Maurice Brinton's introduction to Phil Mailer's "Portugal - The Impossible Revolution?"
This is an uncooked slice of history. It is the story of what happened in Portugal between April 25, 1974 and November 25, 1975 - as seen and felt by a deeply committed participant. It depicts the hopes, the tremendous enthusiasm, the boundless energy, the total commitment, the released power, even the revolutionary innocence of thousands of ordinary people taking a hand in the remoulding of their lives. And It does so against the background of an economic and social reality which placed limits on what could be done. This tension dominates the whole narrative.
Phil's book is not only a perceptive account of real events. It is an attempt at a new type of historiography. The official statements of the MFA and of the political parties, and the pronouncements of politicians, are relegated to appendices. The text proper explodes with life, the life of people seeking - in many contradictory ways - to write a chapter of their own history.
Characters and events literally hustle one another off the pages. Images remain, pell-mell, like an afterglow. The intoxication and euphoria of the first few weeks. Politics in the first person. The crowds in the streets. Civilians clambering over tanks and armoured cars. The atmosphere of the great days: May Day and September 28, 1974; March 11, 1975. Strikes and occupations. The declarations of people in bitter struggle which, in their concern for fundamentals, seemed to echo the thunder of the Communist Manifesto. Lisbon dockers, talking of a "total remodelling of society", of a struggle which would have to be waged "outside the unions", given the total involvement of such bodies in the iniquities of the previous regime. The sheer poetry of some landholders documents, asking what will happen "now the sowing time is over and the olives have been picked". The tenants' committees. The non-manipulable struggle of those at the very bottom of the social ladder, the shanty town dwellers, for whom nobody had the audacity to claim he was speaking. Taxi drivers wanting the Institute for the Reorganization of Agriculture to take over ... their taxis. The Revolution creating its own surrealist precedents. The Second Congress of Councils, in the Technological Institute in Lisbon, complete with latter-day Leninists dreaming of Smolny and Putilov, amid the paraphernalia of modern television. Revolutionary tourists and their hang-ups. Soldiers inviting civilians into the RASP barracks for a week-long festival, sing-song and orgy ... of political discussion. The seemingly endless birth-pangs which only produced a still-born infant. The surfeit of revolutionary rhetoric and the return to reality. The problems and anxieties, the achievements and the failures. The joy and the sadness. The longings and the frustrations. And, throughout, the concern (in the words of Spinoza) "neither to laugh nor to weep, but to understand".
Why did the revolutionary process not develop further in Portugal? A meaningful social revolution comes about when a large number of people seek a total change in the conditions of their existence. Massive pressures had certainly built up within Salazarist Portugal. But the aims of those opposed to the old society were disparate. For varying reasons different groups wanted an end to the colonial wars, to the futility and frustrations of a long period of compulsory military service, to the censorship,and to the ubiquity of the hated PIDE. The consensus,however, hardly went any further.
Beyond this the paths diverged. The forward-looking section of the Portuguese bourgeoisie had one objective - a liberal capitalist society, in which they would accumulate wealth in a "civilised" manner. "Anti-fascism" was the ideal cover for a crying need to modernist the bourgeois state. A liberal capitalist society provided a freer framework for the important business of making money. The "trouble" was that the working class too had aims of its own, less explicitly formulated perhaps, but in conflict with the above. Its very conditions of existence compelled it to struggle. The objectives of the PCP and of the various left groups amounted to various forms of state capitalism. At every stage their actions sought to canalise popular discontent into channels which enhanced either the power of the state, or the power of the political parties themselves. They manipulated the social disaffection to achieve a society in which they themselves would wield political power as the "legitimate representatives of the illiterate masses". This was the reality, perceived or not, behind all their rhetoric.
The working class, concentrated in the great conurbations of Lisbon, SetÃ»bal and Porto, of Braga and Aveiro - but numerically weak and scattered elsewhere - met both successes and reverses in gaining specific objectives of its own. Initially, in the strike movement that preceded April 25th (and was to gain such impetus after that date) the working class succeeded for a while in imposing a certain redistribution in its own favour of the total social product. It created autonomous organizations, the Workers' Committees (CTs) and Federations of CTs (like Inter-Empresas). But no amount of wishful thinking - or of Bolshevik bravado - could circumvent the hard facts of social geography. There were vast areas of the country where a smallholding peasantry, intensely property-conscious, exerted an enormous weight. There spiritual, was the legacy of intimidation, temporal an by policemen and priests. And there were other facts of equal relevance. A social revolution is not just a reflex respsonse to the iniquities and oppressions of an existing order. Such responses may bring a society crashing to its knees. They do not ensure that it is replaced by one that is qualitatively different. Such an outcome requires a vision, shared by a substantial number of people of a totally different way of life.
Did the working class of Portugal - or any substantial part of it - have such a vision? Who knows? There were certainly attempts to reduce wage differentials, to elaborate a pattern of distribution that would bypass traditional market mechanisms, to break down the barriers between intellectual and manual labour, to produce and live together according to different norms. But these were, more often than not, empirical adaptations to specific circumstances: the need to raise the miserable living standards of Cabo Verdian building workers, to dispose of the products of some self-managed factory, to solve practical problems in some shanty town, or to administer some seized latifundio. More fundamental social objectives, such as the abolition of hierarchy, of wage labour and of commodity production were never really on the historical agenda.
The proletariat, both urban and rural, was one of the driving forces of the Portuguese upheaval. Of this, there can be no doubt. But its forward surge, in the months after April 1974, was eventually broken. Piecemeal ,the ruling class succeeded in re-establishing their order, their discipline, their ownership of land, houses and plant, and - through a fine admixture of coercion and co-operation - the productivity of "their" workers.
The working class advance was broken by a combination of factors of significance to all concerned ln the dynamics of revolution. Firstly, the upsurge did not take place in an economic or geographical vacuum. Portugal could not be isolated from the world market. It is a "poor" country. Large areas of its production are geared to world demand and it has to import many of its finished goods. None of the fundamental problems could be solved in the Portuguese arena alone. Portuguese capitalism was but a link in a vast international network : the onslaught against it was doomed to failure if confined to Portugal. The workers of Portugal remained isolated, deprived of their natural allies. During the crucial months the Spanish tinder failed to ignite.
Within this general context of economic dependence and revolutionary isolation there were many specific difficulties. There was fear, induced by realities of unemployment (some of it deliberately engineered by Portuguese capitalists). During 1974-75 some 10% of the working population was constantly out of work. Life was hard. After some initial gains wages were more or less frozen - throughout a period of intense inflation (up to 18% per annum). The gross national product fell by some 24%. There was then the painful awakening from certain illusions, the illusion for instance that the working class had "allies", as distinct from people who were prepared to "ride it" (as one would a horse) to (the "revolution". The relevant implications began to dawn, namely that the workers could not leave it to others (such as (progressive' officers or student radicals) to solve their problems for them. They began taking the appropriate measure: the creation of autonomous organizations controlled from below. But then the old enemy reappeared in a new garb. Those who used words with the same case as the peasant his scythe or the,, bricklayer his trowel began to organist, to dominate, to manipulate the plenarios. There was a massive retreat from political activity, in disgust at the behaviour of the leftist sects. There was the feeling of despair and impotence in relation to the enormity of the tasks to be solved. The Portuguese working class proved unable - at this moment in time - of further developing the autonomous forms of organization needed, were they even to hold what had been gained. The leninist groups. here bear a tremendous, almost a historic responsibility. Instead of helping to develop and consolidate the new creations of the class, they did all in their power to make the movement conform to textbook models. They talked learnedly of Kerensky and Kornilov when people needed confidence in their own ability to organise textile prodeuctlon to process and distribute the season s cork , to find storage facilities for rural profuce being sent directly to the towns. Their concerns were not felt to be genuine, and their relationship to the real movement was never sensed to be an honest one. For example those who spoke loudest about "arming the people" in fact ensured that available weapons went to their own particular groups. They identified themselves with the proletariat, but the proletariat refused to return the compliment.
Yet, when all is said and done, one further fact remains, enormous in its implications. In April 1975 the Portuguese people voted for the Constituent Assembly. A year later they elected an Assembly of. the Republic. Even the smallest political groups participated (see Appendix 25), their message stridently proclaimed from every wall and roof top . As far as political propaganda and access to the media are concerned these were the two "freest" years in Portuguese history. The apparatus of repression was largely in disarray. The electoral campaigns were possibly more vigorous and more sustained, more varied and more vitriolic than at any other time, in any other bourgeois democracy. Parties legally put up posters advocating armed insurrection. In June 1976 a President was elected : Eanes, the law-and- order candidate, campaigning against "states within the state", polled over 60% of the vote.
It is too easy to attribute this event solely to the factors we have mentioned, important though they be.The vote also represented a yearning for stability, for a breathing space, for a predictable pattern to everyday life, for the easier option of delegated authority. It was a repudiation, hopefully temporary, of the din of discussion, of the pressure to participate, of the stress of responsibility, of the fatigue and frustration of an involvement that seemed to lead nowhere. It was the personal price one paid to escape the demand for permanent self-mobilisation, a demand dictated by the state of permanent stalemate in the political and social arena outside. It is a new pattern of bourgeois recuperation. Realists will recognise it as a hallmark of the vastness of the task ahead.
Several lessons can be drawn from the Portuguese experience, lessons which transcend the frontiers of Portugal. The foremost, I think, is that in future upheavals the traditions revolutionaries will prove part of the problem not part of the solution.The Portuguese events bring irrefutable testimony to this assertion. Past revolutions faced two main dangers. They could be annihilated by those whose privileges they threatened (Paris, 1871;Germany, 1918-1919 ; Spain, 1936; ;Hungary, 1956). Or they could be destroyed from within, through bureaucratic degeneration (as happened to the Russian Revolution of 1917). A third alarming risk now looms on the horizon. It is the risk of genuinely radical upheavals being deviated into state capitalist channels. It is the danger that any new creation (in the realm of ideas, relationships or institutions) will immediatly be pounced upon, penetrated, colonized, manipulated - and ultimately deformed - by hordes of power-hungry "professional revolutionaries", midwives of state capitalism, and all the more dangerous because draped in the red flag.
These people bring with them attitudes and patterns deeply (if not always consciously) moulded of behaviour by Lenin's notion that the workers, left to themselves, "can only develop a trade union consciousness". Their current organization practices and their prescriptions for the future are bureaucratic to the core. Because of all the extraneous matter they drag in their historical wake and seek to inject into live situations (like some flies their larvae into living flesh) these "professional revolutionaries" (Stalinists, Maoists, Trotskyists and Leninists of various kinds) succeed, between them, in polluting the very concept of independent political action.. , Their preoccupation with leadership destroys initiative. Their concern for the correct line discourages experiment. Their obsession with the past is a blight on the future. They create around themselves a wasteland of cynicism and disgust, of smashed hopes and disillusion that buttresses the deepest dogma of bourgeois society, namely that ordinary people are incapable of solving their own problems, by themselves and for themselves. Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho was wrong when he endorsed the anarchist jest that cozido (a local dish of boiled meats and potatoes) was the only specifically Portuguese thing to be had. There was more. The Portuguese upheaval of 1974-75 coined a new word for the political lexicon, an adjective that denoted an aspiration: the word "apartidario" The literal translation is "non-party". But the term reflects the longing for genuine autonomy in struggle, for an activity that is not manipulated by some cupula (political clique) or other.
Another lesson, intimately linked to the first, concerns the role of the MFA. People had many illusions about the MFA, illusions which were to be rudely shattered on November 25 , 1975 . The left not only did nothing to dispel these illusions, it in fact constantly reinforced them. The army is a fundamental pillar of class rule and it is dangerous nonsense to believe that it can somehow be transformed into something else, into an instrument of social change for instance. To believe that this can be brought about through gaining the leadership of certain regiments, or through the creation of rank-and- file committees in certain battalions is positively suicidal. In Portugal, the "putschist and militarist conception of the social revolution'' was to have dire consequences for the working class.
Leninist groups are permeated through and through with jacobin (i.e. bourgeois) notions concerning the conquest of power. The citizen armies of the French Revolution may have toppled the old feudal structures, enabling the bourgeoisie to assume political power and the bourgeois mode of production (which existed before the revolution and was capable of autonomous development) to gain unfettered ascendancy. But they specialist revolution is something very different. The working class does not already have its own mode of production operating within bourgeois society. The revolution will be a protracted process of conscious social creation. Its concerns are as much the capture of the hearts and minds of ordinary people and the discarding of outmoded beliefs as the capture of some Winter Palace or the deposition of some feudal monarch. It neither begins nor ends with the military question. This is not to say that the ruling classes will peacefully surrender what they have. But this is another question.
The leninist groups in Portugal, given their views, failed to conduct any systematic propaganda against the MFA as such. They failed to denounce the totally mystifying concept of the "alliance" between the MFA and "the people". They equated political power with military power in the crudest possible way. Elements of the Portuguese experience fed this disastrous identification. After April 25th there was certainly an overlap between military and political apparatus. Moreover the lessening of autonomous working class action - an ebb-tide to which the leninists had signally contributed - created an atmosphere in which their substitutionary attitudes could further flourish. The "revolutionaries" placed their faith - and even what cadres they could - in COPCON. They boastewd with a wink, of their contacts in the upper echelons of this body. In their hands the social struggle became reduced to a question of intrigues, of tactical alliances and manoeuvred: of giving critical support to one lot of officers against another, to one military clique against another.Groups on the extreme left' described the MFA as the "guarontor of the Revolution". In the words of Cohn-Bendit ''they spoke of power just like everyone else does. There was nothing emptier than their description of it ... They don't ask what does the conquest of social power mean? No, they don 't go beyond the question of centralized, politico-military power ". Social power was something more difficult to grasp, and far more difficult to achieve; "It was the reality of work relations, with hierarchy, In people's heads".
The debacle of November 25 (described with feeling and wit in Phil's narrative) left a trail of confusion and disarray. If anything is to be learned from it we must speak bluntly: To accept the primacy of the Army (i.e. of an institution moulded by capitalism and permeated by capitalist values) in the Portuguese situation was doubly nefarious. It fostered reliance on others, which was bad enough. But more specifically it fostered reliance on a body which, when the crunch came, would turn out to be on the otbcr side. Constantly to emphasize the preponderant role of the Army was tantamount to injecting deeply bourgeois ideas (submission to leaders, the centralization of power into very few hands, the abdication of the right to determine objectives or to participate in decision-making) into what was undoubtedly a movement for social change. The damage proved incalculable. Strange partners peddled this mystification. The PCP did all in its power to boost the MFA as a "guarantor of democracy". It proclaimed that 2no country, not even the oldest democratic countries, allows open calls to desertion and agitation in the armed forces". It exerted pressure on deserters and those avoiding call-up "to do their military service, like all other young Portuguese". Meanwhile the leftist groups, with their "contacts" and "areas of influence" in the middle echelons of the MFA, covered up for the early strike- breaking role of the Army.
Some people still talk about "portuguese particularism", about the 2specificity of the Portuguese situation", about Portugal being "different". They still described the MFA as having been "the motor of the revolution". To do this they stress the role of the Unit Assemblies (ADUS) and of rank-and-file organizations such as SUV (Soldiers United Will Win). This mythology must be exploded before it gains a foothold.
The ADUS were created from above, in 1974, as 'structures for rank-and-file participation'. They were to be based on a new 'revolutionary' discipline, "agreed and not imposed", and on a "hierarchy of aptitudes". Their concerns, however, never extended beyond the walls of the barracks. Their real implantation. varied from region to region. The role of the MFA officers remained preponderant within them. Communication between ADUS remained in the hands of such officers. Even at a General Assembly of one of the 'red' regiments of the Lisbon area, in December 1974, it was stressed that the function of the assembly was 'consultative, a function of education and information'. The Fifth Division, in which there was deep PCP penetration, did all it could to promote the ADUS. Its influence within the MFA reached its peak at the time of the Fifth Provisional Government of Vasco GonÃ§alves. But this influence (which sought to make of the Fifth Division a political education centre for the Armed Forces as a whole) was not associated with any real shift of power towards the base. Attempts to increase the area of authority of the ADUS provoked an indignant statement by the Cabinet for the Dynamisation of the Army (linked to the Fifth Division). 'The ADU's', it was stressed, "are organs for advising and supporting the Command ... In no way do the question the authority of the Command in the realm of decisions".
At this point a 'left' critique of the military policies of the PCP had gained a certain hearing. It originated around officers close to the PRP (and to COPCON) who saw in the way the PCP was alienating support an opening for their own implantation into the military apparatus, and hence into the apparatus of the state. This tendency sought a base in the social movement outside the army. The COPCON documents of early summer 1975 reflect these aspirations.
But the virtual eviction of the PCP from the government a few weeks later (and the victory of 'the Nine' over the GonÃ§alvists in the military apparatus) were to lead to a PCP volte-face. It began endorsing the "radical" COPCON proposals it had previously denounced. At last, some leftists saw a chance to consumate the lust of a lifetime, to have a united front with the PCP. It was against this background that the semi-clandestine SUV groups began to emerge, "real" rank-and-file groups, "committed to the class struggle", highly critical of the 'antidemocratic structures of the ADUS'. But the SUV were themselves being manipulated by leftist groups in search of new tactics for the capture of state power. Their call was "reactionaries, out of the barracks! ". This could only imply one thing: "Barracks, yes, but commanded by leftist officers"
The moment of truth arrived. On November 25 fewer than 200 commandos "ovcrcame' several "red" regiments armed to the teeth. Among the regiments that 'surrendered' were those that had been most loudly proclaiming that "their leaders were not only behind them but in front of them, that they were revolutionaries". The whole elaborate and mystifying set-up collapsed : ADUS, Soldiers Commissions, Vigilance Committees, SUV.All this showed itself for what it was: precisely nothing; isolated, divided, without links with one another, without information, and above all without initiative, the rank and file soldiers were in a state of total dependence on the military hierarchy ,on the "progressive" officers.They followed faitfully and confidently; orders to arm, orders to arm.orders to disarm, orders to defend themselves, orders to stop defending themselves, orders to remain within the barracks, orders to move out of them: Meanwhile the 'progressive' officers, caught up in political manoeuvres, tempted by political deals, one eye on possible 'compromises' cooked up in the Presidential Palace, either abandoned the barracks or got themselves arrested ... 'to avoid bloodshed'. The rank and file soldiers were handed over in a triple shackle, political, ideological and organizational. The veil was ripped asunder. The "military policy" of all the leftist groups was revealed for what it was: a pathetic faith in what the attitude of the 'progressive officers' would be when confronted with a choice.
One of the RAL-1 soldiers put it very simply :"On November 25 we suddenly had the impression that there was no command , nothing! Progressively we felt we were entirely alone". After months on a Leninist diet, to be suddenly without 'left' leaders spelled starvation. "After a year of agitation in the army, the rank and file groups never played any important role. They never achieved the least control over the functioning of the military machine. On the contrary , they ended up reinforcing the lack of initiative of the soldiers, their belief in the "good army'' the army of 2progressive Officers".
It takes no great effort to see the similarity between the military 'policies' of the left in Portugal and their attitudes to such matters as Parliament and the trade unions elsewhere. In each instance they propose to the revolutionary movement to fight on the territory - and with the weapons of the class enemy. And then they seem surprised that they are defeated - or that, if 'victorious', the fruits of their victor prove rather different from what they had expected. A final by-product of the Portuguese events - bizarre this time, rather than sinister - was the appearance of a new political hybrid : the social democratic Maoist. Throughout the Portuguese upheaval their hatred of the 'social-fascists' of the PCP drove the MRPP into some very strange political alliances. They welcomed the bombings of the PCP headquarters in the summer of 1975 as evidence of "popular justice against the revisionists". In the trade union field they concluded a whole series of electoral alliances with the PS and PPD - and even with the CDS - aimed at diminishing the influence of the PCP. They reproached the victorious officers of November 25 with being too indulgent in relation to "the principal enemy : social-fascism". In fact they welcomed the coup. 'The situation is excellent' they claimed in December 1975,'Revisionism is being increasingly unmasked'. In the presidential elections of June 1976 the MRPP even urged their supporters to vote for Eanes, the PS-backed law-and-order candidate. The telling critiques which the MRPP made of the PRP-BR, whose setting up of 'workers' councils' the MRPP correctly decribed as "providing a mass basis for COPCON" - will soon be forgotten when the MRPP itself is seen to have provided a similar basis for the PS or for 'the Nine'. But then, for all its verbal leftism and denunciations of the MFA, does not the MRPP itself propose "a democratic and popular revolution, made not only by workers and peasants but by other revolutionary sectors of society, such as small and medium shopkeepers , small and medium farmers, small and medium industrialists, etc".
The book deals clearly, concretely and honestly with the problems and limitations of self-management, attempted in a capitalist context. To take over a factory or farm abandoned by their owners is a natural enough reaction of workers seeking to maintain a living in an environment they know. But the capitalist market immediately obtrudes. Outlets have to be found for the goods produced. The relation of the 'self-managed' enterprise to the outside world remains all-pervading. Disposing of stocks - or even of capital equipment - to pay oneself wages is no lasting solution. The 'need' to sell one's labour power - with all that this entails - persists, unrelenting. In Portugal the price paid for the enhanced internal democracy of certain workshops or farms was often a lengthening of the working day, or an intensification of the labour process to 'allow' the self- managed unit to remain economically 'viable'. In this sense islands of self-management became islands of capitalist recuperation. In Guimaraes I saw a self- managed textile factory, its wails plastered with extracts from Marx's Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. The workers don't need to be told that this is self- managed alienation. They live it daily, in their flesh. But what is the real, practical, immediate alternative? Is it communist production? Is it the scrap-heap capitalist unemployment? Or is it something something variable, something created anew, every day, in a thousand different workplaces, moulded by the differing relation of forces there? No generalization can cover all that was created, the full variety of the experience or the bitterness engendered by failure.Whatever the concrete forms evo lved the essential, as always, is to avoid telling lies, to avoid mystifying both oneself and others.
All this of course has little to do with the cardinal relationship of self-management to socialism. Some speak today as if the Portuguese experience in some sense invalidated this relationship, as if it proved that self- management had nothing to do with socialism, as if all talk of self-management was the ultimate recuperative plot of machiavellian capitalism. The confusion - where it is not deliberate, and therefore dishonest - shows a pathetic conceptual poverty. That, under capitalism, self-managment may become a potent means of capitalist recuperation is undoubted. But what has this to do with the question of whether self-management is the essential institutional (not economic, but institutional) framework of socialist society? One can certainly conceive of self-management without socialism. But can one imagine any socialism worth living under without self-managed individuals, conductivities and institutions? Those who can visualize such a society should let us share their vision. But they should seek to make it as explicit as possible, if not those directly involved , would have the greatest say in the fundamental decisions? And how would such a non-self- managed 'socialist' society differ from all the monstrous societies we see around us today, societies in which minorities take all the fundamental decisions and - through their access to information and power - perpetuate their own priveliges.
To an outsider there was much that was very specifically Portuguese in the Portuguese upsurge. The will to dare the unknown, to disregard the advice of 'experts', to take history and reality by the scruff of the neck - all that is summed up in the term sebastianismo - was very evident in the early months. Without batting an eyelid at the enormity of what they were attempting, young revolutionaries (and older ones) talked seriously of a direct transition from fascism to libertarian communism. They acted as if a belief in miracles could drive people to attempt - and, who knows, perhaps even to achieve - the 'impossible'.
Like all radical endeavours in history the upsurge was a joyful affair, at least to start with. An immensely popular song, after April 25th, was entitled Gaibota (the seagull). Poster wit, although perhaps never achieving the insights of May 1968 in France, nevertheless developed into a telling instrument of social critique. The anarchists ensured that it was used as often against the 'left' as against more obvious targets. With the joy went a very Portuguese toughness.
The Fado persisted,not as an embodiement of despair and resignation (as claimed by the superficial sociologists ) but as a down-to-earth and uncompromising statement of the life of the poor. I recall a letter Phil once wrote me. He was entering the Alentejo : "The tiny hills begin to roll across the flat countryside. Crouched eucalyptus trees hide in the barren dales. Here is a land of tradition, of rich struggles against elements and of wine, olives and music, of landowners alike, a land of everyday survival, difficult to penetrate except by those who care for it. It is as if the stunted growth of the trees said all that needed to be said about hardship, abandonment, work - about the constant fight against a poor and unyielding soil on which lived giant women and monstrous men. But however ungrateful the land, the spirit was never crippled...".
Although not songs of revolt the fados testify to this indestructibility of the oppressed, to this deep unity of man and nature. Romany roots endow some songs with a fierce pride, with a scorn for what 'the bourgeois' will think or say, enabling them boldly to deal with such themes as women's right to sexual pleasure. No sentimentality, no soothing syrup. Love may mean pain, but is worth it. No neurotic trendiness. Just things as they are.Is not this the raw material of which revolution will be made?
Other features too had their roots in history. As their documents show the MFA was probably one of the most articulate and prolific group of soldiers the world has ever produced. In this they reflected the intellectualismo of the Portuguese elite. Intellectuality would be an inadequate translation. The term - as I was repeatedly told In Portugal - really denotes something else, concern with speaking rather than with doing, and with the surface rather than with the core of things. Its loci are the cafes, not the cloisters of Coimbra. EÃ§a de QucirÃ´s, the Aveiro novelist of the end of the last century, grasped this and made of it the kernel of some of his most scathing satires. His second, Farpa, published in 1871, could have been written in the summer of 1975, a lampoon of later Leninist sects rather than of the bourgeois parties of his day.
There are four political parties in Portugal: the Historical Party, the Regenerating Party, the Reformist Party and the Constitutional Party. There are, of course, others, more anonymous, only known to a few families. The four official parties, with newspapers and headquarters, are in perpetual and irreconcilable antagonism, always fighting amongst themselves in their leading articles. They have tried to restore peace, to unify. Impossible! The only thing they have in common is the ground of the Chiado, on which they all tread, and the Arcade which shelters them...
All four are Catholic. All four are centralizing. All four have the same yearning for order. All four want progress and cite the case of Belgium ...
'The conflagration is immense.
Forty years before the French Revolution, SebastiÃ¢o José de Carvalho e Melo, First Marquis of Pombal, had declared war on clerical reaction and obscurantism, disbanded monasteries and convents and expelled the Jesuits from Portugal. The revolution of 1910 gave a new impetus to his ideas. But the Salazar regime made peace with the Church and the Jesuits crept back. One morning, not long after Salazar had effected this reconciliation, people passing Pombal's huge statue at the top of Lisbon's Avenida da Liberdade, were delighted to read, in enormous letters of black pitch - all shiny on the white marble - the following inscription :
Come down, Marquis
Because they're back again !
Today the old faces are creeping out once more. The gains of the early months are being whittled away piece- meal. The owners are reappearing - sometimes as managers. One would like to urge the spirit of 1974-75 to descend from its reified pedestal and help sweep the rubbish away. Who knows when it will move again? For the moment things are fairly quiet. But even the wide- spread disillusion has a certain Portuguese tinge to it. The early prevocational innocence may have been lost. But the faintly amused nostalgia the Portuguese call saudade prevents sad sophistication degenerating into pure cynicism.
An impossible revolution? Yes, some will argue. Impossible within the confines of Portugal. Impossible because no island of libertarian communism can exist in a sea of capitalist production and of capitalist consciousness. Impossible because the upsurge was rooted - as in concrete - in the underdevelopment of Portuguese society as a whole. Impossible, given the social composition of modern Portugal, the weight of the northern, smallholding peasantry, the influence of the Church, the erosive and demobilizing effects of chronic poverty and unemployment. Impossible, finally, it is claimed, because state capitalism, not socialism, was 'objectively' on the historical agenda, and because of the state-capitalist mentality of the 'socialist' revolutionaries.
But men and women have always dreamed 'impossible' dreams. They have repeatedly sought to 'storm heaven' in the search for what they felt to be right. Again and again they have struggled for objectives difficult to attain, but which they sensed to embody their needs and desires. It is this capacity which makes of human beings the potential subjects of history, instead of its perpetual objects. This is why a study of the Portuguese events of 1974-75 is relevant to modern revolutionaries.
How should revolutionary libertarians have reacted to the Portuguese events; To have sat at home, dismissing the revolution as 'impossible', was out of the question. Should they, to paraphrase Lenin, have started struggling before anyone else, and not ceased struggling until after everyone else had? 'struggling' can be as meaningful - or meaningless - as any other activity. It depends on the ends being fought for, and on the means being used.The revolutionary libertarian seeks to convince working people of their ability to or organise and manage their own affairs to foster a critical spirit towards external groups claiming to be on their side (including his or her own) and to expose the illusions spread by such (mainly Leninist) groups. This is a constant, everyday task which the libertarian revolutionary sees as his or her main concern. Perhaps in Portugal the opportunity for revolution has receded for the time being, but this role of the revolutionary never ceases (and has certainly not ceased in Portugal). Soon, in Spain, the Stalinists will be dusting down the living corpse of La Passionaria - a far more potent symbol of resistance than Alvaro Cunhal. The Illusionists will be at work again, having learned nothing from the experience of Portugal, and living on the battlecries of 1936.
Words such as 'possible' and 'impossible' have an historical dimension as well as an immediate one. What is impossible today may become feasible tomorrow. Moreover it may become feasible because of today's unsuccessful endeavours. To declare a revolution 'impossible' is to pass a verdict on a process, as if it were an isolated event. It is to deny to those indicted the right to be judged by posterity. There are fruitful defeats in history as well as sterile victories. The Paris Commune defeat of 1871 was in the minds of the Russian revolutionaries of 1917 . The events of Kronstadt (1921) or of Hungary (1956) still evoke echoes. They helped mould revolutionary libertarian attitudes that are very much part of current thinking. But there is more. Preconceived ideas are not just ideological straitjackets. To declare a revolution 'impossible' may, under certain circumstances, contribute to obstructing it. The masses in action are always more revolutionary than the most revolutionary of the revolutionary organizations. The reasons are obvious. The revolutionary organizations are wedded to past models (usually 1917). The masses want to create the future.
Some people see history as a railway line, leading to a predetermined goal. They see the action of classes as just generating the steam which will enable men, or great parties ("the drivers of the locomotive of history", to use Stalin's monstrous phrase) to take charge of events. This is a prescription for bureaucratic practices, for it legitimizes the power (both today and tomorrow) of those who think they know the track - and of those who think they can handle the engine.
No goal (certainly no political goal) can be defined as clearly as this. Material conditions (including cultural conditions) influence what is feasible and what is not. But they do not determine it, in any univocal sense. There is seldom, if ever, only one way of solving the problems created by a given pattern of economic or social organization. History shows how quite different forms of living, and quite different constellations of belief , proved possible on the basis of fairly similar technological infrastructures. "Be realistic, demand the impossible", the walls of Paris proclaimed in May 1968. The words had a significance that went far deeper than their ability to startle. The first echoes were heard in Portugal. Where life pulsates, there is expectation. Sooner or later struggle breaks down the obstacles to the fulfilment of one's' needs. Who knows where, and in what form, the subterranean stream of human hope will next surge to the surface?
Solidarity (London) October 1976.