientos of the extremist Right that would follow, on the one hand, and the pronunciamientos of the PCP for the Right-wing that was growing. In a race to see who was the most prudent, the head of COPCON and the Minister of Labor assured the American ambassador and the multinational companies that their interests would be “energetically guaranteed.” The official Left suppressed everything outside of the governmental apparatus and supported everything within it, hypocritically and shamefully complaining about the “excessive usage of the name of the President of Republic” until being refuted by Spinola himself. Although directly threatened by this, the PCP denounced any “direct confrontation” that would alter a law that, according to its editorialists, would guarantee “a large and sure [electoral] margin.”

The respect that the young Republic didn’t have for itself was saved, despite itself, by the workers: openly defying the laws against strikes and assemblies, they showed the indecisiveness of the bourgeoisie and the army that they had to be considered a powerful adversary. Imitating these examples of courage, the political parties and the unions could still reverse the situation at the last minute and go on the offensive by calling for a general strike, but this appeared to them as even more dangerous than the fascist menace. Even though Spinola was overtly compromised, all of the Left in the State called on the masses to stop “the march on Lisbon by the fascist monster,” without saying that the head was in the town, at the heart of the government.

It was the working class itself that has obviously discovered the secret crisis. It was the appearance in the streets of the working-class masses on the night of 27-28 September – even though they were unarmed and without [relevant] information at the crucial moment – that made public what had been hidden and that, by their presence, forced the subsequent development of the successive interventions of the Left and the AFM. If on 25 April the forgotten class of history was behind the AFM, on 28 September the class that didn’t forget history was ahead of it, thereby obligating a reaction from the semi-Leftist captains who, at the beginning, surrounded the generals and were now, in their turn, suddenly surrounded by the soldiers, the sailors and the masses. And these masses were not those of 25 April; they intervened in another fashion and with another awareness.

If everything in Portugal had until then been changed at the expense of the workers, on 28 September, for the first time, everything began with their strength, but ultimately benefited those who were only the enemies of their enemies. The determination and speed with which the workers responded to the appeal of the parties and the unions showed that they merited something else: that which they could only give to themselves. But the fact that they weren’t mobilized before the appeal explains why the roadblocks [les barrages] were not barricades and why they were only raised outside of the towns and facing outwards. And if, at these roadblocks, one saw that the reward for a poor soldier is a disarmed rich person, the initial and general disobedience of the soldiers and the workers to the orders of Spinola and his generals did not prevent final obedience to the captains, who, though they “saluted with their left hands,” continued to salute the generals.

The honorable tragedy that everyone expected from the first coup by the extreme Right was reduced by incompetence and lack of preparation to a comedy of errors in which the only visible result was the resignation of Spinola and his goodbye declaration of war. With him departed those who had believed that, as in the Restoration, one must attack appearances to justify reality, and not the reverse.

[1] Marcelo Caetano, Prime Minister from 1968 to 1974.

[2] Antonio de Oliveire Salazar, Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968.

[3] The Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado (the International State Defense Police).

[4] Fidel Castro’s stronghold before seizing power in 1959.

[5] Wall poster titled “Aviso ao proletariado português sobre a possibilidade da revolução social” (Notice to the Portuguese Proletariat on the Possibilities for Social Revolution). Issued by the group formed by Afonso Monteiro, who translated Guy Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle into Portuguese.

[6] exploração.

[7] The Direcção Geral de Segurança (“General Security Directorate”).

[8] English in original.

[9] English in original.

[10] Partido Popular Democrático (Democratic People’s Party), later called the Social Democratic Party.

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