Portugal - The Impossible Revolution? -- Phil Mailer
X. THE ELECTIONS AND BEYOND
The elections to the Constituent Assembly, in April 1975, caused no surprises. With two maoist groups (MRPP and AOC) and the right-wing PDC banned from the race, twelve parties lined up.
The initials of the contenders proved an eye-opener to the new labyrinth of Portuguese political life. In the 20 electoral regions people were offered a choice of 8 leninist parties (PCP, MDP, FSP, MES, LCI, FECml, UDP and PUP); 2 of a social-democratic type (PS and PPD); 1 nght-wing party (CDS) and the monarchist PPM. The PCP, PS, MDP, PPD and CDS presented themselves in all 20 areas, the FSP in 16, MES in 15, FECml in 12, PPM and UDP in 10, PUP in 7 and LCI in 4. People voted for parties rather than candidates.
A pact assuring the MFA - in advance - of power during the next 3 years had been signed by 7 of the contending groups (the UDP, LCI, MES, PUP and FECml had refused to oblige). The signatories agreed to the institutionalisation of the MFA, recognising its Revolutionary Council as the highest p olitica[ and legislative body in the country. The General Assembly of the MFA (reshuffled to include 120 lower-ranking members) was to have legislative powers, limited only by this Council. The Constituent Assembly, the composition of which would be decided by the elections, would have as its sole task the drafting of a new Constitution.
The first elections in 49 years were taken seriously by nearly everyone. All over 18 had to register, although voting itself (despite wide beliefs to the contrary) was not compulsory. The campaign itself was strictly controlled -to maintain democracy' - and was restricted to just over three weeks. The opening act saw a frenetic rush by all concerned to hang posters and banners on every conceivable building (and quite a few inconceivable ones) all around the country. Every available wall, monument, window, pavement or roof in Lisbon was plastered with slogans, exhortations and graffiti, until the city looked as if it had been wallpapered. It was made illegal to tear down other people's posters: many Maoists were arrested for this 'offence'. The slogans were predictable. The CDS advocated 'Progress in Peace' - the old slogan of the Caetano regime. The PPD recognised 'Only one way: social-democracy'. The PS wanted 'Socialism with Liberty' while the PCP urged people forward 'On the Path to Socialism'. PCP posters depicted very respectable looking family groups and carried headings like 'Women: in your hands lies the future of your children' a slogan criticised by the Feminist Movement. The PCP also used photos of working peasants and students. Other groups were less affluent and hence had fewer posters. They called for various brands of revolutionary socialism.
AOC and PCPmI, driven by their hatred of the Moscow-orientated PCP, supported the PS. The MRPP threatened to sabotage the campaign, while PRP-BR and LUAR refused to have anything to do with it. Opting for 'direct workers' control' they argued that the elections had nothing to do with the revolution in Portugal, and called for the setting up of Workers' Councils . Equal TV time was allocated to each of the parties. They came on three times a day (like a pill), made their promises, repeated their slogans, working up their daring and demagogy as the campaign progressed, in a revolutionary auction to out-do their rivals. The maoist UDP and PUP always ended their speeches with 'Viva Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao'. This caused derisive laughter in many of the cafe's I visited.
The poll (92%) was the heaviest ever recorded in state elections. The PS obtained 38% of the votes cast, the PPD 26%, the PCP 12.5%, CDS 8% and MDP 4%. Between them the also-ran gathered some 4.5% of the vote. At the bottom of the league came LCI, PUP and PPM. The PS secured 42% of the vote in Porto (as against 5% for the PCP). In Lisbon the PS got 45% (as against the PCP's 19%). In Sacavem, Marinha Grande and Almada, industrial areas with strong Communist Party traditions, the PCP suffered almost total defeat.
Two factors were responsible for this voting pattern. The first and most significant was the apparent option offered to the working class of a non-stalinist solution to the Portuguese revolution. The PS was accepted by a widely-based and heterogeneous section of Portuguese society. Apart from support by the maoist left (which was small but noisy) the PS also benefited from the widespread realisation that the PCP was bureaucratic and stalinist, a view tellingly driven home by various reactionary priests and local bosses. The highest poll for the PCP was recorded among agricultural workers in Beja, in the Alentejo. In the North the small peasant farmers opted for the CDS or PPD. The second major factor was the attitude of overseas workers and soldiers, who had not been involved directly in the revolutionary process in Portugal. About a million votes (out of a total electorate of 5½ million) poured in from France, Sweden and Angola. This was an overwhelming PS vote.
Only 7% of the ballot papers had been deliberately spoiled. This is low if one considers the campaign by the MFA to get people to register a blank vote, i.e. to vote but not to show preference for any of the parties.
When the results of the elections were known the PS and the right started denouncing the MDP and PCP for their disproportionately large representation in the state apparatus and in the media. Repeated attacks were made, at every opportunity. The whole coalition was threatened with collapse. It was in this atmosphere that the idea of the Councils was discussed and gained some impetus. The launching of the Revolutionary Councils had taken place on April 19, six days before the poll, and another meeting had been held in Porto on May 10, which Soldiers' Committees from the North had openly attended. (The whole subject of the Councils will be discussed more fully in the next chapter.) The main political parties responded appropriately. They decided to bury their hatchets, for the time being at least. A joint statement was issued on behalf of the PS, PCP and PPD. They would keep the coalition going.
But elections or no elections, coalition or no coalition, the struggle continued. 50,000 hotel and restaurant workers went on strike between May 10 and May 15. Chemical workers in the North had withdrawn their labour on May 6. Fishermen in Peniche struck for higher wages. Many small firms passed into self-management. Workers in the metallurgical firm of Corame arrested their managers and handed them over to COPCON, who accused them of exporting money illegally. Employees of the exclusive Lisbon tailors Candidinha (where the haute bourgeoisie had bought clothes for over a century) took the place over, and started producing low-cost clothing. Both CTT (the telephone company) and TAP (the national airline) were threatening strikes.
'POPULAR POWER' AND THE MILITARY
It was against this background that two suggestions emerged for by-passing the existing political parties altogether. They were first to be discussed by the General Assembly of the MFA on May 26.
The first (proposed by Rosa Coutinho and CODICE, and supported by the PCP) was to set up Committees for the Defence of the Revolution based on the old Juntas de Frequesia (Parish Juntas). It was a natural enough response to the PCP's electoral set-back. The second was presented by delegates to the Assembly active in COPCON. It stressed the 'organisation and exercise of power at the base'. It emphasised 'grass roots organisaations' (especially the Councils) and the need for their coordination on a wide scale. It proposed the 'creation of a popular army, democratic and revolutionary' and advocated a 'real alliance' between the people and the MFA. It spoke of the 'dictatorship of the proletariat and mentioned Kim Ii Sung's Korea as an example worth considering (see Appendix 20)! It was suggested that, to start with, the Central Command of the new 'popular army' should rest with COPCON... at least until such time as something else had been created. The proposals were supported by the Provisional Secretariat of the Revolutionary Workers' Councils, promoted by the PRP-BR. Otelo (as he was now widely known) spoke in defence of the second document: 'Party struggles are causing extremely dangerous divisions within the working class, which are extending into the armed forces Spinolist officers have formed a PS bloc - though the PS probably played no part in this ... I am convinced that the dynamic of the Portuguese revolution (given that the MFA is not lined up behind any political party) will transcend the great political parties altogether. We are not pledged to European social-democracy. We are not allied with any of the great imperialist blocs. We are not allied with China'.
For the parties in the coalition, of course, all this was anathema. It threatened the entire base of their power. The PS and PPD attacked the pro-COPCON proposal outright, calling it dictatorship (which was never denied). The PCP also criticised it, though more cautiously: it was stealing much of their thunder.
The debate became public. MES criticised both proposals: the 'Committees for the Defence of the Revolution' and the Councils. The revolution had not yet taken place, they argued, and it was therefore impossible to defend it. They saw the Councils as a specific PRP-BR creation, which detracted from the already existing popular organisations. Both LUAR and MES saw the future in terms of reinforcing already existing structures from the base up, and not in terms of a master-plan, decided in advance. UDP criticised the pro-COPCON document for other reasons: they saw themselves as an already established vanguard.
What was really being discussed in the MFA Assembly was whether any leadership role was to be left in the hands of any of the political parties or whether the parties should be bypassed altogether or a system of soviets or grass root organisations What Was' unusual about the debate was that it was taking place at all, that the revolutionary self activity and self organisation of the masses should have been deemed a suitable theme for the agenda of a military gathering. The discussion continued for several days. When the pro-COPCON motion was finally put it was defeated, though only just. Political parties were to continue.
The pro-COPCON proposal having been rejected, an MFA group called the 'Cabinet for the Dynamisation of the MFA-Povo Alliance' (sic) produced a 'guiding document' which was presented to the Assembly on June 8. The 'Guiding Document' called for a strong statified economy, for agrarian reform, for more saneamento, for decentralisation of administration, and for workers' control. To achieve this they proposed a structure in which CMs and CTs would form 'local popular assemblies' which would elect delegates to municipal assemblies, which in turn would elect delegates to a National Popular Assembly. Within the barracks ADUs (unit assemblies) would support the civilian assemblies. The Council of the Revolution would oversee all this. The call was couched in the typical rhetoric of the Council and of the government. These reformist sheep ½ constantly tried to present themselves in wolves' clothing.
On June 21 the MFA (from the literary point of view one of the most prolific groups of soldiers ever encountered) published a Plan of Political Action. It was an extension of the 'Guiding Document' and opted for a pluralistic 'socialism' centred on the MFA's own authority:
'The MFA is a liberation movement of the Portuguese people. It defines its main objectives as the establishment of national independence and of a socialist society. By a socialist society we mean a classless society, the collectivisation of the means of production, the elimination of all forms of exploitation, and the equal right of all to education, work and promotion without discrimination on the grounds of sex, religious beliefs or ideology.'
After these generalities, specific demands were spelled out: 1) A pluralistic society, which allowed opposition parties
2) Political administration independent of the Constituent Assembly
3) The reinforcement of the authority of the MFA
4) A law against armed clandestine groups
5) Recuperation of leftists and pseudo-revolutionaries who, although well-intentioned, created a climate of anarchy
6) Austerity in consumer goods
7) The dynamisation of rank-and file organisations, as the determining factor in unitary power
8) The creation of an official MFA newspaper
9) Control of TV and radio by the state.
The plan was well received by the four coalition parties and the CIP. (Confederation of Portuguese Industry). The PS and PPD welcomed its 'pluralism' while the MDP was pleased by the verbal endorsement given to 'popular power'. But as an attempt to solve real problems the proposals were hopeless, for they were all firmly grounded in class cooperation.
The Constituent Assembly had met for the first time on June 3. It had started its proceedings with an appeal to minimise party friction. But the Assembly was doomed, from the onset, to reflect the feuds raging outside it, if not to aggravate them. The PS in particular used the Assembly for political propaganda. The PCP sought people's attention by other methods. On June 10 Intersindical - in a sort of prefiguration of the kind of society they envisaged - called for a 'Sunday of Work' to launch the 'Battle for Production'. interest in the scheme proved distinctly lukewarm and remained confined to PCP-influenced areas like the Alentejo. The idea was criticised by many Committees who wanted to know for whom they were producing. The PCP Minister of Labour (and member of the Revolutionary Council) answered: 'for the collectivity'. He was to be vigorously criticised (by Lisnave workers among others) for his general lack of class understanding.
THE 'REPUBLICA' AND RADIO RENASCENCA AFFAIRS
During May, June and July 1975 both Republica and Radio Renascenca (RR) were to become focal points of struggle. The relevant events have been widely misrepresented or misunderstood in the international press, and are worth going into in some detail. They raise important issues concerning the role of information in the revolution ary process. So important were these developments, in fact, that they were to contribute significantly to the collapse of the Fourth Provisional Government.
On May 15, 1975 the Workers' Committee of Republica attempted to take over the paper. Throughout the years of censorship Republica had remained a lone independent voice. Under its director Raul Rego it had printed many CDE proclamations and criticisms of the regime. Its journalists were firmly in the PS and its main articles were certainly PS-oriented. After April 25th the paper had become the mouthpiece of the PS. In a statement the Workers' Committee said:
'The majority of the workers of Republica want it to be a non-party paper, and not a paper in the service of a certain ideology'. On May 5,1975, in a general assembly, the workers had elected a committee of 14. They had also called for the resignation of the director and of the editor. They printed their own edition of the paper, and set up pickets at the main gate. A separate meeting of the editorial and journalistic staff refused to accept the legality of the Workers' Committee and of its rulings. The PCP was held responsible for the occupation, despite the fact that all sorts of tendencies were represented on the Committee.
On May 19 Mario Soares and others handed out leaflets in the streets of Lisbon. These said: 'You cannot ignore the people's will. Republica is not Cunhal's'. At 7 pm the editorial staff entered the newspaper building. One of them, Joao Gomes, spoke to the crowds outside. Soon after COPCON representatives also arrived and were let in. A certain amount of confusion seems to have followed. A stone smashed one of the windows, to the accompaniment of shouts such as 'Death to the CIA and KGB' (a slogan of distinctly maoist flavour). The crowd sang the national anthem. More soldiers arrived. The crowd asked of 'MFA, whose side are you on?'. The MRPP chanted their own slogans 'Out with the social-fascists'. PS members added 'Socialism, yes - dictatorship, no'. When Soares too attempted to enter the building the workers inside refused him entry. One made a speech: 'These aren't the PS offices. You and your colleague Cunhal should take a look at the people, at the force of the working classes, and not play games with us. Why don't you both go back where you came from?'. Impasse continued. Towards midnight the TV and representatives of other papers were allowed in. An impromptu debate began from the windows. Joao Gomes, for the editorial staff, argued that it had been the typesetters (mainly PCP members) who had been responsible for the decision. A Committee member corrected him, saying that the decision had been taken by all the workers. He stressed that, over the previous months, 14 members of the editorial staff had been sacked and replaced by PS members. The spontaneous debate, in the early hours of the morning, to a background of jeers, sloganeering and applause from the large crowd in the street was in many ways typical of the direct democracy of the time. For the MFA the Minister of Social Communication (Major Correia Jesuino) said that the readers should decide what kind of paper they wanted. But at 2 am the readers could not be contacted. A member of the Committee said it was up to all the workers involved to decide what kind of paper they were going to produce. These weren't matters for minorities (those on the editorial staff, or those belonging to a particular political party) to decide.
At about 4 am another member of the Workers' Committee made a speech, which perhaps best summed up the problem, 'As a worker I cannot ignore, nor do I wish to ignore, existing differences in the working class struggle against the exploiting class. We all know that the production workers took no part in the dispute between the PS and PCP. It has nothing to do with us. Our aim is to transform this paper into something new: an objective and independent paper, owing no allegiance to any of the political parties. It is this which is causing resistance. It is those who want Republica to continue as a party paper who should be asked to leave. It shouldn't be the workers... who have to leave. It was the people, after all, who for a dozen years bought the paper and paid for it, not the PS'.
Although it was raining heavily, the night was warm. The debate continued until 6 am, when workers and editorial staff both agreed to evacuate the building and to await a decision of the Revolutionary Council. On May 24 the Workers' Committee at Republica issued a statement of aims:
'The struggle here is the culmination of a whole series of dissatisfactions which have come to the surface since April 25th. They range from internal censorship to the refusal of our demands, and include dismissals, drop in sales, a fall in subscriptions, protests by readers, non-publication of certain letters, the arbitrariness of publishing certain articles, the choice of writers, and above all the taking over of the paper by a party political faction. Republica will not henceforth belong to any party, in the sense of reflecting that party's views. All the progressive parties will be given identical treatment, depending only on the importance of events'.'
For a long while there was deadlock. The issue was widely debated throughout the country. Then, on June 16, COPCON reopened the doors to the workers involved in the production of the paper. On June 11 these workers had issued their explanation of what was at stake. The text is interesting and important, despite illusions concerning unions and parties, for it calls into question the whole structure of class power in Portugal, as well as the legitimacy of political parties:
MANIFESTO TO THE POOR, EXPLOITED AND WORKING CLASSES OF PORTUGAL
The workers of Republica are a group, obscure among the total force of the working class in Portugal. In the current crisis concerning information we are reacting against reformist trends. We do not obey any sect, we are not subordinated to any party, we are not of any fraternity. We extend our solidarity to all the exploited of Portugal and want information to be a collective activity... As workers we want a paper which helps the Portuguese to struggle, in full consciousness of their rights and of their dignity, against the demagogues and opportunists who regiment liberty... We workers of Republica are conscious of living in a society in which the masses are deprived of knowledge and education. We feel that political information... should give people the power of intelligence ... It is now time completely to rethink our policy concerning information. We want to create information in the hands of the workers, free of all double-talk and party allegiances. As was inevitable, part of the bourgeoisie who at one time supported the exploited and poor - either in their songs (they have a good poetic sense) or with a view to building up a future clientele - gradually abandoned this stance. Today, after September 28 and March 11, they take up despotic and doctrinaire positions. Anti-fascists before April 25th, they became authoritarians after March 1 1. They seek to take over information, to inject into the people their own brand of ideology. Information should help transform the exploited classes into the dominant class. Republica should help in this process. Information, moreover, should not be permeated by spontaneist and sensationalist conceptions of revolution. It is not enough for Workers' Committees to appear and then disappear after a struggle. They must be stable organisms, united at the base. They must determine the actions of unions and parties. We declare to all workers that we struggle to ensure working class control over information. We extend our solidarity to the poor of Portugal, to all who work in factories, in the fields, on the high seas, in the service industries and in transport. We struggle for a revolution in the interests of the workers themselves, and not of half a dozen men with ambitions of power, ever ready to betray the real soldiers of the revolution.'
The Republica workers were supported by the Workers' Committees of various newspapers including Diario de Noticias and O Seculo. A Capital also supported them in the following terms:
'Information cannot be left in the hands of journalists alone. All workers in the industry must participate and we must protest against any elitist manoeuvres Now, when everyone wants an honest dialogue, we cannot tolerate that privileged intellectual workers establish lines of separation from manual workers. Organs of communication (like A Capital) who claim to be independent of the parties and who seek to build socialism must be at the service of the working class. They must never favour party feuds which give the reader negative ideas about a dictatorship over information'.
The question of 'dictatorship over information' was widely discussed in all the papers. ln capitalist countries there clearly exists a class control over news. But weren't 150 workers just as likely to constitute a dictatorship, bourgeois or proletarian? What distinguished the workers of Republica was their refusal to relate to any particular party or organisation, and to trust to their own class instincts and interests. This is how they saw it themselves:
'Let us put it clearly. The organs of decision-making are either on the side of the dynamic elements of the revolutionary process: the Workers' Committees, the Neighbourhood Committees, the organisations of popular power. Or they relate to the political parties, are yoked to those parties which in most cases don't defend the interests of the workers at all. The question is who is to have political power in this country? Is the MFA interested in the construction of a socialist society? Or is it interested in bourgeois democracy? We are only 150 workers but in a sense we are representative of our class, of millions like us. What is at stake is political power and knowing in whose hands it is. Is it to be in the hands of the bourgeoisie and of those who defend its interests? Or is to be in the hands of workers and of those who defend the interests of the workers?'.
The issue at Radio Renascenca was somewhat different, although it raised many similar issues. The radio station had been owned by the Catholic Church. Gradually, during May, the workers concerned had taken it over, disliking the line being pushed. Their communique' of June 6 outlined what was at stake:
tThe complete history of our struggles at RR would bring together arguments and documents which a simple communique' cannot hope to do. When our story is written many positions will become clearer, as will the ways in which they relate to the overall politics of the country. The Portuguese people will then be able to judge the counter-revolutionary politics of the bosses, the immoralities of all sorts committed in the name of the Church, and the many betrayals carried out by capitalist lackeys in our midst. In their latest delirium the Management Committee (i.e. the Church) completely distorted our struggle and attacked the MFA. Of 127 lines, 73 were devoted to denouncing the government ... When they speak of the violent occupation of the radio station they forga to mention that the only violence was when Maximo Marques (a member of the Management Committee) attacked one of our comrades, who didn't respond to the provocation... The management argue that we are a minority of 20, whereas 30 would be more correct. Radio Renascenca is a private company owning a radio station, a printing press, a record shop, two cinemas, buildings and office blocks, etc. In the station we are about 60 workers. The management say we are trying to silence the Church's mouthpiece, and prevent it from reaching a large section of the population. If by this they mean we are trying to silence fascist voices, they are right Words like truth, justice and liberty lose all meaning when they come from the RR administration. We remember the time when the priests managed the station and censored encyclicals, Vatican texts and even the Bible (!!) We propose that the management show their concern for liberty by supporting the current liberation of RR, now in the service of the workers and controlled by the workers. The workers of RR,June 6,1975.
The struggle at Radio Renascenca was widely supported. The options were fairly clear: to side with the Workers' Committee or with the Church. Vasco Goncalves and other members of the Revolutionary Council decided to hand the station back to the Church. The decision was bitterly opposed by some 100,000 workers. A demonstration was held on June 18 at which Lisnave and TAP workers stood outside the gates and warned that RR would only be returned to the Church 'over their dead bodies'. 400 Catholic counter-demonstrators had to seek refuge in the house of the local Patriarcado. The determination of the workers caused the Revolutionary Council promptly to reverse steam. It found a way out: to decree the nationalisation of all newspapers, radio stations and television networks.
Both the Republica issue and the issue of Radio Renascenca have been described at length to challenge a whole mythology. The issue was one of control. The division was not between the PCP on the one hand and the PS or Catholic Church on the other. In both cases, to be sure, there were sympathisers of the PCP among the workers who occupied the premises. But there were also sympathisers of the PS of the PRP of the UDP etc Most of the workers invAlved, in both' occupations,'were ,not party militants at all. The division was essentially between those who supported direct democracy and 1workers' control over the means of production and those who desired a liberal-capitalist type of parliamentary socialism.
The crisis of early July 1975 (with CTT, TAP and TLP workers on strike) produced a mighty mobilisation on July 4 in support of the struggles at Republica and RR - The strikers had established links with one another. They also supported the workers of RR and of Republica - who returned the support. Two separate calls had been issued, one by Inter-Empresas and the other by the strikers. As a communique' from the workers of Siderurgia put it, the demonstrations were 'to show the bourgeoisie the power of the workers'. Workers from Timex, Sapec, Petroqufmica, Gue'nn attended. Men even came from the Soda Povoa works at Vila Franca de Xira, 40 km from Lisbon. The workers of Lisnave and Setenave gave massive support. 'Death to Capitalism' was the main slogan on this largest 'non-party' demonstration since February 7.40,000 people took to the streets, the first demonstrators to march through the Chiado (the bourgeois shopping center). Two main factors had prompted this massive turnout: the struggle over information at Republica and RR, and the news that some 90 PIDE agents had escaped from a security prison at Alcoentre. RR broadcast appeals throughout the day: 'Only working class unity can help the workers take power. The struggle at RR has taught us that the workers can win when they rely on their own strength, on their capacity for class solidarity. This solidarity is born in struggle...'
The PS reacted strongly to all this. What was at stake was not only the fate of Republica but of bourgeois democracy itself. On July 7 Mario Soares spoke out: 'We are ready to call demonstrations and paralyse the whole country so that we can extend the revolution in freedom. We don't want new forms of alienation. There is no battle as important, at this moment, as the battle for a free press'. He added that attitudes to Republica were 'a barometer'. The whole thing was presented as a defence of 'democracy' against stalinism. A vast PS wall painting said: tNo to Stalinism. Yes to Popular Democracy'. But the PS critique came from the right. On July 2 the PS had called for support for the owners of industry. On July 5 they had called for 'the right to private property.
The situation was very complex. Although the channels of information were being controlled by workers' committees a great deal of party influence still existed. The Workers' Committees of the two morning papers (Diako de Noticias and 0 Stculo) were overwhelmingly PCP. The PCP supported the workers of Republica, whereas they had condemned the militancy of Jornal do Comerczo as recently as September 1974. The evening papers were more open and less sycophantic. They were less prone to 'socialist realist' headlines and articles. But because they were dependent upon state funding they were also less critical than they might have been. A Capital had, from the beginning, published dissenting views from the left and continued to do so. But many aspects of struggle never got reported. As an editorial in Combate put it (in an article entitled 'The state of information and the information of the state'): 'Whoever has power over information subordinates to it, and makes dependent upon it, almost everything in everyday Ii e and local experience. Information creates a commonplace, a consensus, a mediation which tends to make uniform all our individual reactions and provides "alternatives" which never question the existing order...'
It will be seen that the decision to nationalise the press was taken by the government during a moment of extreme crisis. The decision, in a sense, had been forced on the government by the workers. It suited all those concerned with the retention of information in the hands of 'responsible' people. The only losers were those who wanted the control of information by the base. The government's decision was therefore loud applauded by most of the left parties, from the PCP to groups of Christian marxists. At a price, it even let the PS off the hook. A legitimate working class struggle had once again resulted in a further extension of state capitalism.
COPCON AND THE MRPP
In the wake of the elections of April 1975 the MFA and government had had many problems on their plate. The challenge to their authority had grown steadily. Not only were base groups taking over the channels of information but 'subversive' proposals were being voiced within their own structures and institutions. It is against this background that one must look at one of the most bizarre episodes of the Portuguese revolution: the arrest of several hundred MRPP militants by the forces of COPCON COPCON was very much the creation of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, as he himself never tired of reminding people. It had been set up as the 'armed intervention' section of the MFA, in an attempt to recover some of the power originally vested in Spinola, following April 25th. The September 28 events were in some respects the result of a power struggle between this section of the MFA and the Spinolists.
COPCON's role increased as the political crisis deepened during the summer of 1975. Given the 'neutralisation' of the GNR2 COPCON became the main operational police force in the country. But it is important to remember that both COPCON and the MFA were minority tendencies within the Armed Forces as a whole. As such they walked a tightrope. This was to prove particularly true of COPCON. The group needed mass support if it was to continue to exist. Although in the last analysis COPCON was part of the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces were a prop of capitalist society the workers felt they could exert considerable influence' on the lower ranks of both organisations. COPCON was forced to support many occupations of land and houses.
COPCON achieved a certain popularity in many sections of the working class, despite the tact that it had helped break a number of disputes (for instance the TAP strike and the dispute at Jornal do Comercio in August 1974, and the strike of municipal workers in Santarem in October 1 974. The latter, being public employees, were not officially 'albwed' to strike.) Nevertheless COPCON sought to cultivate a popular image. Working people often turned to it in unexpected ways. In December 1974, for example, one of my neighbours - a woman whose tongue could be like a whip on anyone unfortunate enough to be pitted against her - went to the fish market one morning. A list of prices had been printed in the newspapers but the dealer was paying no heed to them. She phoned COPCON. Sure enough, within 90 minutes, two soldiers and a sergeant turned up in a jeep. They forced the dealer to abide by the published prices.
By the early months of 1975 COPCON was being called out for pretty well everything - marital disputes being high on the list. At 3 am a battered housewife would one for help and COPCON'would duly appear on the scene. There was a case, in Ajuda, of COPCON being called to rescue a stranded kitten.
During the summer COPCON began to lose some of the goodwill gained earlier. This was the 'Gonqalvist' period of the MFA and people didn't like it. In Dafundo, for instance, a family had occupied a six-roomed house. But they hadn 't done so through the Neighbourhood Committee and the CM told them to leave. They dragged their feet. So COPCON arrived at I am, broke down the door and ordered everyone out. While most workers in the area had criticised the original occupation, they now began to side with the family against COPCON. There were hundreds of such cases. Workers began to wonder whether there might be some substance to the MRPP's statements that COPCON was acting like a new PIDE.
The MRPP, of course, attacked COPCON systematically - largely, one suspects, because they couldn't manipulate it. In the process they made some correct points but also some more dubious ones. They accused COPCON, like the MFA, of being controlled by the PCP. The MRPP then began arresting certain soldiers and 237 civilians whom they claimed were fascists. They would hold them for a while, beat them up, and then hand them over to RAL-1 - taunting the MFA 'lefts' to take sides on the issue. On the night of May 28 COPCON couldn't take any more. Using old PIDE files they arrested over 400 MRPP militants in the Lisbon area. Old addresses known to the PIDE but long since abandoned were raided. COPCON tried to explain things as follows:
'Since April 25th the so-called MRPP, who in their majority are young students, have demonstrated against the constituted revolutionary authorities. The MRPP is more like a religious sect. They have little implantation among the workers. They are completely isolated from other national parties and are used by counter-revolutionaries ... COPCON accuses the MRPP of the following: on May 15 the MRPP kidnapped ex-fusilier Coelho da Silva who was then beaten ujp by their militants. On May 18, three further indivi uals were beaten up. In Coimbra on the same day they kidnapped and bear up Maximo dos Santos'.
The arrested MRPP members were released a few weeks later though their office equipment and other items seized were not returned until August 1975 - There is no doubt that the MRPP also practiced terrorism on their own militants (in particular on those who wanted to break with them). Given a choice between supporting. COPCON and defending the MRPP, many people chose COPCON. This was a fact - whether one likes it or not. To mention it is not to praise COPCON so much as to comment on the regime in the MRPP.
The arrests had a profound effect on the MRPP membership. They became convinced that the 'persecution' had een instigated by the 'social-fascists of the PCP'. They resorted to the most unprincipled alliances, working not only with the PS but even with right-wing groups. The MRPP even welcomed the burning down of PCP offices (see next chapter) as instances of 'popular vengeance against the social-fascists'. Almost inevitably the MRPP began being used by openly counter-revolutionary tendencies, unable to get an implantation of their own among the workers. The arrests reinforced both the MRPP's paranoia and its elitism. They were being persecuted, they said, because they were 'the real vanguard'. An introduction to the Portuguese edition of C. Reeves' book Le Tigre de Papierclearly describes the 'irreparable psychological damage done (to the Portuguese Maoists) during the years of clandestinity'. Events like the arrests of May 28 did little to heal this damage.
A criticism of a different order could be levelled at COPCON. COPCON's very existence as a 'left' tendency within the MFA reinforced the whole MFA mystique. If COPCON existed to help them why should the workers even begin to think of autonomous military organisation, on a class basis? In this sense COPCON was an obstacle to the development of selfAed groups concerned with workers' defence, groups which might have formed the nuclei of a workers' militia. COPCON was aware of this contradiction. The document on popular power, presented to the eneral Assembly of the MFA early in June (see p.224 ) had spoken of the 'eventual arming of the working class'. Although the 'arming' was always for tomorrow, the rhetoric mesmerised most of the left-wing groups. They nearly all supported COPCON -and not very 'critically ' at that. Their illusions were to be shattered on November 26, 1975, when COPCON was disbanded on orders from above - without as much as a squeak from its leading personnel.