The Working Class On The Move: International Events 1974-75

Chapter Eight


IN APRIL 1974, the Portuguese revolution reduced the 50-year old Caetano dictatorship to dust. 

Militant, which sent Lynn Walsh to Portugal, reported: “All the faces of world reaction are watching with horror the revolutionary storm which is sweeping Portugal.” (1) Initiated by the young army officers in revolt against the catastrophic colonial wars in Mozambique and Angola, millions of workers poured out onto the streets of Lisbon and the other towns of Portugal to celebrate a new dawn.

Workers seized the headquarters of the old fascist-controlled trade unions, and discussions took place over whether the factories should be taken over. The workers and the youth fraternised with the army, with ordinary soldiers and sailors in uniform participating in the mass demonstrations in Lisbon and elsewhere. But, as in many revolutions, having overthrown one dictatorship, and without strong conscious leadership and organisation, power was handed over to another potential dictator, General Spinola.

This was a man who had fought for Franco in the Spanish Civil War and served on the Eastern Front with the Nazi army during the second world war. When handing over power, Caetano declared: “General, I surrender to you the government. You must take care because you must keep control. I am frightened by the idea of the power loose in the streets.” (2)

We said that with a decisive, clear leadership, the Portuguese workers could have established the foundations of socialism. Nevertheless, we anticipated:

If, as is almost certain, a popular front government [i.e. a capitalist government supported by the workers’ parties] is formed in Portugal in the immediate future, although it will be enormously popular at first, the realities of class conflict will be manifested. The demands of the workers will not and cannot be met on the basis of capitalism. (3)

In the first flush of enthusiasm, the workers had spontaneously raised red flags and carried slogans such as ‘Long live the socialist revolution’.

One indication of the enormous radicalisation was that the Socialist Party, consisting of a mere 50 people in exile and led by a Paris-based lawyer, Mario Soares, in a matter of months became a mass party. Soares, under the pressure of the masses, declared: “The Socialist Party stands on the basis of Marxism.” In reality Soares had never developed into a rounded-out Marxist, only mouthing Marxist phrases, but remaining firmly within the framework of capitalism. This was to be tragically demonstrated in the next two to three years.

Greece – Junta overthrown

On the heels of the Portuguese events came the revolutionary explosions in Greece of July 1974. This was triggered by the seizure of power in Cyprus by the tiny EOKA B fascist elements and the eviction of President Makarios from office. This in turn led to the Turkish invasion which ended in the partition of Cyprus, with one-third under Turkish control.

These events enormously encouraged the forces of Marxism in Britain and also resulted in new groups looking towards the ideas of Militant in those countries which had overthrown dictatorships. In Greece, two groups of Marxists in Athens within weeks of the overthrow of the dictatorship had read about the ideas of Militant, agreed with them, and opened up discussions with us.

One group was led by Nicos Remoundos, who fought against the junta in exile and still plays a key role in the Marxist movement and the Left in Greece. Another youth group in Cyprus around the newly formed Socialist Party moved in the direction of Militant, later joining the ranks of our international co-thinkers. Of the original group won to Militant’s ideas Andros Payiatsos and Doros Michael still play a key role in Greece and Cyprus.

In Sweden, through the intervention of Militant supporters in the LPYS at the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) conference, Arne Johansson and Anders Hjelm were won to Militant’s ideas. They played a decisive role in building a powerful Marxist force in Sweden which now rivals Militant Labour in Britain in its specific weight in the labour movement.

Roger Silverman made an initial visit to Greece in September and I went in December. This resulted in the winning over of the two groups to Militant’s outlook and the idea of organised international collaboration. The Greek Marxists, gathered around the journal Xekinima (Beginning), have played an important role in the workers’ movement in Greece, particularly in Pasok (the Greek Socialist Party), which was formed in 1974.

Even before Andreas Papandreou, the leader of Pasok, had envisaged the development of such a party, Militant had predicted its emergence. A new generation of workers looking for a revolutionary solution, repelled by Stalinism, would look towards the creation of such a party. Pasok was formed in September 1974 and became a mass organisation from its inception.

Moreover, it moved to what Trotsky called a ‘centrist’ position, oscillating between the ideas of Marxism and reformism. At this stage, Papandreou represented a left expression of centrism. This in turn drew into its ranks some of the best sections of the youth and intellectuals, thereby providing fertile ground for the growth of Marxist ideas. The present organisation of Pasok, led by an ailing Papandreou, is a far cry from the heady, radical, revolutionary days of 1974.


Meanwhile, another massive upheaval unfolded in the United States. President Nixon, after a desperate struggle to cling to power, was forced to resign. If he had not done so, he would have been impeached (i.e. prosecuted and removed from office by Congress), which would have been a devastating blow for the whole political system of the US ruling class. 

As it happened, the ‘Watergate scandal’, as Militant pointed out, provoked a potentially revolutionary crisis in US society. The catastrophe of Vietnam led to the open revolt of the US armed forces, in turn igniting the upheavals in the cities. In 1970 the National Guard had been used against the first national Teamsters’ (lorry drivers) strikes. Some of these National Guardsmen were then sent to Kent State University in Ohio to police an anti-Vietnam protest: three students were shot dead by the Guards.

Two-thirds of the population had wanted Nixon out and prosecuted. If a mass socialist party had existed, this political crisis could have become the starting point for the overthrow of the mightiest capitalist power on the globe. These events underlined Militant’s contention that it was not just economic collapse, slump or recession, which could provoke a revolutionary crisis. 

The Dreyfus affair in France, in the 1890s (involving the frame-up of Captain Alfred Dreyfus by the French officer caste) was an example of how a political event could lay bare the essence of capitalist society, its state, hypocrisy, etc, and pose the need for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Watergate fell into the same category. The American ruling class saved its bacon by switching from Nixon to Ford and withdrawing from Vietnam.