From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya
Remembering the 1974-75 Portuguese Revolution and its relation to Africa
2004 marks the 30th anniversary of a forgotten
revolution. Spurred by the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, in April of 1974
the Portuguese people overthrew the fascist regime that had burdened them for
decades and launched a thorough-going attempt to revolutionize society. We
reproduce here excerpts from a Political-Philosophic Letter written by Raya
Dunayevskaya after a November 1975 right-wing military coup brought the
revolutionary process to a halt. This piece originally appeared in the Jan.-Feb.
1976 issue of NEWS & LETTERS titled: "Under the whip of the
counter-revolution: Will the revolution in Portugal advance?"
* * *
The truth is--we must begin at the beginning--that even
under Spinola’s "leadership," the Portuguese revolution did not
begin as no more than an ordinary coup d’etat. Not only was Spinola not the
real leader, but neither was the whole Army. Rather it was the revolutionary
sections of the Armed Forces Movement (MFA). Thus, whereas at the start the
young officers organized on so narrow and reactionary a level as opposing the
new conscripts becoming officers, once they organized new cells in the army,
both the leniency with which the guerrillas treated them when they were
captured, and the education that was being carried on in the national liberation
army began changing the nature also of the MFA within the Portuguese Army.
The leaflets of the FRELIMO in Mozambique, the PAIGC in
Guinea-Bissau, and MPLA in Angola may not match the fraternization leaflets that
the Bolsheviks wrote in 1917, but they certainly were an entirely new ground for
fighting in Portugal, 1974. In urging the Portuguese soldiers to go home and
make their own revolution, the national liberation forces were raising
questions, including the role of women, that the "advanced" Portuguese
had not even heard of.
Because of its narrow beginnings, the radicalization of
the MFA was underestimated by the Old Left, some going so far as to consider it
no more than a "Bonapartist caricature." Others thought that the
MFA’s 5th Division, which was responsible for propaganda work and called for
"cultural dynamization," was but an expression of pure and simplistic
Maoism. But, in fact, with all its mistakes, this never approached the sheer
dementia of Maoism in Portugal, headlining its paper: "Revisionism in power
means social-fascism in power."
A deeper look at new beginnings will, of necessity, lead
us to the spontaneous mass movement: land seizures by revolutionary sections of
the poor peasantry as well as the great proletarian strikes, of which there were
no less than 100 the very first month after the overthrow of the fascist
regime--the youth as well as Women’s Liberation Movement, which has been paid
least attention, though it is a pivotal force.
When the SP-CP in 1969 organized the Democratic
Women’s Movement, it was strictly limited to economic issues….Still [it]
kept eyes turned away from "feminist" issues, such as right to
abortion, or other man/woman relations, though some Portuguese men were backward
enough to oppose their wives using contraceptives because it could supposedly
make them impotent! Even when women were complaining they were as afraid of
their men at home "as of bosses in the factory," it did not move those
"advanced politicos" to change the nature of their organization. The
Women’s Liberation Movement (MLM) thereupon arose on new ground, ground that
didn’t separate philosophic foundation from feminism or class struggles.
NEW FORCES OF REVOLUTION
Amilcar Cabral [leader of PAIGC], back in the 1960s when
[the] Portuguese economy seemed to experience its greatest
"development" with the multinationals moving in on Portugal, said that
Portugal, as the weakest link in world imperialism, "could not afford
neo-colonialism." The only ones who seemed to listen to the African
revolutionary were the Portuguese students, whose strikes came to a climax in
1968 and were against conscription as well as for academic freedom.
The more foreign capital began to move into Portugal as
a safe haven for profits and low-paid labor, the more contradictions undermined
Take the question of the 1973 Middle East War with the
accompanying quadrupling of oil prices. On the face of it, it seemed to have no
relationship to anything happening in Portugal. But, in fact, fascist
Portugal...had built the showy Lisnave dry docks because they expected a most
profitable tanker business.
The complex at Sines was based on refining and
petrochemicals and the expansion of motor vehicle assembly plants. But where a
25% increase in tanker business was expected, a 10% drop in oil purchases was
the consequence of the quadrupled oil prices. The Western economic crisis, which
was global, deeply affected Portugal, facing defeat in Africa and massive
unemployment and strikes at home.
The human factor of this equation was not only the
suffering. Some new forces of revolution were born. First, no less than one and
one-half million (out of a population of 8.5 million) had seen service in Africa
where they had been politicized by the national liberation movement. Secondly,
the miserable condition in Portugal sent Portuguese workers to West Europe. By
1974 no less than 900,000 Portuguese had emigrated to West Europe, with 700,000
in France and 150,000 in West Germany. This move to the big cities abroad for
employment was glossed over as if it meant economic development at home.
Actually, the great number that left agriculture--there was a drop from 50% to
30% in agricultural production--meant not industrial development at home, but
All these factors brought the women into production
--industrial, agricultural--and into unemployment. They were the first to be hit
by unemployment which, by 1975, numbered no less than 500,000. The women who
established the MLM did not think that all their problems were
"solved" by the existing parties and unions. Which doesn’t mean they
didn’t actively participate in all of them. It does mean, as was proved all
over again at the May 1, 1975, demonstration where they were attacked by the CP
and other so-called Left men who did not stop from also attacking their
children, that not only was an autonomous movement of women necessary, but the
Old Left had to answer today: what happens after the revolution on the most
fundamental man/women relationship?
An MLM leaflet, calling for equal pay for women at the
Via Longa brewery and Pao sugar factory, was forced to state: "It is not
only the bosses that are exploiting us; it’s our own comrades that are
refusing equal pay."
Or take the question of agriculture and the most
reactionary Catholic hierarchy. Ironically, the entry of foreign capital--U.S.,
West German, Swedish, Dutch, French--built up not only big industry, like the
Lisnave shipyards or the new airport at Farno, but also (in this case West
German capital) an irrigation scheme in the Alentejo, which is exactly where the
majority of workers were women, where the greatest activities, including the
seizure of land, were the most militantly fought for by women. Along with the
militancy was the demand for a philosophy to fight against the ideological power
of the Catholic and fascist tradition which had forced women into submission to
God, man, family. They have a long tradition of strikes, arrests, imprisonments.
Whether it is in the Alentejo district, where out of 10,000 unemployed, 8,000
were women, or in the cities where, besides industrial struggles, women are very
important in health care service, or in ideological struggles, where surely one
of the most revolutionary groupings, Proletarian Revolutionary
Party/Revolutionary Brigades (PRP/BR) is headed by a woman--Isobel do Carmo--there
is no way to escape the new, the pivotal role of women, the youth both on campus
and in the army, or the poor peasants. On Feb. 9, 1975, 30,000 farm workers in
Alentejo demanded confiscation of the properties of the owners attempting coups.
Instead of keeping away from "feminist"
questions, the Old Left better learn to recognize new forces of revolution and
new ways of emergence of those forces. Before the April, 1974 overthrow of the
fascist regime, undercurrents of revolt arose among women, from literature to
actual class struggles.
Thus, NEW PORTUGUESE LETTERS (published here as THE
THREE MARIAS and by no means "just literature"--though great
literature it is) pose questions of human relations far more profoundly than the
Old Left had. Their freedom from jail was by no means due only to the overthrow
of the Caetano regime, but to the protests by the international women’s
liberation movement. The symbol the women’s movement, in agriculture
especially, had chosen was Catarina Enfemina, assassinated by the National Guard
during a strike for the eight-hour day.
Women became especially important in 1973 when a labor
shortage sent them into textiles and electronics, and directly into the fight
against multinationals: Timex, ITT, Plessy, and the garment industry (where
Swedish capital owned 15 of the 25 major companies). It is in textiles,
electronics and shipyards where the grassroots workers’ movement first
erupted, and where none questioned the militancy of women workers. But they were
asking not only for a fundamental change in labor conditions, but for different
relations at home.
Or take agriculture. Women’s wages averaged only 50
escudos a day, 50 percent lower than men’s. Just as in Lisbon, women workers
took over a laundry plant to make it a free service so that "working class
women will be liberated from housework," so they were among the most active
in the peasant seizures of land and cultivating it on a cooperative basis. The
peasants came in their tractors to take part in the Aug. 20 political
demonstration to unite with the working class tenants and squatters who were
occupying houses. At Caixa the peasants occupied the land of the Duke of Lafoes
and turned that into a cooperative.
DUAL POWER? NON-PARTYISM?
As the mass strikes showed the very first month after
the overthrow of the fascist regime, these were no ordinary strikes and some
ended in occupation of factories, the most important being the workers occupying
the Lisnave shipyards. But while there is no doubt that one of the great
developments was that at the Lisnave shipyard complex, neither it nor the
Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors (CRTSMs) were
Of all the parties that arose the one that was the most
indigenous and revolutionary, was the PRP/BR. So characteristic of the
revolutionary situation is the anti-partyism (apartidarismo) that this group, a
split-off from the CP, tried to assign priority, not to the party, but to the
spontaneous mass organizations. They called for, and were instrumental in
organizing, Revolutionary Councils of Workers, Soldiers and Sailors. The
critical question became: were they really developing spontaneously and on a
national scale? Was it the type of mass outpouring, and an arming of the working
class that one could say these instances of self-activity created actual dual
It simply wasn’t true that there was such a
self-mobilization of the masses that actually challenged the new, but very much
still the capitalistic government. Nor was it true that even the most
"revolutionary" sections of the MFA equaled the armed people,
quintessential for a social revolution. And least of all was it true that the
Constituent Assembly was anything approaching such high rhetoric. The vote was
just a vote, a mere consultative one at that, that didn’t challenge continued
army rule. To say, as one of the Trotskyist groups maintained, that the
Constituent Assembly was a "step toward a workers’ and peasants’
government," is utter nonsense, reformist euphoria.
By the time Soares’ "democracy" won and
Goncalves was thrown out of government, it was the end also of the unholy
alliance of SP and Maoists, not to mention the Catholic Church hierarchy which
is the true winner as the counter-revolution unfolds its fascist face. A new
united front of all Left groups (FUR included MES, PRP/BR, LUAR, LCI and others)
warned, in its Sept. 10 Manifesto that the reactionary escalation would end in a
rightist coup. On Nov. 25 it did.
The first stage of revolution has ended.
DIALECTICS OF THEORY
Let us begin with one of the points raised in the Draft
Program of the PRP/RB: "It is also the organization capable of making a
synthesis between theory and revolutionary practice."
That cannot just be stated. It must be worked out,
beginning with the voices and actions that came from below, and question asked
of "what happens after" even as they raised the struggle for workers
control of production, CRTSMs, and the ways of self-defense to fight the myriad
forms the counter-revolution is imposing, as Portuguese and as part of world
capitalism, as it conspires to get back total power.
From the very first proletarian revolution, 1848, Marx
had drawn the conclusion, "From the first moment of victory, and after it,
the distrust of the workers must not be directed anymore against the conquered
reactionary party, but against the previous ally, the petty bourgeois democrats,
who desire to exploit the common victory only for themselves."
Instead of quoting endlessly what Lenin said on the
Party in 1903--a position he many times revised--why not see how Lenin
reorganized his thought when he was first confronted with the betrayal of the
German Social Democracy and raised the perspective: Transform the Imperialist
War into Civil War, not just as a slogan, but the new philosophic, dialectical
question of transformation into opposite. By 1917, "All power to the
Soviets" was rooted in the philosophic reorganization and its political
expression in STATE AND REVOLUTION: that there can be no new society unless
production and the state is run by the population "to a man, woman and
To reduce that to a question of the Party, the Party,
the Party "to lead," as everyone from the Communists, Maoists,
Trotskyists (of all varieties) are doing, is to doom the resurgence of the
Stop to think as well as to do.
Published by News and Letters Committees