The Real Threat in Portugal


ON THE horizon of Portugal's present looms Chile's past. The spectre of counterrevolution is forming: Spinola, bearer of rightist hopes, has temporarily left his Brazilian facist friends for Paris, only a train ride away; the exile "Portugese Liberation Army" masses on the Spanish border, funded by Portugese capital and very possibly, by the CIA. Encouraged by the Church's warnings of impending (and factually non-existent) land collectivization, small-holding peasants burn Communist headquarters and attack the revolution's supporters.

Distortions of the Portugese situation--both deliberate and deluded--are in season, particularly in the American press, which follows the Socialist Party (PSP) lead, representing the struggle as one between the Stalinist Communists and "moderate" democratic welfare-state Socialists. Time magazine, probably the most incendiary of all American mass media, recently headlined a cover story "Red Threat in Portugal," with a background of a monstrous hammer-and-sickle and a picture titled "Lisbon's Troika". At issue in Portugal is neither "troikas" nor Soviet Domination, but a coming choice--perhaps by the end of this year--between revolution and reaction.

Increasingly, there is no Socialist Party position, even as Henry Giniger of The New York Times blathers about a Socialist "victory" in the oustring of Premier Goncalves. As an expression in Lisbon goes, the PSP is a radish: red on the outside and white on the inside, flooded by right-wing supporters, mainly in the conservative north, who have chosen the Socialists as the best break on revolution.

But the PSP is still the majority party of the working class, torn by tensions ignored in the American press between radicals faithful to the party's Marxist program and conservatives. The party's rightward tilt is unmistakable, exemplified by its July decision to resign from the Goncalves cabinet over workers' seizures of Republica, the party's newspaper, and Renascenza, the Church's radio station. While the PSP and the liberal press characterized the seizures as Communist plots to suppress "free speech", few involved workers--only two at Republica--were Communist Party (PCP) members.

Far from ordering the seizures--as the American press unanimously reported--the PCP actually opposed them, knowing that they could serve as a pretext for rightist agitation against the Goncalves cabinet. The take-overs were carried out not by Communists or Socialists, but by workers supporting the "extreme left" and a policy of worker's control. Nor did the PCP prevent Republica and Renascenza from being returned to their "legal" owners--this decision was made by General Carvalho, an independent leftist then heading the Lisbon military garrison.


The PCP, far from being the bloodthirsty Bolsheviks that Time imagines, is a party of moderation like almost every Western Communist party since 1934. Since April 1974, the PCP has stressed labor discipline, stood against factory seizures and supported only modest wage increases for workers--all this as part of its overall strategy of gaining support from small landowners, shopkeepers and office employees in a united front against the monopoly capitalists and big landowners who ran Salazarist Portugal. More pro-Soviet than their Italian, Spanish or Yugoslav comrades, the Portugese Communists are also less sympathetic to revolutionary action.

THE MASSIVE hostility to the PCP which erupted this summer does, not derive from its radical ideology or policies but from its seizure of disproportionate political power. With neither electoral strength nor major grass-roots support, PCP influence has come through acquisition of high positions in the army, state bureaucracy and municipal government. In the North this strategy has run aground, where appointed Communist village officials serve as targets for peasant fears about Communist power and the revolution in general. The PCP's anti-democratic policies have mobilized peasant communities, once sympathetic to the revolution, against it under right-wing Catholic leadership.

When the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) set up a triumvirate last month, American papers hailed Carvalho as the likeliest "Latin American-style strongman" of the group. As head of the military's security forces, he has the power to selectively stifle anti-revolutionary demonstrations: his failure to move strongly against anti-Communist terror in the North signalled more than dislike for the pro-Communist Goncalves. Apparently Carvalho was trying to reduce Communist strength and simultaneously, maneuver Left Socialist support for his independent left position by joining the anti-Communist campaign. But Carvalho may have misjudged a delicate situation, overestimating Communist strength while underestimating the dangers of counterrevolutionary mobilization in the North.

Carvalho calls for a socialist state organized around factory, office and neighborhood councils, in contrast to the bureaucratic societies envisioned by both the PCP and the PSP. Loosely allied to Maoist, Trotskyist and anarchist parties, Carvalho has received only sporadic formal support among industrial and agricultural workers, who comprise perhaps 30 per cent of the country. But Carvalho is personally popular, supported by a widely based rank and file movement for workers' control similar to the one which precipitated last March's decree nationalizing banks and insurance companies by taking over those institutions.

The economic crisis will probably determine the balance of revolutionary and reactionary forces within the next half year. Several economic hammer blows--none of which the revolutionary regime is responsible for--have struck Portugal, causing approximately 10 per cent unemployment and 40 per cent inflation. The worldwide depression has devastated Portugal's export industries--textiles, for example--which were already old-fashioned and uncompetitive. The international economy has caused many Portugese emigrant workers in Germany and France to lose their jobs, depriving the country of crucial foreign exchange and further worsening unemployment problems.

Most damaging to the economy is independence for the Portugese colonies, particularly Angola. For years Portugal was able to remain an over 60 per cent peasant country, characterized by small and inefficient industrial and agricultural proprietors, subsidized under Salazar by colonial revenues. With full freedom for Angola this November--and with South African gold from colonial labor running out at the same time--Portugal's balance of payments and inflation will become disastrous, possibly touching off widespread chaos.

THE MFA government's response to the economic problems of small businessmen and peasant proprietors will finally determine the power of counterrevolutionary opposition in both the short and long run. So far, the government has no plan to collectivize inefficient small holdings--only immense landholdings in the southern region, the Alentejo, have been nationalized.

But the equivocation of MFA policy will soon become untenable. When gold reserves run out, the government will have to choose between alienating small proprietors by cutting off credit and subsidies; or betraying its working class following by allowing food prices to skyrocket while clamping down on wages. Either way, any existing revolutionary consensus will come apart and the outcome is uncertain.

Meanwhile, the right continues to agitate--from the North, from Spain, and perhaps from Washington (although there is little direct U.S. financial interest in Portugal, save ITT). And Carvalho speaks of defending the workers' revolution with "very hard repression, which we have avoided up to now." In the words of a poster in Lisbon, he and his working class constituency, if they hope to avoid counterrevolution, had better be like steel in the coming months.