Soares gave the Portuguese revolution two months. Since he spoke, four weeks have passed. And while he directs his barbs at Cunhal he remains reticent about the formidable threat from the right that, if it does not reunite the Socialists and the Communists, could soon topple them both. When the Communists and the extreme left label every opponent a fascist it is soon forgotten who the true fascists are, how powerful their resources, and how they gain support daily. Right-wing groups, among them the “Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Portugal,” have organized paramilitary forces in Spain that now include an army of at least 6,000 men; a good many more are organized in clandestine groups in Portugal itself. They wait as the left tears itself apart, disarms itself, and falls into a chaos of mutual recrimination and confrontation.
The moment for action may be very close at hand. It partly hinges on the date for the independence of Angola—November 11. Angola is the festering sore which Soares barely mentions at all, but the pressures building up there could lead to a dénouement. When independence is granted, the left-wing MPLA seems likely to take full control of the Angolan capital of Luanda, from which it has expelled the FNLA and Unita, the other two liberation groups. This would be interpreted as a major Soviet victory. The interests of the US and some Western governments—as well as South Africa and Brazil—will then combine all the more openly with those of the extreme right in Portugal, which has always warned against such an outcome.
In recent months the US and the Western Europeans have done much both to bring down Vasco Gonçalves and to encourage the present compromise coalition. But the prospects of a takeover by the MPLA in Angola could shift their support to the conservative officers and right-wing leaders who are capable of mounting a coup. Portugal still has 24,000 troops in Angola, mainly around Luanda, and their position toward the MPLA will be crucial.
The present, or sixth, government is, in one sense, Soares’s for it reflects in composition the returns of the April election; but although he has marshaled popular support for it, he is not a part of it. It is the creation of the original controlling group of the Armed Forces Movement headed by Major Melo Antunes, the leader of the hidden coup that, against great odds, broke the Communist Party’s limpetlike grip on the MFA in August. It is a civilian and military coalition that would establish democratic socialism, which is not at all the same as social democracy, as its leaders have repeatedly but vainly protested. For they have made it clear that they are determined not to retreat from the radical economic measures—including land reform and nationalization—that have already been put into effect. The dearest hope now of the right-wing strategists is that the many armed groups who comprise the extreme revolutionary left will first make a new alliance with the badly shaken Communist Party and then try to overthrow the sixth government—or render it so impotent that it cannot govern, as is now happening.
The temper of the Portuguese public has reached the point where it would never accept a return of the PCP to power in alliance with the revolutionary left. If such an alliance gained control, it would produce a groundswell of popular opposition and, as this rose, we could expect that the right-wing military and political forces now forming up in Spain, in the north of Portugal, and in the Azores and Madeira would rapidly take the offensive. Antunes, Soares, and their allies may still patch together a workable government in the face of these formidable odds, and their doing so now seems Portugal’s remaining chance to avoid widespread violence. But the next few weeks will be critical ones.
November 13, 1975