NEWS & LETTERS, November 2004

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Remembering the 1974-75 Portuguese Revolution and its relation to Africa

Editor's note

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?"

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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.


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 the regime.

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 agricultural collapse.

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.


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 nationwide.

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 power?

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.


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 child."

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 revolution.

Stop to think as well as to do.

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