One of the features of Capitalism's superstructure is how quickly it can bury any act of substantial rebellion. Revolutionary potential ebbs and flows and sometimes the periods when we take control of our everyday lives appear to be a dream. The Portuguese Revolution fits into this category. It's a reflection of Capitalism's strength and Anarchism's lack of coherence and consistency that this happens. We can learn from our history, from our defeats as well as well as our small victories. It's about time we stopped reinventing the wheel!
We reproduce the thoughts of a Portuguese anarchist on the Portuguese Revolution of 1974/1975. They are thoughtful and telling comments on anarchist organisation and social change. For further information look at:
Portugal, the Impossible Revolution by Phil Mailer (Solidarity, 1977) and Orgasms of History to be co-published by KSL and AK Press.
An interview was conducted by Our Generation recently with M. Lucas, a Portuguese anarchist who is now living in Canada. The interview is in two parts. One part was conducted before she returned to Portugal for a three week visit between December and January 1976, and the other part after her return. The purpose of the interview is to give some background on the libertarian movement. We want to improve our knowledge of what is happening in that country, and of the anarchist movement, as well as improve communications with Portuguese militants.
Question: Can you give us a rough history of the libertarian movement in Portugal?
Answer: Anarchism really surfaced in Portugal as an organised expression of the working class after 1910 when the country became a republic It was a movement rooted mainly in the trade unions There was a succession of governments administrating the State. The country was in chaos and economic misery was widespread. Under these conditions the syndicates played a leading and aggressive role with one strike following another. In an atmosphere of widespread anti government feeling, anarcho- syndicalism was gaining ground. In 1928 unfortunately Salazar instituted his dictatorship; Nevertheless social upheavals continued as before. Salazar set out to crush the syndicates, especially the militant anarcho-syndicalist groups. His strategy unfolded over a period of time because of the strength of syndicalism in the country. At the height of State attacks, the trade-unions went on a wholesale counter-attack in the form of a general strike in January 1931, in which clearly the anarchists played a leading role. The militants were armed, and with explosives. Nevertheless, for many of the same reasons that the social revolution failed in Spain several years later, the general strike was crushed. The Moscow communists, in our judgement, played a leading role in sabotaging the general strike.
A heavy repression followed our defeat, with massive arrests sending many militants into exile. Many anarchists were sent into exile on the island of Tallafal, which is off the coast of Angola. Between 1931 and 1974 the anarchist movement in Portugal was underground but was active both at home and abroad. You bear in mind that survival was extremely difficult as we are never supported in any way by any State powers, as is the case with other revolutionary groups. In spite of these hardships our anarcho-syndicalist newspaper, A Batalha, and other periodicals continued to be published with as much regularity as possible, with news as to what was happening inside and outside Portugal, and continuing the educational task so vital to anarchism and to the development of revolutionary consciousness. The movement during this entire period was mostly carried on by the veterans of the twenties and thirties who were not rotting in jails or in exile.
Question: How did an interest in anarchism commence anew? There is obviously a great popularity of anarchist ideas among the young workers, students, and young military today in Portugal.
Answer: Young people whatever their social function in our society became interested in anarchism. To them it represented first and foremost a revolt against authority, all authority. This was an extremely important reaction, and particularly understandable after such a long period of dictatorship. This revolt was enriched by a generational revolt in social relations, especially within families, which undoubtedly was a spill-over from what was happening earlier in many parts of the world.
In 1973 there were no anarchist books in Portugal in our language. And the anarchist periodicals and newspapers had a limited circulation under the dictatorship. Nevertheless a select number of people had anarchist books in French (which is a second language in our country), in Spanish and English. These books went from hand to hand within a small circle. Speaking personally I revolted against authority but what was the alternative? This was of concern to all of us at the time. In revolting against authority, however, I and others concluded simply that if people were conscious enough to respect the liberty of others, then authority, government, the State was not necessary. This deeper understanding of freedom was the beginning of the anarchist idea in us. At that time I and others began to read. Some of these foreign language texts fell into our hands. On April 25, 1974, when the dictatorship fell, I heard of the Movimento Libertario Portuguese (MLP) for the first time, and immediately offered my help.
Question: What is the MLP today?
Answer: It is a small federation of anarchist affinity groups. There are comrades working as individuals, others in groups, others in federations of groups with a co-ordinating committee. A generational conflict emerged in the libertarian movement, however, as it did in other countries, and as has happened in virtually all left-wing movements during these years, and especially in movements emerging from under the conditions ours lived under for so many years. There are about ten groups working through the MLP, and these consist mostly of the older militants and veterans.
At a mass meeting organised by anarchists in June 1974 in Lisbon we found that people exposed to these ideas for perhaps the first time were very receptive to them.
The younger anarchist groups work through the Associao de Grupos Autônomos Anarquista (AOAA) This association is against having any alliances with other left-wing groups.
Question: What kind of activities are anarchists involved in at the present time?
Answer: One successful event was the mass meeting of June 1974. That showed some degree of sentiment in favour of libertarian ideas, just a few months after the fall of the dictatorship. The work of the militants involves (1) propaganda and educational work, e.g. pamphlets, wall posters consisting of commentaries on the events of the times, making people vigilant against all forms of authoritarianism, (2) organising at the workplace, (3) organising demonstrations on issues, e.g. we had an important demonstration in solidarity with the arrested Spanish comrades, (4) and maintaining contacts with active individuals and groups in the country.
My affinity group for instance, which consisted of about 20 people. (I was the only student in the group) works closely with the LUAR and PRP-BR (two revolutionary organisations). To us the question of arms is very important. Our activities consist of study and discussions, workplace organising which is very important, translation of materials from other languages, and developing close personal contact with the rank-in-file of other revolutionary organisations like LUAR and PRP-BR.
Our movement was naturally opposed to INTERSYNDICAL which was one big union imposed on the Portuguese working-class by the State and whose leadership was given to the Communist Party. Our anarcho-syndicalist militants nevertheless are active in the ranks pushing libertarian ideas and structures. A Batalha had many articles against INTERSYNDICAL. By the way, the newspaper is to be found in many kiosks in Lisbon and also in the provinces.
Finally an extremely important area where we are active is the Conselhos Revolucionarios de Trabalhdores, Soldades E Marinheiros (CRTSM). This is the association of the many workers councils, neighbourhood councils and military barracks committees. They had their founding congress on the 20 April I975, and their second congress August 1975. The CRTSM, in fact, groups most of the social revolutionary potential in Portugal. The major influence in it at the present time is the PRP-BR.
Question: What is your assessment of the situation at the present time in Portugal?
Answer: There are two dimensions to our analysis. One is an objective analysis of what is, and connected with this is the second dimension, of what must be done. There are important splits within the Armed Forces Movement. This has its good and bad implications. Good because it demonstrates the fact that the State has not consolidated, bad from the point of view that international reaction exploits this situation in favour of the old order. The problems with the economy, without considering the implications of a full blockade and judging the problems the country has been facing in the actual situation, we observe that the people are generally frightened. The various left-wing sects frighten people even more with their demagogy, because people feel, and correctly of course, that these sects in the end want power to be placed in their hands.
Anarchists not only in Portugal, but with the solidarity needed from comrades all over the world, need to develop further the revolutionary and libertarian consciousness of the people and teach them about the enemies of freedom. We must push further the formation of revolutionary soviets and popular assemblies The CRTSM is a development in this direction, but the leadership being Marxist stresses and works towards the "dictatorship of the proletariat" which is completely unacceptable to us, of course. We have to teach people how the present State must be dissolved and replaced with other social forms, many of which are in existence now in Portugal or can spring into formation with further opportunity [or] encouragement. Nevertheless we are working very hard, under both exciting conditions, and extremely difficult circumstances.
Question: What are the needs of the Portuguese anarchist movement?
Answer: We need to have contact with all of you in various parts of the world. We hardly know any Canadian or America comrades or groups. We need to know of your activities. We also need your solidarity and your aid. We cannot rely on this State or that, we are just coming out of a period of being smashed and repressed not only in Portugal of course, but in many countries. We need money to undertake translations and to publish books, pamphlets, periodicals. We need every resource possible in order to carry out our educational consciousness-raising work before the enemies of freedom and anarchism take it away. In this battle we can win, just look at events in the last weeks in Portugal. The State is still on the defensive. even though it is trying to tighten its hold on society and the economy. But as you know we cannot win, without your solidarity.
November 15, 1975
On January, 20, 1976. the interview continued.
Question: What observations do you come back with after your recent visit to Portugal?
Answer: Since November the situation in Portugal has deteriorated. It has done so in the economic, political and social sense. Politically, the situation took a turn for the worse with the fall of the fifth provisional government from State power. This was the government of Gonclaves in which the Communist Party had considerable influence. Mark you the C.P. for eighteen months had loyally helped the generals and the admirals in their attempt to impose their stiff austerity measures on Portuguese workers. The C.P. served as the AFM's policeman in the labour movement. Nevertheless, the popular movement at the base continued to grow. At a certain point, the revolutionary left groups decided on the need for greater co-ordination of their activities, especially against this government and set up a Revolutionary Front. The C.P. joined this Front reluctantly, and when the government fell from State power, the Front took on the fight against the sixth provisional government in which the Socialist Party of Mario Soares outstripped the C.P. in influence. This government set out to gradually consolidate the power of the State and naturally the power of the "progressive" bourgeoisie.
Question: What is the background to the events of 25-26 November 1975, which the State condemned as an attempted coup d'Etat by the revolutionary left?
Answer: It was no attempt at a coup d'etat. The background includes these factors - the right-wing of the bourgeoisie, of the military, and in the government. They never stopped their work of holding on and expanding their power and influence. They were on the look-out for an opportune moment to strike back, and reduce the growing influence of the revolutionary left. They were responsible for continuously spreading rumours about a prospective coup from the left.
Meanwhile the so-called "moderates" in the government around Major Melo Antunes began a series of government moves against the revolutionary left. They removed from his posts, before the 25-26 November events, the popular commander of the Lisbon military district, and head of COPCON, (Continental operations command) General Otelo Saraiva de Carbalho. This led to considerable unrest among the left-wing rank-and-file military.
On 24 November, pro-government supporters set up barricades on all roads leading north out of Lisbon. The people had been hearing warnings for days about plans for a right-wing coup by word of mouth, and the left were convinced that these barricades were a prelude to such a power play. The paratroopers based at Tancos military base, who had been used by the right-wing military that staged the 24 September 1974 attempted coup, and then again in the attempted coup of 11 March 1975, and more recently during the demolition of Radio Renascenca's transmitter of 7 November 1975 (this was a radio station taken over by the revolutionary left for anticapitalist and anti-state propaganda, and formerly owned by the Catholic Church) did not want to be held responsible for what people in the south at least were calling the reactionary right-wing in Portugal.
On 23 November meanwhile a shipload of "Paras" (the short name for Paratroopers) arrived home from Angola, and were met at the docks by representatives of their own regiment at Tancos. [The] Tancos Paras explained they were now without officers, and it was their officers who had duped them in the Radio Renascence demolition which they now regretted, and they were now declaring themselves on the side of the people.
At this point the incoming Paras were simply interested in getting together with their families, but two days later had become convinced of the need (after the barricades of the 24 November went up) to act immediately, in a preventive move.
They moved to take over the air bases - Monteijo, Ota and Mont Real early in the morning of 25 November. The C.P. seeing a confused situation which it could exploit in its power-plays with the government sought immediately to create more confusion. Through INTERSYNDICAL it issued an order for mobilisation. Once the move by the Paras got nowhere in the sense that troops loyal to the government moved in to take back the bases, the C.P. cancelled its mobilisation order at midnight, early on the 26 November in order to protect its flanks from criticism by the government. It also took the occasion to blame the whole affair on the revolutionary left.
Now during the 25 November it is true that emissaries were sent out to other left-wing military units to join in: some agreed to join the Paras, but most others refused. The whole thing aborted, and one reason was because it was not a left-wing coup. The left in the Lisbon area were at [the] time strong enough to contain the right-wing military. The Paras failed because they were not ready with a coup strategy.
What all this means is that the State was given a perfect pretext to crack down on the people, and the revolutionary left everywhere. The State keeps repeating the big lie that the events of those two days were an attempted coup d'etat by the revolutionary left, and proceeds to repress the left including the arrest of many soldiers and literally disbanding many left military units. Today they arrested Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, saying that it was he who gave the order for the attempted coup. Everyone in Lisbon knows this to be a lie because people knew his whereabouts and these had nothing to do with the coup. But I suppose it makes good propaganda for the government outside the country and a good pretext to justify their crack down on the left.
Portuguese capitalism is still in crisis however, many days and weeks of these events. The government froze wages and cancelled scheduled wage increases. In Braga, in the north, workers have not been stopped for long for they occupied the Ministry of Labour when they were told that their wages were frozen. There are massive increases in the prices of various commodities however.
In the government, the power struggle also goes on. The AFM has been dissolved, and replaced by a group called the Portuguese Armed Forces (FAP) in order to have greater discipline on the soldiers. The semi-fascist Social Democratic Center (CDS) had been banned after an abortive right-wing coup last March. It has now resurfaced. The right wing police - the GNR - is now powerful again and plays an active role of intimidation in the workers councils, and in the neighbourhood councils and meetings. But a demonstration of 20,000 people, supported by the left, was held outside a prison in Oporto to this month. Revolutionary soldiers and officers have been kept there since 25 November.
The government has fired 127 left-wing journalists, and the Republica newspaper, once taken over by a workers council has been shut down. Radio Renascenca has been handed back to the Catholic bishops. The stock market, closed since the fall of fascism in April 1974 was reopened this month. 1,800,000 acres of land taken over by poor farmers were forced back, the new Co-operatives smashed and the ownership of the land given back to the old landlords by the government.
Question: How long will this situation last?
Answer: The State will continue this situation for as long as it takes to put down the revolutionary left and its gains, and to stabilize the economy.
Question: What is the revolutionary left doing?
Answer: Its political militancy will continue. Many forces have gone underground, and work clandestinely, and they are well armed. The State has to use its repression moderately because of this. These underground forces continue to protect those institutions that have been taken over by the people.
Question: What are the prospects of the anarchists?
Answer: Very good. We continue to grow in influence. Some of our comrades along with others on the revolutionary left have managed to develop the autonomy of certain trade union groups within INTERSYNDICAL and the workers refuse as a result to be pushed around by the C.P. brass or to be used by them in their cynical power moves. In the meantime our forces have been brought together into greater co-ordination. The MLP have been dissolved into a larger Federacao Anarquista Da Regiao Portuguesa - FAI. The FAI part is important. That means we are now part of the Federacao Anarquista Iberica, the Federation that includes the Spanish comrades.
The objectives or the new FARP are to continue the war against the state and capital towards libertarian communism. The means used include direct action and organisational work, in the factories and offices, spreading our influence in the INTERSYNDICAL and through the base groups in the neighbourhoods. Our hopes are high.
From: Soil Of Liberty Vol. 2, No. 3.