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Disintegrating Portugal: An Interview with Mário Soares

M.S.: Are you sure they were organized? Are you sure they weren’t spontaneous or at least partly spontaneous? Those episodes made a great impression in Europe, I know. European Communists everywhere sprang up to denounce the persecution against the PCP. But the truth is very different. There is no doubt that in Portugal, even today, the Communists are the persecutors, not the persecuted. Even in the north. Who holds the key to the government establishment, the nationalized concerns, local councils? Who distributes jobs and money? Who persecutes workers who aren’t Communist or oppose the Communists? The recent anti-Communist violence has made you justly indignant, but it was, and is, a reaction to their own violence. A spontaneous reaction, similar to the one that broke out in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. I’m well aware it has helped the Communists since it casts them in the role of victims, hence attracting sympathy. But they’re not the victims. Try talking to workers and peasants in the north. Ask them who was killed in those riots. They’ll answer you: the people who were protesting against the Communists. Because it was always the Communists that did the shooting, not the rioters.

O.F.: But there was a manhunt for Communists, I’m told, maybe fostered by fascist elements, possibly by reactionary bishops…

M.S.: Are you sure those elements were fascist? As for reactionary bishops, I don’t deny some of those taking part in the riots did profess reactionary sentiments. However, what I say is: one mustn’t overlook the resentment provoked by the Communists in the Church and among Catholics. And at the very moment when we were about to draw the Church on to our side. Think of the occupation of Renascenza, the Catholic radio transmitter. The Communists acted in that case exactly as they had done previously with the Socialist daily Republica. What, for instance, happened at Braga? A public meeting to voice support for the bishop, following the occupation of Radio Renascenza. After the meeting, the people left for the bus station to return to their respective villages. A station right beside the local Communist headquarters. From the windows, the Communists started shouting: “Sheep, reactionaries, you’ve sold out to the priests.” The Catholics reacted. They started to shout too and to throw stones at the windows. And the Communists started shooting: into the crowd.

O.F.: I must tell you something unpleasant, Soares. Lots of people believe that the episodes in the north are part of a Socialist plan. Like the strategy of the Englishman patiently waiting for the Irishman’s jaw to move near enough to his fist.

M.S.: With all the vehemence at my command, I assure you we Socialists have nothing to do with the unsavory business. With all the vehemence at my disposal, I swear to you that no Socialist militant has ever been mixed up in those riots and that on several occasions Socialists have rushed to the Communists’ rescue. Besides, we have publicly condemned such episodes: in the same spirit and with the same firmness with which we had previously condemned attacks against the Christian Democrats. However, even if we condemn them, we must attempt to explain them. We have to ask ourselves why popular anger has exploded, why a people seemingly well-disposed toward the Communists has suddenly turned against them.

Believe me: what has happened, and is still happening, in the north isn’t the result of reactionary maneuvering. Reactionary ideas have no prestige in the eyes of the people. What happened, and is still happening, in the north is the product of Communist arrogance and brutality in Portugal. It’s the product of the PCP’s policy. Or, better, of the policy of the PCP’s directorate, which in a single year, in Portugal, has caused more anti-Communist feeling than Salazar’s and Caetano’s propaganda over a fifty-year period.

O.F.: Are you implying that the fault must be ascribed to Cunhal personally?

M.S.: Yes. He has a great margin of personal responsibility because of his considerable, and decisive, influence on the PCP. His authority there is undisputed and undisputable. I know his central committee, his secretariat: I know to what extent Cunhal’s comrades are dominated by Cunhal. I’ll add further: I’m a Marxist, not a dogmatic one, but still a Marxist. As such, I’ve always believed men were instruments or interpreters of history, that great historical movements were uninfluenced by the characters involved. But after what I’ve witnessed for a year in Portugal, I’m beginning to believe in Cleopatra’s nose.

O.F.: You mean Pascal: “Had Cleopatra’s nose been shorter, the whole of history would have been altered”?

M.S.: That’s it. Man counts. He really does.

O.F.: With his feelings and resentments. It sometimes seems to me that there’s a personal guerrilla fight between you and Cunhal.

M.S.: No, no! On the contrary. On my side at least. In my young days I admired him greatly: for his intelligence, his courage, his faith. You know he was a teacher at my father’s college. Yes, teacher, not janitor as he told you in your interview. Maybe he said he was a janitor to give himself a more proletarian touch: in those days he was already a law graduate and my father took him on as assistant lecturer in literature, history, and philosophy. He couldn’t take him on as titular lecturer, since he would have had to obtain the authorization of the PIDE for that, and Cunhal had already been arrested by the PIDE once and figured in their files as an active Communist. At that time I admired him so. I was sixteen at the time and he was only twelve years older, but still I admired him. And I admired him still more later, during his trial: his behavior was magnificent, proud, and courageous. One must give him credit for that. He took on his own defense, refusing counsel, and spoke for three hours. I remember that speech: he didn’t really speak to defend himself, what he did was conduct a trial in condemnation of the Salazar regime. A masterly attack: it impressed me greatly. His conduct in prison was exemplary too: I was kept informed because I used to meet his father, a lawyer, who had undertaken his defense in court. It isn’t true his father was a poor devil, as he told you in your interview. His father was Evelino Cunhal, a leading lawyer and professor of history. His mother was a lady of the upper bourgeoisie and a devout Catholic. I know: I used to see his family often.

O.F.: But why should Cunhal tell me so many paltry falsehoods concerning his past life?

M.S.: I don’t know. There are some things about Cunhal I don’t understand. For instance, he told you he hadn’t been in exile in Moscow and Prague and phrased things so as to make you believe he had spent that time in Paris. That isn’t true. I met him several times in exile, and in Prague too. And I met somebody who told me he had spent four years with him in Moscow. The fact is that Cunhal likes to surround himself with mystery. Nobody, for instance, knows whether he is married or not: his marriage is a state secret. It is rumored that he has a daughter, but this too is part of the mystery. Why? I have a daughter and I’m so proud of her that I introduce her to everyone. But then my address and telephone number are listed in the directory, Cunhal’s address is secret. Yes, indeed a peculiar man, Cunhal. Full of contradictions. When I was a minister and we met at cabinet meetings, I used to watch him and think: he’s greatly self-possessed but sometimes his balance breaks, there’s something like a fracture between his capacity for reasoning and his sensibility. The greater his capacity for highly intelligent reasoning, most intelligent, let that be clear, the scarcer his sensibility. And then I’d think: maybe it’s owing to all those long years of prison, of exile. I’ve been to prison too, but not for long, say not more than a six-month stretch at a time. I’ve been in exile too, but not for long, say not more than a few years. He, on the other hand, has had thirteen years in prison, fourteen in exile, and ten underground: for nearly forty years he has been estranged from Portuguese life. How can he grasp its realities now?

O.F.: Do you think it likely that, in the end, he will be cast aside, bypassed, with Moscow’s approval?

M.S.: There are lots of rumors to that effect. One hears a lot of talk about Alboìm Inglés, who has just returned from Moscow. Destined, they say, to replace Cunhal. Frankly, however, I doubt it. First of all because, as I’ve already said, he’s very strong within the PCP and nobody can check him. Secondly because the PCP’s structure is based on leadership and it takes an earthquake to shake the leader. Last, because he enjoys the support of the Soviet Union, which, even through its press, especially Pravda, consistently sustains Cunhal’s theories. Obviously so, since Cunhal refers systematically to the 1917 Soviet experience and refuses any other path to socialism. But let me conclude my answer to your question concerning any presumed rivalry between Cunhal and myself. Do you know why there can be no rivalry between me and Cunhal? Because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool democrat, I’ve never even considered the possibility of imposing my wishes without being elected, and I’d feel dishonored to attain power against the wishes of the people. Cunhal, on the contrary, is deeply antidemocratic: he isn’t concerned with being elected, he wants to carry out his own personal revolution against the wishes of everyone else. Maybe he thinks he’s acting in the interests of Portugal, but so did Salazar, after all. Consequently, his conceit is the same as Salazar’s. Only the color is different.


O.F.: Let’s return to the sock in the Irishman’s jaw, Soares, and consider the consequences: will there be civil war or not?

M.S.: Well, there’s a great risk. I’ve been saying so for six months and now even the Communist press agrees. Civil war…. We’re trying our utmost to avoid it. I believe there is some chance we may be able to.

O.F.: Only some?

M.S.: Yes…. Some chance…. Il y a des chances…. Il y a des chances….

O.F.: You don’t sound deeply convinced.

M.S.: You see, when you interviewed me and Cunhal last May, I felt sure we were on the eve of a Communist government in Portugal, or, rather, of a Communist military dictatorship in Portugal. A dictatorship ruled by Cunhal and Gonçalves. There were too many clues leading to that solution: the affair of the Socialist daily Republica was one of them. I therefore retired from the government, with all the Socialists. I was widely criticized at the time for leaving the way open, it was alleged, for Cunhal by my withdrawal. Quite the opposite happened. Cunhal’s troubles started at the very moment the Socialists withdrew from the government. To compensate for this withdrawal, Cunhal was compelled to seek the complicity of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, the head of COPCON. Otelo turned his back on him and Cunhal was left alone with Gonçalves, the situation deteriorating in the way we’ve seen. Hence the rebellion and the document of the Group of Nine headed by Melo Antunes. Hence the crisis within the army and the fall of Gonçalves.

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