Home > Portugal, The 'Solidarity' Group > Portugal: North and South

Portugal: North and South

Solidarity: For Workers’ Power, Vol. 8, No. 3 (December 1975), pp. 10-16

The following text was sent to ‘Solidarity’ and to ‘Liberation’ magazine (New York) at the end of August 1975 by Phil Meyler (King Mob sympathiser). The author has lived in Portugal for some time and speaks the language fluently. We hope to publish in the spring a substantial book by Phil, dealing in depth with the background and evolution of the Portuguese events to date. The text includes excerpts from many documents (produced by tenants’ committees, shanty town collectives, agricultural workers’ groups, self-managed factories, etc.) hitherto unavailable in English. The book, which runs to about 90, 000 words, will probably cost about £1.00. Advance orders welcome.

April 25, 1974 was welcomed as a liberation by nearly all sections of Portuguese society. But this pluralism hid deeper contradictions which only later became apparent.

The most advanced industrial areas in Portugal are found in the South, in and around Lisbon in particular. In the South are also found the large latifundias and estates, many of which were not worked at all, or were only worked in a semi-feudal manner. In the North the situation is entirely different: capital accumulation has been very slow many of the companies employ fewer than 6 workers, land is divided up into small holdings and rented out in lots of less than 5 hectares. This is only a general pattern and there are exceptions. North and South differ in their dominant types of production. So too does the working class movement and the type of class struggle engaged in.

In their practice the five successive governments have ignored this fact. The result is that the country is rapidly heading towards a confrontation between North and South.

The policies of Agrarian Reform (occupations of unproductive land with a view to making them productive) benefited the southern agricultural workers in a real way. But it had little relevance for the northern part of the country. The policies of nationalisations affected the economic structure of the South while hardly touching the North. In effect the North was all but abounded. Now that the North wreaks its vengeance onto the streets it is being called ‘reactionary’, ‘fascist’, ‘counterrevolutionary’, etc.

People in the North blame the government. But who is the government? The dominant influence is the PCP and its sister MDP-CDE (Portugese Democratic Movement). Thus the number of political party offices reduced to ruins in the North is not the advance of a fascist movement but the expression of real worries felt by the majority of the northern working class and small peasant farmers. It is an anti-Communist movement because it was the Communist Party who added to their miseries, who did not respect working class democracy, and finally insulted the workers by saying that they were manipulated by fascist organisations, by ELP, by the CIA. All the left groups follow the chant of the PCP (with the exception of the Maoist MRPP) and then wonder why their own offices are being burnt down. They play games with words, calling the CP reformist or revisionist but in the last analysis rush into its arms as soon as they are invited to do so. The CP is, after all well installed in the government apparatus and all of these groups have ambitions of power. A ‘United Front’ is merely a shortcut to sitting in government.

Two main forces oppose one another throughout the country. In the fifth government there are the forces of state capitalism: Vasco Goncalves and the Vasco wing of the MFA, the PCP, the MDP-CDE. Their ‘socialism by decree’ has been exposed time and time again. On the other hand there is the Socialist Party, the Melo Antunes wing of the MFA, private capitalism, liberal social-democracy. Both forces fight one another for control of the existiing state apparatus. Neither has anything to do with social revolution. Thus:

– The document of Melo Antunes (or Document of the Nine) cpmplained of a ‘revolutionary vanguard’ operating from Lisbon and the South against the will of the rest of the population. But it also suggested. that the only answer was in economic partnership with the EEC and EFTA.

– The line of Vasco Goncalves demagogically called for the continuation of the ‘revolutionary procecs’, ‘popular power’ (Neighbourhood Committees, Factory Committees, Village Councils, etc.), The PCP had originally attacked all of these. It also called for agrarian reform and for nationalisations.

– The document of COPCON which criticises the CP and proposes a more radical type of ‘popular power’, total orientation of the economy towards agricultural products, abolition of luxury goods; etc., with a view to becoming ‘nationally independent’.

Melo Antunes is supported by the Socialist Party and by the PPD. Goncalves is supported by the PCP and MDP. COPCON is supported by most groups (except the Maoists) to the left of the PCP.

Historically the PCP was always stronger in the South. During the 60’s there was a series of strikes and labour disputes and the PCP and other groups participated in them. The North, and especially the North East, was completely ‘closed’. It was ruled by local fascists, priests and other such types. It is rich in tradition, ignorant of the outside world, poor, and getting poorer.

Food prices rose by 15% (between July 1974 and July 1975) in the cities (Lisbon and Porto) and in the South. They rose by 40% in the interior and in the North. Housing costs, on the other hand, rose by 6% in Lisbon while in the North, where most people own their houses, there was no significant change.

Measures such as the reduction of the price of fertiliser, etc., were never put into practice in the North because the fascist apparatus remained intact there. Laws coming from Lisbon were just ignored.


The PCP was no different from any of the right-wing parties operating in the North. The Communists infiltrated the local apparatus of the state, without destroying it. In general terms nothing changed, except the demagogy of those sitting behind the desks. After April 25 most people accepted this (any change was welcome). But it soon became apparent that it was all power politics and nothing fundamental would alter. Credits and grants were. given out to those most loyal to the PCP (just as in the old days they had been granted to those most loyal to the fascists). For the vast majority of people the situation got worse’.

The ‘dynamisation’ programme in the North, organised by the MFA, was designed to explain to people why April 25 was necessary. It made great promises but nothing concrete was done. Very often it was carried out paternalistically the people of the North were stupid and reactionary and had to be educated in a more revolutionary fashion. The people wanted fertiliser and all they got was songs and posters.

Administrative Committees were appointed from above in certain areas and certain of the larger factories in a very dictatorial fashion. No elections took p~ace and people naturally resented this.

With all these problems the only support which the North received was from the right wing groups (PPD, CDS, etc.). They blamed the Communist government in the South. Rumours that the Communists would take away their houses, their plots, that the country was heading for collapse and that they would be without work mounted.. The right found fertile soil for their operations.

Groups such as ELP and the CIA (who have 180 agents and hundreds of operatives, selected from Portuguese immigrants in the USA) found their work made easier and easier everyday.

Thus in the factory of Manuel Goncalves in Famelicao (near Porto) could be witnessed the unhappy scene of thousands of workers shouting ‘Down with the Committee, long live the Boss’. In this chemical factory, employing almost 4000 workers, an Administrative Committee was appointed by the government, and a Union Committee appointed itself. The Union Committee was entirely PCP.

The boss (at present in Spain) was implicated in the March 11 coup and is related to ELP. But what the workers meant was that their new boss (the state) was no better than their old boss. They are’afraid for the security of their jobs, for their future. Inteernational pressures, (raw materials were refused the factory by a Swiss company unless the order was signed by the boss) put their jobs in jeopardy. Similarly, the new Union Committee was engaged in all sorts of manoeuvres and undemocratic practices. The difference between the idea (workers’ control)
and the practice (control of the workers) has led the workers to reject a Communist solution altogether, and to opt for private capitalism and for support for the old boss. In new elections in the area many of the workers forecast a Socialist Party’ majority.


The PCP have been joined by most of the groups on the so-called left: FSP, MES, LUAR, PRP-BR, MDP-CDE, LCI, PRT (i.e. all the leninist and trotskyist groups). COPCON has been drawn into the ranks as well. The ppwerful Fifth Division (responsible for much of the information,etc.) also supports this block.

On the other side there are the 9 signatories of the Melo Antunes document, President Costa Gomes, the Socialist Party and the PPD.

Thehunting of Communists has begun in the North; the hunt for “reactionaries’ has begun in the South. No matter which side wins it is doubtful that they can stabilise the economy. There are 400,000 unemployed and another 400,000 emigrants returning from Angolao. There is the, prospect of economic collapse. Neither state capitalism nor private capitalism (nor various mixtures of the two) could easily contain the crisis. If the sixth government is Socialist Party-dominated it will have easier access to international funds and credits. But even they will soon realise that the Western European model of social-democracy is not enough to put the economy back on its feet. To do this the help of the workers themselves is absolutely essential.

The leninist groups realised this from the beginning. When the workers began occupying factories, farms and houses, the State began to channel this activity into ‘cooperatives’, as the form best suited to recuperate and control these spontaneous actions. The State, lacking the, capital to invest in these companies, invested the one thing, there was in plentiful supply: labour. By creating the myth that the companies actually belonged to the workers it was easier to extract more labour power from them. Workers now worked 12 hours instead of 8 – and accepted lower wages. This in essence is the idea behind the PCP’s ‘Battle for Production’. The cooperative movement is not the form chosen, by the revolutionary proletariat but is the form used by the bourgeoisie to
recuperate proletarian self-activity.

Social-democracy will be forced to utilise a similar strategy, though the ideology will not be so blatant. It is in this light that the Melo Antunes document rejects ‘Western types of socialism’.
It is therefore extremely dangerous to describe the Northern workers as being ‘reactionaries’ or ‘manipulated by reactionaries’ (as all the so-called left wing groups do). This idea has been publicised outside Portugal as well: by I.S. in England, by P.L.P. in the US (to name but two). It is dangerous and divisive and, if continued, will lead to a civil war waged on geographical rather than class lines, which will benefit the workers in no way whatever. This is not to underestimate the activities of groups like ELP or the CIA. It is merely to show that the CIA and ELP cannot operate without a real basis of dissatisfaction.


Apart from differences in the pattern of production and of capital accumulation, it is obvious that different ideological structures pertain North and South. Since state capitalism and its decrees offer nothing
to the North they choose the only option which does: liberal capitalism. In the North the state apparatus is weak (a throw-off from Lisbon) and it is the local priests and bosses who wield real power. In the South, where most of the state bureaucracy operates, the opposite is the case. Technicians (in various departments) have been absorbed into the ‘revolutionary’ process and support the accumulation of power by the State and thus, finally, their own power. Such a centralisation of power offers nothing to the Northern worker~ and peasant farmers. Nor does it threaten the local power structure.

A certain amount of support exists among the Alentejo agricultural workers for the drive towards state capitalism; it opens up a door whereby they can seize land, factories, etc. There is a real difference for them. Thus the technicians of SAAL (Housing) or IRA (Agrarian Reform) are not seen as enemies, despite the distrust they inspire. For tlle moment there are real benefits: a new house, a farmj etc. Thus the whole idea of ‘popular power’ finds an echo.

In the North it has nothing to offer. No village Councils or Neighbourhood Committees exist that have any meaning for the local population. In one town near Porto where the PCP seized the local Council, it set up links between the Neighbourhood Committee and the Council. When the PCP were defeated in the elections the Neighbourhood Committee passed to the PPD and CDS too. It is now being used to ‘improve’ the area – but only those roads in which there are shops and factories, etc. By not smashing the fascist apparatus but merely occupying it the PCP cut their own throats.

Thus the whole ideological apparatus in the South was used for the needs of developing capitalism, needs which momentarily coincided on certain points with the demands of the workers. In the North the, ideological apparatus remains intact, extremely authoritarian and reactionary (even when it is controlled by the PCP). Other groups to the left of the CP, but who play the same game are therefore, quite understandably, as liable to be attacked. Thus MES, LCI, FEC(ml) have all had their offices burned in various towns. (I saw a ridiculous article in Socialist Worker which said that the struggles in the North could not be seen as heroic anti-stalinism. The evidence given for this was that even the offices of the maoist FEC (ml) had been destroyed – as though local people did not see the FEb as being just as stalinist as the CP.)


Such a question obviously does not depend on Portugal alone. The success of a revolution here depends on successes elsewhere.

There are autonomous struggles. From May 1975 most of the workers’ groups have rejected the elites (‘cupulas’) of the various political parties. Thus Factory Committees refuse to take party positions. Neighbourhood Committees have had demonstrations which forbade all party banners. Party interventions and attempts at manipulation (under the guise of ‘popular power’) have met a considerable and firm resistance from the rank and file.

But through Vasco Goncalves (who incidentally owns a Banking company and a civil-construction firm) ‘popular power’ has become identified with the line of the PCP and all the undemocratic practices which go with it. The PCP were at first doubtful about ‘popular power’ (calling it ‘anarcho-populism’) but finally (under duress) came round to accepting it, because they thought they could manipulate it.

Two sections of the ruling class are feuding among themselves and using the name of the workers in their scramble for power. But the workers are not putty in the hands of these factions. They have a practice of their own, and realise it more and more everyday. At the moment, because of the infiltration of these factions into their organisations, and because of the crisis in capitalism which hits them first, the workers are weak. There is little organisation: parties use them, play games with them. But workers are rejecting this too. They are searching for
a way out. The COPCON document seemed, superficially, to offer a way out. It was certainly, to start with, a rejection of the PCP, which is why it was supported by some 100,000 workers in a demonstration on August 20.
It has since then been integrated into the CP policy; it is now seen that in no way does it provide a way out.

It is essential that the workers’ movement by-pass the CP altogether. The so-called left wing groups have not realised this. They too are wedded to the perspective of state capitalism. They have formed a ‘United Front’ with the PCP, and have started down the road to their own destruction. All the better for the workers, in the long run.

The next issue of Combate will have an interview with some workers of ‘Manuel Goncalves’ and we are trying to arrange a round table discussion between a self-managed factory (Sousa Abreu) and Manuel Goncalves (both are in the same town). We reject the notion ‘reactionary’ in the way it is used by the left-wing groups. The struggle in Manuel Goncalves is not yet revolutionary (since they don’t see through the ideology of the PSP) but neither is it reactionary. Revolution can only mean a total break with both the PSP and the PCP (and their satellites). It is the only meaningful possibility.

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