Portugal - The Impossible Revolution? -- Phil Mailer
When Ze Diogo, the agricultural worker arrested for having killed a latifundiario (see Chapter 6), was declared innocent by a 'popular tribunal' held outside the civil court of Tomar, the Association of Lawyers denounced the verdict. 'Judicial power in the country has been insulted', they said. 'Democratic authority has been overtaken by the delirium of people who have the absurd notion that even a man's right to his life is a bourgeois right'.
The event was typical of the dwindling authority of the central organs of the state. The Sixth Government, in office since September 19, had little or no basis for its rule. To impose its decisions a state needs an army or at least a police force. But the GNR had been neutralised and the military apparatus was in shreds, incapable at this stage of being mobilised against the left. The government was a government in name only. Although both ministers and the Council of the Revolution got together regularly, their writ hardly extended beyond the walls of the room they met in.
The army still existed. But, at every level, it was torn with conflict. There was a government but street mobilisation threatened its every decree. The state was weak. Who then was in power?
The answer depended upon where one was. In Alentejo, the Agricultural Workers' Union (controlled by the PCP) was without doubt the main force. What it said, went. The trouble was that it didn't say much. It had a tremendous power of mobilisation (and demobilisation). In the North power was in the hands of local bosses: the landowners called the tune through the village clergy, the local officials, the teachers. In the South such voices were now less distinct. In the cafe's and tascas the once vociferous and opinionated critics of the Fifth Government were keeping quiet. More and more of the PCP's 'popular power' posters were appearing. Workers who had worn PS badges discreetly took them off. Some cafe' owners, just to be sure, kept PS and PCP posters up, side by side.
In the North the right was in full advance. PCP and FUR offices were burnt down, usually by small groups of 4 to 5 activists, while the local population just looked on, neither preventing nor assisting the arson. Why, indeed, should they defend the PCP or MDP, who had done nothing for them? Local clergy called political 'Masses' which echoed the views of the local bosses (CDS or PPD almost to a man). The Bishop kept a close eye on potential dissidents among the tenders of the flock.
The 'Group of Nine' attempted to strengthen its position in the MFA by creating a new police force to counter COPCON. They also sought to silence the media, which were conducting a sustained campaign against the Sixth Government. They were in militant mood but -despite the result of the elections - couldn't compete with the PCP or with the left when it came to mobilisation. To vote PS or PPD was one thing; to go into the streets to defend these parties was quite another.
To carry out its programme the new government had to control a) the means of communication; b) the armed forces; c) the workers. In each of these areas its endeavours met with very mixed results.
THE MEDIA OF CONTROL AND THE CONTROL OF THE MEDIA
In an Expresso interview (November 15,1975) Major Aventino Teixeira claimed that if Lenin had had access to television the October Revolution would have taken place in September. The major, an MRPP sympathiser, had been the military director of the morning paper 0 Se cub in the months after April 25th, and was later to be a member of the MFA Council for Information. His attitude was typical of many on the left towards the media. All believed that whoever controlled the media controlled the way people thought. The struggle to control the media was one of the fiercest ever fought. After March 11th it was the left, particularly the PCP,who controlled the radio, TV and most of the newspapers.
On August 22, 1975 when the Fifth Government was about to collapse and talks were going on in the MFA between COPCON (roughly, the left), the 'Goncalvists' (approximately, the PCP) and 'the Nine' (by and large, the PS), the newspapers gave different versions of events.
The headlines were interesting. 'The Revolution triumphant' exulted Diario de Lisboa. 'The Nine and COPCON in disagreement' warned A Capital. 'Socialist Party proposes economic transitional programme' trumpeted Jornal Novo. 'Decisive hours for the Revolution' pontificated Republica. .People bought the paper which they hoped would bring them the news they wanted. Middle class people began tuning in to foreign stations (BBC, etc.).
Newspapers and radio indulged in an orgy of propaganda. The truth was the main victim. The Sixth Government, after much travail, altered some faces in certain ministries, but little else changed. The Minister of Communications, Almeida Santos (PPD) had virtually no control over the papers or TV. The PCP still dominated Diario de Noticias. With one foot in the government, it attempted to undermine it at every step, 'hunting with the foxes and running with the hares', as one journalist put it. One had constantly to read between the lines, always remembering whose interests were at stake. As a chronicle of what was happening most newspapers (especially the national ones) were useless. Many journalists were so carried away by their power to create events that many began believing the myths they them-elves manufactured.
The PCP-FUR opposition was based on the manipulation of the spectacular. Massive coverage was given to things which hardly happened. Extensive space was devoted to organisations which existed in name only. The ephemeral was presented as enduring, the established as evanescent. All this was an attempt to create 'support' or a vantage position from which to bargain for power. Demonstrations were often reported as having numbered thousands (and to have been supported by hundreds of CTs and CMs) when in fact one had seen with one's own eyes that barely 1000 people had been there, with perhaps a dozen CTs. Journalistic enthusiasm fed on the need to believe that the movement was larger than it was. Popular confidence was drowned in the waves of a self-defeating triumphalism..
The headlines of Diario de Noticias during September and October 1975 were a constant tirade against the Sixth Government. The government's own deliquescence both encouraged and sustained the campaign. Radio Renascenca kept up a patter of revolutionary songs, some Portuguese, others from Chile, Cuba and the France of 1968. In the morning, the station (which had a radius of about 60 km) broadcast to agricultural workers in the Lisbon area. At night it had a special programme for other workers. There were news items from soldiers' organisations in France and Italy, commentaries from Lotta Continua (Italy), and communique's from CTs throughout the country. RR was now firmly in the hands of the UDP and PRP.
The rulers could not rule, confronted with such opposition. On September 29, while Costa Gomes was on a state visit to Poland, Prime Minister Pinheiro de Azevedo ordered the military occupation of all radio stations. The action was directed not only against RR but also against Radio Clube Portugues, which had opened its channels to the disabled ex-servicemen when, in defence of their claims, they had occupied the bridge over the Tagus. Threatening a state of siege, Pinheiro de Azevedo justified his move on the grounds that an 'emergency' existed. COPCON forces were ordered to carry out the occupations but made it clear that they weren't going to allow themselves to be used by the Sixth Government for this purpose.. The RIOQ Infantry Regiment (many with FUR stickers on their rifles) refused to comply with the order. They first occupied, then withdrew from Radio Clube Portugues.
At 2.30 pm a demonstration organised by the Lisnave shipyards and supported by 2000 workers in the Lisbon industrial belt marched to the radio stations (where it left contingents) and then on to the Foz Palace near Rossio, where Otelo was discussing matters with the PPD Minister for Communications. The workers called on him to take a 'class position'. For two hours Otelo hesitated. The moment of truth had come for the darling of the PRP. Speeches by various workers were heard to the effect that Otelo was basically a social-democrat. When Otelo finally came to the window after having received a delegation he spoke of how hurt he was to hear such accusations. He claimed that the Sixth Government 'had not been given a chance'. The Lisnave workers began booing. Confusion spread through the crowd and Otelo looked worried, as well he might. 'Go and put your demands to the Prime Minister at Belem', he said. 'Lead us there' the crowd responded. Otelo, more on the spot than ever, finally decided to lead a demo to Radio Renascenca ('which was much nearer than Belem, anyway'). There he ordered the troops of CIAC which were in occupation to withdraw. RA began broadcasting again.
The demonstration left a strange impression. I was glad of the crisis in state power but really I felt a spectator, a lost leftist. A friend from Evora I met told me heartening stories of what ordinary people had done there. He had helped as best he could. He wanted nothing in exchange: no promises, no rewards, no appreciation, no votes. He was fighting for his own liberation.
But the media made a mockery of this type of autonomy. They lapped it up, and then regurgitated the pieces, lining them u p behind this or that party in conflict. 'Only the truth is revolutionary'. Even the ELP were using Gramsci's famous slogan to justify themselves. It was confusing, depressing and sad. An IRA worker I knew turned up. I knew we shared aims and motives, that she hated the 'cupulas' and only felt at ease with the base movement. She was sincere (even though she had a government job). She had submerged her own problems in the general melee. She too felt depressed. But it was almost impossible to shake off the cupulas. The demo had been stage-managed, like so many before and after. The difference between those who attended on behalf of their p arty and those who came because they felt that a revolutionary movement was possible or necessary was almost palpable.
There were many of the latter. Even the leaders had difficulty in controlling them. The Lisnave workers began shouting when the LCI, totally insensitive to all this, raised their banner. They felt desperate when external elements (to whom they were hostile) turned up and sought to take over the demonstration they themselves had organised. The speeches - from the top of a bus shelter - were sincere and pressing. 'It is the workers and the workers alone who can demand what the workers want'. The speeches were clear and to the point. In contrast to those of party militants, or even of Otelo, they were alive and real.
But such voices from below were soon buried in the headlines of Diario do Noticias or smothered by the well-formulated leaflets of FSP or MES, widely quoted by the media, and especially by RA.
Within six hours of being liberated, RA was temporarily reoccupied by commando troops under Jaime Neves. The station became a focus for many of the struggles which were to engulf Portugal in the following, weeks (SUV demos, metalworkers and building workers strikes, etc.). It was both a slogan and a crucial reality, a theme and an obsession. A demonstration by young leftists (including many foreigners) went to the transmitter at Buraca on October 16 and reoccupied it, when the commandos withdrew. RA went on the air again ... at 3 am.
The stories of AR and Republica underline a tendency, apparent throughout most of the struggles in Portugal. Initiatives taken by workers would be jumped upon by political groups, who then began to manoeuvre things from behind the scenes. The real struggle would be drowned in the all too-familiar leftist rhetoric. The initial issues would get lost in the swamp of the 'leftist movement.
RR was without doubt the best of the radio stations. But it couldn't resist the onslaught of the leftist groups. It created a mythology, propagated it, and then began to believe in it. It created a 'folklore' of revolution which was at odds with the real, radical strand of Portuguese history and politics. It created a Disneyland of revolutionary fantasy. It boosted super-revolutionary personalities. And when the bubble burst all concerned were surprised to discover that little of all this existed. The failings of RA were the failings of FUR-UDP, an over£}ptimistic belief in their own power. FUR's strength was in the Lisbon area, and RR was the blood that circulated it. No wonder that certain papers like Expresso began talking of the 'Lisbon Commune'.
RA pushed the slogan of 'popular power'. But it was mainly wind. There was little discussion as to what it implied. No attempt was made to get to grips with people's anxieties and fears of the unknown in order rationally to overcome them. Fundamental (yet immediately relevant) issues such as the structure of work, the internalisation of hierarchy, the relations of manual and intellectual labour and various other problems that would confront a communist society were all avoided. Instead: just revolutionary trumpet calls. At times it was even tiring: revolution, revolution, revolution. After a hard day's work one wanted to relax, just a little. One had to shut it off, get it out of one's ears, or treat it as background noise. People turned to other stations. Sad, because despite its shortcomings (ambiguous attitudes to Third World issues and to the state capitalist countries for instance) it hit hard at the local technocrats and rulers. So hard that their only solution was to blow it up.
Following their break with the Goncalvists at Tancos ,'the Nine', a pack of reactionary officers behind them, moved in for the kill. Military power was rather diffusely distributed. There was the Council, now dominated by 'the Nine'. It had rejected 'popular power' and was seeking to repudiate the orientation taken in July, in the 'Plan of Political Action' (see p.226). There were also the forces of COPCON, with Otelo in charge. COPCON supported the 'left' and swore to 'defend the workers'. Their main constituency was in and around Lisbon. Then there were the Gonqalvists. Although they had lost much ground they still existed as a force within the ministries and media. A series of purges culminated in the saneamento of Corvacho, the Gonqalvist northern Commander. In general the Goncalvists supported COPCON against 'the Nine'. To the right of 'the Nine' were a number of extreme-right wing officers, increasingly alarmed at the growth of indiscipline in the ranks and at the erosion of the army hierarehy. The MFA as a bloc no longer existed.
Essentially what had happened was that the various state capitalist projects, latent within the MFA from the beginning, were now no longer capable of being contained within a single organisation. People joked about an MEB, an MFC. The original organisation was breaking up into its component parts and tendencies, all claiming to be 'the real MFA'. What differentiated them was not so much the ends they had in mind as the means they were prepared to use to reach and defend those ends.
1) The COPCON faction was based on some of the most heavily armed units in the Lisbon area: RAL-1, PM, EPAM, 1st Engineers, EPSM, the Beirolas barracks, the fort of Almada. These units more or less controlled the Lisbon and southern areas. In the Centre they also controlled the Infantry regiment of Abrantes.
2) Then there was what remained of the Goncalvist faction - the ex-Fifth Division which still controlled CODICE (the Central Committee for Dynamisation) and the SDCI (Service for the Detection and Coordination of Information - which many called the new PIDE). There was scattered 'Goncalvist' influence among officers in certain COPCON and paratroopers units. The Navy, under Rosa Coutinho, could be counted on (Pinheiro de Azevedo, the Prime Minister, was himself an admiral but had little influence in the Navy). The Artillery unit at Vendas Novas, under Andrade e Silva, was also considered 'Goncalvist'.
3) Among 'the Nine' were those original MEA officers loyal to Melo Antunes and Vasco Lourenqo. 'The Nine' could count on CIAC (Cascais), on the Infantry units of Mafra, on the Cavalry at Santar&m, to a certain extent on the Cavalry of Estremoz as well as on large sections of the northern officers.
4) The Right, following in the wake of 'the Nine', was based in all those officers and they were many - who had never identified with the MFA. The commandos in the Lisbon area were their main strike force but it had firm support from most northern units (now under Pires Veloso) and among units in the Azores and Madeira (who threatened to secede from Portugal unless military discipline was restored). They also had support in many of the air bases (though here the sergeants' movement was an important obstacle to them).
5) There were also certain autonomous, rank-and-file groups, although here it is more difficult to draw lines. Among these were many of the COPCON units, CICAP-RASP in the North, RI in Abrantes and the SUVs everywhere insofar as they went beyond UDP-PRP control. But as in civilian Struggles any autonomous movement I was soon jumped upon by one or other of the main contending forces. It was against this background that the 'party of the working class', evinced from the corridors of bourgeois power by those more versed than itself in the arts of manipulation, began to look to the lower ranks for allies.
SUV came into existence. Some hundreds of soldiers and lower officers met in a pine forest on August 21, between Porto and Braga, to discuss the military and political situation. The meeting decided to set up its own network, built from the base up. There had been previous attempts at such an organisation (ARPE, CUV-RA) but these had only functioned in the sense of leaking information to the rank and file concerning military operations, planned manoeuvres, etc.
The influence of SUV soon spread to Coimbra and Lisbon. It was not initially a creation of the PCP, although the PCP jumped on the bandwagon as soon as it got moving. The three regional organisations of SUV (North, Centre and South) differed slightly in their make up and in terms of the groups seeking to push them. The main SUV manifesto is reprinted as Appendix 24. On September 8, SUV issued its first communique':
'For more than six weeks it has been clear that reaction is raising its head in the barracks. Many facts show this: the purge of left-wing soldiers in CIAC, CIOL in Lamego, RIP in Viana and other areas; the attacks on comrades who struggled for popular power in the barracks, the fact that the ADUs are being turned into disciplinary instruments which condemn comrades instead of being what they should be: organs which discuss and struggle for the interests of the workers in uniform, for pay increases, free transport, purging of reactionary elements in the barracks, links with the base organisations... 'Confronted by these manoeuvres we ask all to unite ... Increase our miserable pay. Reactionaries out of the barracks. Portugal will not be the Chile of Europe. Workers, neighbours, soldiers, always, always, on the side of the people.'
SUV called a demonstration in Lisbon on September 11.33 units from all over the country were represented. FUR, UDP and many Neighbourhood Committees supported the demo. The PCP also gave support, but when they tried to introduce their own slogans, they were stopped. A banner read. 'It is the soldiers who are in control. We obey no secretariat.
Another 'military' organisation to hit the headlines at this time was RPAC, the MRPP's 'front' among the soldiers. On September 13 about 300 PM's(military police) supported by some 500 Maoists (the papers said thousands) demonstrated noisily against being sent to Angola. The war in Angola was correctly denounced as an inter-imperialist conflict. Political insight on this issue didn't, however, generate a wider wisdom. The MRPP crudely manipulated the soldiers' movement. In the North they sought to pressurise a plenario of PMs by packing it with members of Neighbourhood and Workers' Committees sympathetic to their outlook. But the PMs, meeting again the next day, decided that their meeting had been manipulated and that it therefore hadn't been representative. Points 3 and 4 of their communique stressed that 'all forces which support our struggle are welcome, as it is only within the people that contradictions can be resolved' and that 'everything which divides these forces is demagogic'. They denounced the 'anti-democratic attitude of CMs, CTs and unions' present at their assembly. These 'merely represent one type of opinion ... other workers and neighbours are also willing to help us' .
The MRPP was not the only group attempting to pack these assemblies. FUR, UDP and the PCP were all playing the same game.
The question of weapons was much talked about. While the workers might have counted on certain units to support them should civil war break out, it was clearly essential for the workers themselves to be armed. A Luta estimated that 20,000 guns were in the hands of civilians, while 0 Seculo illustrado (October 11, 1975) put the figure at 40,000. The paper carried an interview with workers who had been 'offered' G3s by soldiers. Many civilians still had guns from the colonial wars hidden away, and many other weapons had been 'redirected' from various barracks.
A spectacular 'shrinkage' had been arranged by one Captain Fernandes. Fernandes, a 33 year old Angolan, had been in the 'Movement of the Captains'. He was one of the authors of the COPCON document. He was found to have 'redirected' some 1500 G3 automatic weapons from the barracks at Beirolas. 'The arms were not given out according to political ideology or affiliation' he explained, in justification of his action. 'They were only given to workers clearly interested in the development of the revolutionary process'. It was widely believed that PRP, LUAR and UDP had been the main beneficiaries -and that they had buried their allocations.
Some time earlier Otelo had made his widely publicised remarks to the effect that the main mistake of April 25th had been its failure to fill the bullring with fascists and shoot them." When asked about the 'leakage' of weapons he said the guns were 'in good hands'.
On September 26 SUV held a vast demonstration in Lisbon. The march ended outside the military prison at Trafaria, where two soldiers had been incarcerated for handing out SUV leaflets at the military school in Mafra. It was an enormous gathering (some estimates mention 120,000 participants). Messages from soldiers' groups in Italy and France were read out. But the demo also showed something of the insecurity of the whole situation: when it reached Parque Eduardo VII a rumour spread that the commandos and RIOQ were on their way to break it up. Someone had to point out that most of the RIOQ contingent was already on the demo!
To cope with what it described as 'anarchy spreading within the army' the Sixth Government badly needed a new police force. Somehow or other COPCON's wings had to be clipped.. The AMI (Groups for Military intervention) were set up. The RAL-1s, Military Police and RAC' all refused to have anything to do with the new organisation. The commandos and a unit of fusiliers and paratroopers accepted the role and were eventually to form the core of AMI. The new police force came into existence on the eve of September 27 (the night the Spanish Embassy was burnt down). It was rapidly expanded after October 1, on which date the PS papers had warned of an imminent left-wing coup by the RAL-1s.
At this stage the paper 0 Seculo managed to get hold of a secret document (later widely known as the 'Plan of the Colonels') and leaked it to the public. The document revealed the strategy behind the government's moves. The plan clearly had the backing of the Revolutionary Council, though this was to be officially denied. The ten main objectives were:
1. Control of SDCI (Service for the Detection and Coordination of Information) 2. Control of the 'public relations' of the MFA 3. The creation of AMI 4. The creation, within AMI, of a riot police force 5. A change in attitude towards the MPLA 6. The military occupation of the radio and TV 7. The disbanding of certain progressive' military units, especially RAL-1 8. Absolute control to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Council. Otelo and Fabiao to be purged 9. Members of 'the Nine' to be placed in key positions 10. The Republica and Radio Renascenca issues to be settled once and for all.
Every one of these aims was to be achieved by the end of November.
It is important to see the background against which these objectives were conceived and implemented. Not only did the army not look like one any more (long hair and beards now came with the uniform) but it no longer behaved like one. The struggle of the disabled ex-service-men highlighted the breakdown of military authority in some units - its preservation .in others - and the total absence of a meaningful structure of command.
Some 100,000 civilians and 30,000 soldiers had been maimed or badly injured during the war years. Many had lost an arm or leg and were unable to work. For a private the pension was 2000 escudos a month, for a sergeant 4000. A captain got 8000 escudos and a general 18,000. The disabled ex-servicemen had been active since November 1974, when they had demonstrated in front of the presidential palace. Despite promises they had received no increase in their pensions.
On September 20,1975 they again marched, hobbled or pushed themselves in their wheelchairs to Sao Bento. They were ordered to disperse by a commando unit, an elite corps still organised along strongly disciplined lines. The demonstrators refused. The commandos then brought up an armoured car, intending to drive it up to the front gate of the palace. A wheelchair was placed in their way, with a disabled commando in it. The commandos hesitated for a moment. At that instant the forces of RIOQ arrived on the scene. The commando officer gave the order to advance. The RIOQ troops fired over their heads. Only then did the commandos withdraw.
The demonstrators meanwhile held their ground. They waited until 11 pm and then decided to set up barricades across the nearby railway line which runs along the river Tagus, as well as across the Marginal, the main road running parallel to the track. Throughout the whole of the following day they forced all trains to stop for several minutes, while a manifesto was read out over the public address system. The government still failed to respond.
The ex-servicemen then decided to occupy the bridge across the Tagus. The toll was abolished. The situation lasted a whole week. RAdio Clube Portugues handed their station over to the ex-servicemen for half an hour a day and all the papers supported them. At the end of the week, after a conference held in the 'Voz do Operario' (Voice of the Worker) hall under the auspices of Republica, the ex-servicemen decided to levy the toll during one night and donate the proceeds to the paper. This was the last straw. The government sent in troops to take over the bridge. The troops refused. The govern-ment capitulated.
During this period the political allegiances of various commanding officers were to play a key role. Many units held general assemblies to discuss the situation. They even held elections to appoint delegates. But they retained their hierarchical structure. As units, they remained cohesive. Many soldiers were proud of their regiments or battalions. This 'schizophrenic' attitude was perhaps normal enough. Even in the units of RIOQ, sent in to defend the demonstration of disabled ex-servicemen, there was an uncritical attitude to rank. The soldiers would say what a good officer they had, because he played groovy music over the walkie-talkies when they weren't in official use. Soldiers could be mobilised by the sacking of progressive officers. While they condemned the uses to which a bourgeois army was put they retained its structure. The officers - even those who supported FUR - fostered these attitudes. The soldiers, by and large, obeyed their officers (progressive or whatever). They often acted without really thinking about the consequences. The tradition of obedience did not encourage critical thought.
SUV gathered a momentum which no one could control. When Brigadier Charais (of the Nine) visited a barracks, a SUV group commented: 'Charais visited our quarters. To answer the anxieties of the soldiers? No. To threaten them. To announce even more repressive and more sophisticated ways of purging the left. To prepare more violent forms of repression In a transport unit near Porto the struggle reached a high level. CICAP was a military driving school. It had played an active part on April 25th. The new Northern Commander (Pires Veloso, a right-winger) decided to close it down. Some of the soldiers described what happened:
'CICAP is being turned into a bulwark of reaction in the Northern military Region. All our victories have been neutralised. At the end of July three comrades were cashiered. Then came the August holidays and the devil was let loose. Reactionary officers and sergeants held constant secret meetings. Without consulting the democratic bodies we had set up they decided to send Captain Morais, a Spinolist, to the Assembly. With him went Captain Loureiro (ex-Mocidade Portuguesa). They didn't wait long to start the purge of progressive soldiers... 'We announced a SUV demonstration. The commander did all he could to stop it, to threaten t We were still many. On September 11, slap in the middle of our normal parade, we held a minute's silence for the Chilean p eople. The "ringleaders" were sought out. We complained about the food. But they weren't interested in improving the food. They just wanted a scapegoat. They expelled a conscript. We opposed these purges On the parade ground we shouted: "Reactionaries out of the barracks". 'They didn't wait long before trying further purges, this time in a legal and more subtle manner. We said: "Enough". Well into the night we held a meeting. We asked for an explanation of the purges. Everything was done to disrupt our meeting. But in the end we managed to have a vote. The result was 312 votes for the dismissed men to stay, and 6 abstentions. No one supported the expulsions. Hundreds of people waiting at the gates applauded our victory... 'The immediate effect was to close down CICAP, on direct orders from Pires Veloso. But just as this was taking p lace, another unit took over their barracks in solidarity with us...'
The other unit was RASP, an infantry regiment in Serra do Pilar. The RASP soldiers took even more radical action. They defiantly brought civilians into the barracks:
'We began our struggle with one objective: the reopening of CICAP and the reintegration into the barracks of all purred soldiers. Today, a week later, rich with extraordinary experiences, strong from unbreakable unity, our objective remains the same, only more pressing. 'Why are we struggling? The closure of CICAP must be seen in its true dimension. The intention of whoever gave the order must be condemned. The closure of CICAP was a high point in a campaign which had led to the expulsion of many dozens of progressive soldiers and military personnel from units in this region; more than 50 from RIP, from CICAP, from ClOE in Lamego, Braga, Vila Real, etc. The closure of CICAP is a deliberate attempt to throttle those who say "no to militarist discipline"... An army manipulated and controlled by reactionaries will sooner or later attack the workers... CICAP will not belong to Veloso. It will belong to the people'.
When the RASP men occupied their barracks they brought civilians into the place and held a week long festival. They showed films, talked, argued, discussed, held sing-songs and enjoyed themselves. Gradually other units started voting solidarity motions in favour the PCP-oriented Fabiao 'to work out a compromise', i.e. to re-establish 'order', 'discipline', 'normality'. After discussions FabiAo promised that Veloso would be overruled and that CICAP would not be disbanded. RASP then suspended their occupation. As in civilian matters, the PCP was being used to defuse crises. In industry they did this through Intersindical, in the Army through their few remaining 'Goncalvist' officers.
When the commandos withdrew from the Buraca transmitter of RA on October 16 the station began broadcasting again. It remained on the air for a mere three weeks. On November 7 a group of police specialists and a squadron of paratroopers paid a night call to the installations, ordered everyone out, and placed a bomb in the building. The paratroopers later said they 'hadn't realised what they were doing'. They said they thought the orders had come 'from the left'. One should neither laugh nor weep, but seek to understand. Is it sufficient to dismiss their action as due to extreme political naivety? Why did this correspond to the mental image of the left that they held? The question was never to be answered. A unit of fusiliers, contacted for the job, had refused. Vasco Lourenqo, for the Council of the Revolution, later 'explained' things. The Council, he said, had had three alternatives:
1. to give RA back to the Catholic Church - but he doubted they could hold it 2. to occupy the station militarily - but he doubted the troops would comply with the order 3. to blow it up
This duplicity ('you can say whatever you like, so long as we're sure no one can hear you') and terroristic vandalism ('if we can't control it, we'd rather no one did') on the part of the state were deeply resented. They were to have unexpected repercussions among the 'politically backward' paratroopers. It so radicalised some of them that they played an important role in the events of November 25th. But in many ways it was the political groups who had propagated the myth of the 'MFA-Povo alliance' who were responsible for the debacle. In the' maze of folklore, the real limits of the situation had not been grasped.
SUV eventually lost its autonomous character, through the opportunist 'support' it received from various PCP-FUR groups. It was seen as yet another 'armed body of men', parallel to COPCON, to AMI, working for 'left' party interests and hence for state capitalism. AMI, inasmuch as it existed, represented mercenaries paid by the state. But left-wing folklore had promoted the idea that, somehow, COPCON was different. Arnaldo Matos had called it 'the most democratic police force in the world' (but only when, after meetings with Otelo, he thought he might use it). In everyday terms the Military Police, the main strike force of COPCON, functioned just like any other police force. It was just as corrupt. While the Maoists proclaimed that 'the dawn was red' the' Bairro Alto district of Lisbon lit up every night with red lights of another kind. COPCON's men-on-the-beat received bribes from the prostitutes and pimps, just as the regular police force had done before, and just as the commandos were to do after November 25.
TOWARDS BREAKING POINT
The advent of the Sixth Government did not halt the bombings in the North. But it changed their character. They became more overtly terroristic. On September 16 in Porto cars with French number plates were found to contain explosives. A few days later the Municipal Council was bombed.
In Alentejo the PCP-controlled Union of Agricultural Workers were very much in control. On September 17 they called a strike which paralysed the province. Only the frontier regions like Elvas (which was predominantly PS) were not affected.
The left groups continued to fight among themselves. Running gun battles took place in Lisbon and Porto between PCP and MRPP or UDP, and between UDP and MRPP. Depending upon which unit intervened the situation was 'sorted out' more or less rapidly.
A horrified reaction swept through Europe when, on September 27, a moribund Franco ordered the execution of five political prisoners. In Lisbon and Pono large demonstrations marched in protest. In Lisbon both the Spanish Embassy and Consulate were set on fire. The crowds sang the Internationale as the flames rose to the sky. The feeling was vicious. Not even the UDP (who tried) and the RAL-1s (who refused) could control the crowds. Even the firemen who turned up joined in the singing and limited themselves to stopping the fire from spreading. The Sixth Government immediately promised to pay compensation to the Spanish state. Melo Antunes denounced the attack on the embassy as 'vandalism'. The Minister of Foreign Affairs explained that 30% of Portugal's electricity came through Spain. It was important to maintain good relations, etc, etc. Republica wrote:
'Spain, the horror. Spain, the death. Spain, our sister and comrade. The revolution attacked: the torture, the police, the hangmen. Revolutionary and heroic Spain, from whom we have learned so much. We shall crush fascism. We shall leave nothing surviving of this world of hell, which was ours and which still threatens us. The assassin Franco will die. We want no king. The people in struggle will take their destinies into their own hands. Capital and its weapons will be destroyed in the melting pot and red glow of Europe...
The division between PCP-FUR on the one hand and PS-PPD on the other was meanwhile gaining momentum. A journalist commented that during this period there were only 'huge' and 'gigantic' demonstrations. All this tended to overwhelm any autonomous moves which anyone made. Most of the demonstrations were said to be 'unitary' and 'non -party'-but just about everyone now knew otherwise. The PCP was exerting more and more pressure through organisations like SUV (South and Centre) and through the CTs of the industrial belt of Lisbon. Certain bureaucratised CTs like that at EC Esteves (industrial transport) worked hand in hand with the Transport Union, which worked very closely with Intersindical, which was at one with the PCP. A secretariat based on such CTs was set up. Many of the Committees affiliated to this secretariat were not, however, PCP-dominated. Nor were the workers in them. The bureaucratic system just trapped them in its mesh.
In this sense the metalworkers' strike of mid october was led and manipulated by the PCP unions. The PS tried their own tactics to challenge this dominance in SUV and in the media. On October 1 they warned of a 'left-wing coup', due to be led by RAL-1, and calld for a general mobilisation of their militants. The response was pathetic. If a coup had been planned it would easily have succeeded.
On October 13, a week after the events of RASP-CICAP, PCP-FUR organised a large demonstration to the Lisbon Council. No doubt dreaming of 'all power to the soviets' they wanted the Council 'handed over' to the CMs and CTs in the area. Many sincere members of the CMs and CTs who turned up in support of 'popular power' were horrified at the way the PCP introduced slogans of its own. Those present believed in 'direct democracy'. They were willing to come onto the streets to show it. But they didn't want to be used as pawns in the power struggles of the PCP.
A reference to 'coups' became a mobilising theme. On October 25 COPCON warned of a right-wing putsch and set up barricades on the main roads into Lisbon. Young soldiers searched cars. But the searches were half-hearted. Four days later another organisation, the 'Alr Force Committee for Revolutionary Vigilance' (this time related to the PCP) warned of yet another right-wing coup. Both 0 Seculo and Diano de Noticias published the warning in bold type on their front pages. The previous day the IRA centre in Setubal had been bombed and the local population had immediately responded with more occupations, including the take-over of the palace of the Duke de Palmela which was converted into a new IRA centre. What was rumour? What was reality? One woke up in the morning and - if one believed the papers - one discovered that so many coups had taken place, that so many had been foiled. Behind all this manipulation of the spectacular was the need to create and maintain an atmosphere of political insecurity. On October 31 some MRPP workers occupied 0 Seculo, seeking to outflank the PCP-dominated Workers' Committee within it.They produced their own version of the paper for a week.
The threats continued. On. November 3 there was a further warning from the Air Force Committee that a coup was planned for the weekend of November 7-9, to coincide with military manoeuvres in the Centre. Again 0 Seculo and Diario de Noticias gave prominent headlines to the story. Otelo was seen more and more at PCP meetings, an RA sticker on his lapel He called for these manoeuvres to be cancelled.
On October 30 the soldiers of the main Arms Depot were ordered by Goncalvist officers to 'swear allegiance to the working class'. In response, both A Luta and Jornal Novo published (on November 4) a communique of the Frente Militar Unida. (This organisation, which included the MRPP, Melo Antunes... and Ramalho Eanes, was supposed to be a rank-and-file vehicle for the political ideas of 'the Nine'.) The PS-PPD then called a joint demonstration in Faro in support of the Sixth Government. While this was taking place a 'popular tribunal' in Boa Hora, attended by some 200 leftists, passed a verdict of 'not guilty' on a squatter arrested by the police.
It was in this context that the Soares-Cunhal television debate took place on November 6 with the aim of 'defusing the crisis'. Of course, it resolved nothing. On the same day the Council of the Revolution reiterated its support for the Sixth Government. The bitterness grew daily. On November 7 the Ministry of Social Communication was occupied by its workers who accused a leading official of being related to PIDE. After having fired into a crowd outside, the GNR re-occupied the lower part of the building. They didn't manage, however, to evict the workers who had barricaded themselves in upstairs.
On November 9 the PS called an enormous demonstration in Terreiro do Paco. It mustered strange supporters: PPD, CDS, AOC, PCP-ml. The sight of the packed square shouting 'Discipline! Discipline! 'was both sickening and frightening. PCP-ml burned an effigy of Cunhal. On the following Sunday, November 16, the PCP-influenced CTs of the industrial belt of Lisbon retaliated with yet another 'unitary' demo. In each about 70,000 people turned up (although figures of 200,000 appeared in various papers). The only difference was that there were more tractors, cement-mixers and trucks on the PCP demo, which was also more colourful. Cynically, the parties moved their crowds like pieces on a chessboard.
The languages of revolution and counter-revolution became increasingly difficult to untangle. Authority was crumbling. Some 600,000 hectares were occupied between October and November 1975 - twice as much as between March and September. The number of factories passing into self-management also more than doubled. But this very weakness of the state drove the contenders for state power to increase their demagogy and to raise their stakes.
The demonstrations of Novembei 9 and November 16 revealed something of the polarisation. But hidden beneath them, unseen and unrecorded, were the pent-up frustrations of many CTs and individuals who genuinely wanted revolution, but could not organise outside of the established groups. FUR was confronted with the same dilemma of its own making. When not demonstrating with the PCP, it was giving it critical support. It was too late to resolve this 'contradiction' which had deep roots in history. In a sense it was not a contradiction at all. FUR's politics made it inevitable. Every attempt by a CT to break free was promptly jumped on by one or other of the parties and immediately neutralised.
FUR's main voice (and not only theirs) was silenced when the RR transmitters were blown up. On the following morning (November 8) the PRP called for armed insurrection as the only solution to the crisis:
'The PRP defends armed insurrection... The objective conditions for a victorious armed uprising exist today in Portugal. Knowing the devotion to the revolutionary process of a great many officers of the Army and Navy, and knowing also the positions which they hold at the level of unit commands, it is easy to think of a scheme based on a sortie by these troops, in an operation of the type of April 25th'.
The ambiguities of the PRP position were now being exposed with a vengeance. They were still not facing up to the fact that the army was a class army. They still talked of a 'split' within it, of 'using' certain units. Their 'revolutionary brigades' had already gone underground (a decision which 'perturbed' Otelo who said he was not consulted) when, on October 23, the Sixth Government had made it illegal for civilians to bear arms. The PRP explained (A Capital, November 10): 'As all history shows, the bourgeoisie promotes civil war to defend its interests. Happily in Portugal the right wing does not have an army. They rely on mercenaries with bases in Spain, or on the armies of the US and NATO'. They were, of course, totally wrong in this assessment. The right wing (i.e. capitalism) had an army in Portugal. It was the officer corps now dominating the higher bodies of the MFA. The PRP produced thousands of posters ('Organise, Arm, Advance - for Popular Power') which they plastered all around the working class districts of Lisbon. Posters were, however, to prove no substitute for the creation of a workers' militia, or for propaganda consciously aimed at the disintegration of the MFA.
The PS-PPD were advancing, though they were being stopped by street mobilisations at every step. They began to purge the PCP from the ministries. The PCP's response was a belated turn to the grass roots. On November 13 the building unions called a strike. Some 30,000 workers from all over the country marched on Sio Bento, trapping the ministers inside. 'Mr Minister, go work on the sites', one of their posters said. The Minister of Labour ordered his mi nktryto be closed for fear the workers might wreck it. 'What a sad figure this Minister cuts 'a leaflet said, 'who shuts his door on the workers. Go pack your bags and off with you to the Gremio. Don t worry, Mr Minister. Workers who have always built such buildings are not going to destroy them now. What we want is an end to miserable wages, to exploitation'.
The building workers' strike was supported by the PCP, Intersindical and all the left groups, except the most orthodox maoist ones. Agricultural workers from Alentejo and militants from the Lisbon industrial belt showed practical solidarity. The deputies were trapped inside the building, without food. An Air Force helicopter hovered overhead 'to save them from starvation' (as one leaflet put it later in the evening, after a PPD deputy had fainted - either from hunger or from fear). The workers remained massed outside the building. COPCON troops, summoned by the government to rescue it, refused to intervene. The workers and soldiers lit fires,sang songs, got drunk, slept, waited. The building workers had four demands: (a) nationalisation of the main sites; (b) discussion of a new collective contract; (c) an enquiry into the activities of the Minister of Labour; and (d) higher wages. At 5 am the Prime Minister rejected the first three demands but granted the fourth.
The workers would not accept this 'compromise'. They issued an ultimatum, expiring at 22.00 hours. The Prime Minister said it was difficult to hold a meeting of all the deputies. Why, some were not even there! To this the workers replied that they would 'go and fetch them'. President Costa Gomes issued five 'declarations to the nation' during the day, calling for calm ... and increased productivity. The workers refused to budge. When the Prime Minister told them that he wanted to attend an important meeting in Belem they told him where he could 'stuff his important meeting'. Finally, at 1 am on November 14 the Prime Minister caved in. All the demands were conceded.
The same day a demonstration in Porto supported by PS-PPD-CDS burned an Intersindical office. A giant PCP demo ('unitary', 'non-party') on November 15 showed that the PCP was still a force to be reckoned with. Otelo, who did not appear at the meeting, sent a message which revealed the changed balance of forces. Parodying the well-known 'Soldier, friend, the people are with you', the message read out over powerful loudspeakers said: 'People, friends, Otelo is with you'.
Three days later, on November 18, the PCP newspapers 0 Seculo and Diario de Noticias again warned of a right-wing coup. On the 19th headlines in both A Luta and Jornal Novo condemned the influence of PCP-FUR in the armed forces.
For bourgeois democracy it was an impossible situation. The government had become a laughing stock. On November 17 Pinheiro de Azevedo had even suggested a suspension of its activities, though this wasn't publicly announced until November 20. In the immortal words of Brecht, they would have loved to 'dissolve the people and elect another one'. On November 21, the Sixth Government went 'on strike', threatening to move to Porto, where it may or may not have found more support. The Prime Minister's preoccupations were more or less those of 'the Nine', spelt out in the 'Plan of the Colonels'. The PS and PPD were now openly calling for Otelo's resignation, because he had refused to order troops to act against the building workers on November 13. They were also after Fabiffo's blood. On November 19 the Constituent Assembly was packed with delegates discussing the situation. A demonstration (PRP-MES-UDP) in the public gallery shouted 'Reactionaries out of the Assembly, now'. The PCP-MDP delegates present joined in the shouting, directed against the CDS-PPD. Jaime Neves, leader of the commandos, spoke bluntly to Costa Gomes and threatened to 'tidy all this mess up himself' if something wasn't done soon. 'The Cork', as usual, bobbed this way and that on the troubled waters. But effectively the President was being faced with a palace coup, led by 'the Nine' and endorsed by the extreme right.
With the government 'on strike' the ground was free for a take-over. The situation could not last. Something had to give. There were meetings everywhere: in the upper echelons of the parties, of the 'fronts', of the ministries, of the unions, of the local Juntas. In the cafes. And in the barracks.
Let us pause for a moment and look at the main contending forces. The Sixth Government, supported by the PS-PPD, wanted a very bourgeois kind of socialism, a 'socialism' emanating from parliamentary institutions, consisting of a mixed economy of European type, liberally laced with private enterprise, and under-written by a reliable army and an efficient police force. They saw themselves at the head of the state machine which would administer all this. The PCP was marginally more 'radical' in the sense of wanting the central power to control larger sectors of the economy. They also wanted the unions ('their' unions) to be an established estate of the realm. The other state capitalist forces were prepared to go 'the whole way'. What divided them was how much state intervention they would achieve (and how soon), and how much their own political tendency could or should control the institutions of the existing society, or of any new society in the making.
With so man potential governments lining up in parallel the overall situation was confusing in the extreme. One lived in a half-world, where the enemy came in all shades. People were cruelly forced to make false choices: defend this or condemn that. The choices remained confined to the political sphere, despite the widespread non-party feeling which had come to the fore during recent months. Isolation was thus more abject, despite the fact that many extreme-leftists called this the most 'revolutionary' period. Many people drank more,including myself. I was now ashamed, being a foreigner, to go near the cooperatives in Alentejo, given what other revolutionary tourists had done there.
My ex-neighbour (I'd since moved into a larger apartment shared with 3 other people) chided the local men for supporting the PCP. Then, two sentences later, she would express fear that the CDS might smash it. She had got hold of a copy of the UDP Voz do Povo and said she liked it. 'I'm a communist. But I just don't understand all these things about parties'. The people, she said, had to unite to overcome all this confusion, to get beyond the groups. The problem was how?
For her the Portuguese revolt had started in hope as a way out of despair, but it was coming back to her as just that. She was on her pills again, like before April 25th. Only now the irreversible step had been taken. She was politically aware and her awareness was mixed with extreme emotion. 'The fascists are taking over again'. She spat the words out with pure hatred. The feeling was widespread, even if ill-founded. It was as though she refused to admit she could be demoralised, as though somehow, in the maze of leftist ideology, demoralisation was just not on because it conflicted with the socialist-realist, machine gun-toting image confronting one at every corner. I too was vulnerable. I didn't want to see everything crushed in the inter-political conflict. I couldn't admit certain things to myself - or I admitted them secretly and wouldn't admit them to others, which was even worse. Yet, paradoxically, there was peace of mind as long as the crisis lasted. Events quickly followed one another and it was impossible to figure everything out in an instant. It was like awakening after a cluster of dreams and having to sort out what was real and what wasn't.
People reacted differently to all this. In many tascas political discussion was by-passed on a grand scale, lest the fabric of everyday survival, woven over many years, be torn by loud ideological discussion. Argument became focused on such issues as where exactly the Ota base was, or on whether the neighbour down the road was a RAL-1 or a PM. It was safer to talk about murders, to become involved in sensational stories. I remember going to a cafe in October, where I had known some people. The only discussion I ended up having was about a vampire inspired neurotic who had killed five people in Germany. The story had been published on the front page of Diario de Noticias. Later PCP and PS militants spoke to me in private. The people I'd come to see either ignored me or showed (with their downcast eyes and forced interest in their dominoes) that they felt terrible. I left, feeling like death.
On the other hand, the public bars of Lisbon were full of state capitalist elements. The 'Lisbon Commune' was founded on the professional classes. It was dominated by that section of unproductive wage-labourers who are particularly prone to leninist and ultra-leninist perspectives: groups of intellectuals, lower functionaries in the state apparatus, ex-workers such as trade union officials, all setting themselves up as the guardians of 'working class science . MArio Soares and Cunhal were said to be dining out in the chic restaurants, where Caetano's old deputies had dined before. Lisbon is a relatively small city: the technocratic class, politically powerful but numerically few, were well known to one another, despite their differences. They acted as if they had the unique model of revolution and as if the rest (the 'inferior' revolutionaries) had to follow suit or be denied salvation. The proletariat could be saved, they seemed to be saying, but only through their superior level of consciousness and their 'more significant' interpersonal relationships. There seemed to be a leninism of everyday life, relegating those who weren't of this or that political persuasion to a very primitive emotional consciousness.
The left only hoped to push the PCP further along the state capitalist road. No organised group criticised Capital per se, its hierarchies, its priorities, its social relations, its essence, on any mass basis. No group systematically and explicitly criticised the left as the midwives of state capitalism.. The various Inter-Empresas lined up behind the various parties which dominated them. They waited, by and large indifferent to the party political power struggle over the type of regime to be brought about.