The PCP in the Portuguese Revolution 1974-5: crisis, state and revolution
Publisher: International Socialism
Date Written: 09/01/2018
Year Published: 2018
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX22472
How did the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), loyal to the Soviet Union deep into the second half of the 20th century, react to a social revolution in 1974-5? The moments are rare when we can study workers' revolutions in a European country where the Communist Party had a decisive influence. I argue here that the revolution happened despite the party, not because of it. The USSR wanted above all to maintain the equilibrium of the Cold War, and Portugal was, in the division made at Yalta and Potsdam in 1945, in the NATO sphere. The PCP was faithful to that policy.
The Portuguese Revolution was a social explosion that US president Gerald Ford considered capable of transforming the entire Mediterranean into a "red sea" and causing the downfall of all of the regimes of southern Europe like dominos. We can argue today that it began a wave of resistance in southern Europe that delayed the implementation of neoliberal plans attempted from 1973-5 until the crisis period of 1981-4. Measures which survived include the nationalisation without compensation of banks and large companies, the birth of the welfare state and social security, the agrarian reform of large estates in the south of the country and the worker management of 300 companies. These measures were not realised by state decree or by governmental action, as some have tried to frame them, but through popular assemblies: the banks under the control of their workers, who prior to nationalisation stopped capital flight; the strikes in the major companies that imposed salary increases and price freezes; the democratically-run occupied hospitals and schools; public transport under the control of workers and users, who decided to extend these to peripheral areas and to reduce fares; the land occupied by salaried agricultural workers, which more than tripled their productivity and employment. In other words, it was not only the results but the entirely democratic way in which they were achieved in this "new country", to use filmmaker Sergio Trefaut's felicitious term,4 which makes the Portuguese Revolution an extraordinary case study of "change from below".