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The Hidden Revolution in Portugal

But Spínola could feel that the seven MFA officers were more than balanced on the council by the heavily conservative “junta of national salvation”—seven senior officers representing all the various armed services—and by his own seven appointees to the council. The latter included colonels from his personal entourage and several bigwigs of the old regime, such as Dr. Azeredo Perdigao, president of the Gulbenkian Foundation. Spínola appointed another loyalist, Colonel Miguel, as defense minister, and put a leading rightist general in command of the critical Lisbon garrison. He sent to Angola as governor one of the main proponents of “integrating” the colonies with Portugal, General Silverio Marques, whose brother Jaime was a member of the junta.

The General meanwhile placed the full weight of his prestige behind a new centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD) formed from the ranks of the reformers of the old regime and members of SEDES (Association for Economic and Special Development). This is an establishment group founded in 1970 that encompassed a wide spectrum of political tendencies dedicated to peaceful change and liberalization. Among the luminaries of SEDES were men who had made considerable reputations for themselves as liberals, such as Francisco Sá Carneiro and Magalhaes Mota, both deputies in the National Assembly during the early Caetano years when they sought to “reform from within.”

Such a grouping could also count on the support of Francisco Balsamão. A brilliant thirty-eight-year-old lawyer, entrepreneur, and publicist, Balsamão was an influential liberal deputy (1969-1973) and the founder, director, and majority shareholder of the weekly Expresso (and before that an employee of the daily owned by the Quiná group). Among the few truly competent and lively newspapers in Portugal, Expresso wields exceptional influence, not only within the country but outside Portugal as well, since many foreign correspondents take much of their copy from its pages.

How little these circles understood the attitudes of the MFA was shown by Spínola’s first choice for prime minister, Veiga Simão, the former minister of education under Caetano. Eventually he settled for Professor Palma Carlos, a liberal “apolitical” law professor. In fact five members of Spínola’s provisional government had been former students of both Caetano and Palma Carlos—none of them with any sympathy or even understanding of the radical ideas implicit in the MFA program.

But the closeness of the politicians to one another and their intimate connections with figures of the old regime was scarcely surprising. It was a function of the smallness of the Portuguese elite. Even the carefully inspired mystery surrounding the private life of the communist leader Álvaro Cunhal has much to do with the fact that he married into the family of one of the most notorious interior ministers under Salazar and Caetano, Dr. António Rapazote. And Cunhal once taught in a private high school where he successfully encouraged one of his students, Mário Soares, to join the Communist party. Soares now leads the Socialist party.

The new parties and “autonomous groups,” especially those of the center and left, had a monotonous sameness in their social composition. But to know your neighbor is not necessarily to love him. The parties crystallized around what were often coteries of friends, ideological differences often originating in personal antagonisms. In theory little divided the positions of those who joined, shifted among, or dramatically bolted the PPD (which also called itself socialist), the PSP (Portuguese Socialist party), the MES (Movement of the Socialist Left), the MSP (Popular Socialist Movement); SEDES, or those who remained under the umbrella of the CDE, which after April became the Portuguese Democratic Movement (MDP/CDE).

The central committee of the MDP/CDE is typical: 25 percent are lawyers, 15 percent university professors, 10 percent economists, 7.5 percent publicists, 7.5 percent engineers, 5 percent doctors, and 5 percent high school teachers. (It includes many Catholic radicals and allies itself with the PCP.) And as always the Portuguese left had half an eye over its shoulder for the latest French political parallel, the smallest Parisian dispute being much better known than the mysterious and somewhat disagreeable doings of Tràs os Montes or Portalegre.

Mário Soares in many ways personified the problem. His lengthy memoir Portugal Amordaçado (“Portugal Silenced”) is a catalogue of fluctuating friendships, acquaintances, minor tribulations, and brushes with the secret police (PIDE/DGS). His most spectacular dispute with Salazar was caused by his representation of the family of General Delgado in the still mysterious affair of his assassination. He was deported to São Tomé. Soares had also represented members of the Melo family, and Jorge de Melo intervened to aid the deportee by proposing that Soares represent an important CUF subsidiary in the islands. Only Salazar’s personal opposition prevented Soares from taking the job.

The Portuguese Socialist party (PSP) grew from the Portuguese Socialist Action founded in Geneva in 1964 and became a formal party at Bad Munstereiffel, West Germany, in April 1973. It is a member of the socialist international. Soares is a strong “Europeanist” with close relations with the European social democrats. Willy Brandt, François Mitterand, Roy Hayward, and Jim Callaghan of the British Labour party all arrived in Lisbon “to help.” The European social democratic leaders also sent substantial funds to the PSP—trying to match the millions of dollars Communist parties in Eastern and Western Europe have sent to the PCP.

All these friends of Soares made a special point of stressing the importance of the Western alliance. But NATO is a very sore point to social democrats in Portugal. Salazar had entered the alliance in 1949 when liberals and democrats in Portugal had hopes of support from the Western nations. They regarded NATO’s embrace of Salazar as a betrayal and a cruel one, for they had risked much in coming forward to demonstrate their aims and strength under Salazar. Whatever Soares might say abroad, the PSP finds it prudent to follow a more ambiguous neutralist policy at home. The growing chorus of “concern” about “the situation in Portugal” by NATO officials is greeted with increasing irritation by liberals and democrats in Lisbon. Where, the Portuguese wonder, were those so concerned for democracy during those long terrible years of repression?

But the politicians’ knowledge of each other is equaled only by their ignorance of the army in general and the MFA in particular. If practically all the politicians, in all parties, are lawyers, intellectuals, or professionals, the leaders of the MFA are decidedly different. Although some of the soldiers are university men, they had, like Vasco Gonçalves and Melo Antunes, studied mathematics, often at the technical university in the gray northern city of Oporto. The politicians had little or no practical experience of Africa, the technocrats trained in North America and Western Europe even less. The politicians and the radical officers soon found they were speaking different languages. As early as last summer Major Vitor Alves, one of the most “intellectual” of the MFA’s leaders, criticized the “abstract notions of Portugal” of those communists and socialists who had been exiles, as well as the corrosive effects of self-censorship on those that remained. And though they would only admit it at first in private, many leaders of the old “democratic opposition,” especially the social democrats, were deeply distrustful of the army’s intentions.

Not so the PCP. While most other politicians talked of an alliance between Spínola and their parties, Cunhal spoke of an alliance between the MFA and “the people” (MFA-Povo). But it was Spínola, in a move that surprised even the MFA at the time, who invited the PCP into the provisional government. He did so because he believed that “the communists prefer their partisans to be martyrs rather than policemen.” Foreseeing that the demands of the workers could not fail to be explosive after a winter of savage inflation and brutal police repression, he hoped by placing a communist in the ministry of labor and bringing Cunhal into the cabinet as a minister without portfolio that these demands would be moderated and restrained. And he also hoped that the Moscoworiented Party would use its influence with the Russians to encourage them to use their good offices with the liberation movements to aid a Spínolista settlement in Africa. Cunhal in return was promised a free hand and support against the PCP’s competitors on the extreme left.

All three calculations were wrong-headed. They offered what the PCP was only too willing to concede or promised what the PCP was unable to deliver. The PCP would have acted with “moderation” whatever its position in or outside the new government. It was determined to avoid creating a Chilean situation. Its long-standing tactics were to form alliances with parts of the urban and rural middle classes. In fact its most recent gains had been among lower-middle-class workers, especially the bank clerks, a leader of which was the new labor minister. Moreover the PCP had very little influence with the African liberation movements, which, while accepting Soviet aid, were by no means disposed to accept Soviet advice. The Portuguese communists had no inclination to get involved in decolonization at all, and washed their hands completely of the entire colonial issue from the beginning, assuming that independence would be achieved. They concentrated all their efforts where the long-range issues of the PCP’s own future and that of Portugal would be settled. Within Portugal itself.

The PCP was only too pleased to get what help it could against “extremists.” The party had emerged (1921) out of a working-class tradition that was strongly anarchist and anarcho-syndicalist, and was especially sensitive to attacks from the left. Bitter infighting over “Titoism” had split the party in the late Forties before Cunhal consolidated his authority, and disputes erupted again during the 1960s. In the universities the PCP lost much of the almost monolithic support it had enjoyed in earlier years; the new generation found its dogmatism unattractive, its passivity infuriating, and its slavish support for Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia despicable. A variety of Marxist-Leninist and Maoist factions grew. The Marxist-Leninists broke up after bitter feuds over purity. But the Maoists founded (in 1971) the formidable MRPP (Reorganizing Movement of the Party of the Proletariat). Several urban guerrilla groups also emerged.

In 1970, responding to the decline of the PCP’s dominant position on the left, Cunhal laid out the Party’s new strategy with a frankness he would not have permitted himself had he any idea he would shortly be a member of a Portuguese government. O Radicalismo Pequeno Burguês de Fachada Socialista (second edition, Edições Avante, 1971) was a violent attack on “pseudo-revolutionary verbalists” and “petty bourgeois radicals.” It was also a stout defense of the Party’s definition of the present “stage,” that of a “democratic and national” revolution. “Democratic” in that it would espouse civil liberties and act in concert with social democrats and others against the monopolies and latifundiários, “national” in that it would pursue a neutralist, “anti-imperialist” foreign policy.

In practice, this program meant the PCP would try to consolidate two power bases. First in the Alentejo, the grain-producing lands south of the Tagus, they would work among the anti-clerical, landless rural laborers of the great estates, people with a long history of communist militancy and subject to chronic seasonal unemployment. It is a region that Cunhal knew well and on which he counts for votes in the coming elections. He is the author of one of the few detailed analyses of the social and economic structures of the Portuguese countryside, A Questão Agrária em Portugal, published in Brazil in 1968 (Civilização Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, 1968).

Second, the Party would try to make alliances with, or at least assure credit and support for, the small and medium business men, so that if they were not friends they would at least not become enemies. For the PCP this alliance would be crucial—just how crucial was underlined by the fall of Allende after the small businessmen turned violently against him. Small and medium-sized businesses comprise 98 percent of the total number of Portuguese enterprises, and they employ 52 percent of the total number of workers. Of course, as Cunhal explained in 1970, these allies would be eliminated at the next “stage.” He would not object to a party-controlled state should that “stage” be attainable. (His O Radicalismo Pequeno Burguês, however, is for obvious reasons no easier to obtain in Lisbon since the April coup than it was before.)

After April 1974 therefore, the Portuguese communists placed themselves firmly in the center of the political spectrum. They resisted workers demands, ensured that the minimum wage was as low as possible, and they remained as sensitive as ever to criticism (which was not slow in coming) from “pseudorevolutionary leftists” and “petty bourgeois radicals.” Which itself was not very surprising in a party as heavily populated with petty bourgeoisie as the PCP. Cunhal was remarkably frank when he told the Wall Street Journal (February 20, 1975) that as a youth he “took to the streets of Lisbon selling neckties to get to know the workers.”

But like most things in Portugal during those cyclone months, appearances were deceptive. The “centrist” position of the communists had a totally different content from that of Spínola and the PPD. The groups they supported and sought to encourage were diametrically opposed. If the small businesses were encouraged, there could be no “rationalization” of the economy along the lines proposed by Spínola’s allies. As with the colonial issue, the hidden center of the antagonism between Spínola and the PCP was in the offices of the great monopolies. For if the communists’ plan to finance and gain support or at least tolerance from the small business class was to work, then they needed the banks’ acquiescence; and the banks were of course the linchpin of the Melo, Champalimaud, and Espírito Santo empires.

It was a conflict not easily resolved without the victory of one position over the other, for they were wholly incompatible. Moreover, it was a conflict that pitted a view of the past not against that of the future but against two views of the future. For Spínola’s view of a modernized country, developing the kind of large-scale corporate technology and trade that had made other Western European countries prosper, was just as “revolutionary” for the Portuguese as that of the communists, perhaps more so.

As the opposition between Spínola and the PCP became more apparent, it had one result that was crucial for everything that has happened since. It brought into closer collaboration the MFA officers and the PCP. Cunhal, who once denounced “petty bourgeois radicals” of any kind, now was firmly allied with some of the most successful petty bourgeois radicals to appear in Europe since World War II—the leaders of the MFA.

If at times the political maneuvering among Spínola, the MFA, and the communists seemed like comic opera, beneath the surface it was a struggle in earnest with very high stakes. For Spínola it was a path of constant retreat. In July he was forced to accept as prime minister the oldest member of the MFA’s “political committee,” Lieutenant Colonel (now Brigadier General) Vasco Gonçalves. Un-known to his fellow officers Gonçalves had been for many years one of the PCP’s most prized “assets,” a secret collaborator with the Party, whether or not he ever joined it. In September Spínola was forced to resign after he failed to bring off the mass demonstrations and the immediate presidential elections that he hoped would keep him in power. After he left office, most of his appointees and friends in the provisional government either became ceremonial figures or have been replaced by men congenial to the MFA and the left parties, while the position of the PPD and the SEDES group, on which he had gambled, has now become precarious. At the same time its appeal to the electorate may have increased.

We still do not know the full story behind the “attempted coup” in March that forced him to flee to Spain and then Brazil. As often happens in Portugal, the events, including a series of bizarre plots and whispered deceptions, remain obscure enough for all parties to give explanations that seem plausible yet serve their own interests. What the left claimed were intentonas—because they won—for the right were inventonas, because they lost. And they lost much, for this stunted attentat provided the occasion for the MFA both to purge the last of Spínola’s men and to put into effect the key condition of the PCP’s economic strategy—the nationalization of the banks.

No less important in bringing about Spínola’s fall were the panicky reactions and badly informed interference by the Western powers. Spínola conceivably might still be in Portugal were it not for the US and Western European support of precisely those farrightist groups whose prospects were always dim. And equally crucial to the eclipse of the Spínola group were the secret pressures of the MFA on the negotiations in Africa which in just over six months gave independence to Guinea-Bissau, brought FRELIMO into the government of Mozambique, and set up a timetable for solving the most intractable problem of all, the independence of Angola.

Now a new act is beginning, probably an even more turbulent one. If Spínola’s flight brought the dominant power of the MFA into the open, hostilities still exist between the more and less militant groups within it and between some of the ruling officers themselves and the left politicians—conflicts I will discuss in a second article. The promised elections will still be held, and if the center parties are able to campaign and get wide support another dangerous crisis will occur. Most of the scapegoats for Portugal’s old misfortunes have gone now—some of them to jail—and the real shape of power has yet to be determined.

(This is the first of two articles on Portugal.)

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