from Guy Debord

To Afonso Monteiro
8 May 1974
Dear Afonso:

Our telephonic communication was suddenly interrupted, by chance or malevolence. In any case, my telephone is excessively eavesdropped, almost since I first set up my service but especially because of the scandalous release of the film, in a period agitated by many governmental uncertainties.

In Portugal today, everything can happen, but not in any way. The baroque beauty of the current situation -- which, as it is today, cannot last -- appears to me to be a product of the objective, extreme poverty of Portuguese power, rather than the extreme stupidity of its capitalists or General Spinola.[1] Current Kerenskyism[2] is dominated by a Kornilov[3] (and Alvaro Cunhal[4] is certainly not Lenin). The army, acting according to its hierarchy and still not against it, has all by itself created the new conditions that tend to escape it on all sides. Thus, before one considers the song of these courageous putschists "who, from the western river of Lusitania . . . found a new empire so gloriously," one must to consider their goal very clearly. Portuguese capitalism wants and must modernize itself -- politically and economically -- it must rationalize itself; and it comes from so far behind that it can only undertake this modernization through a very bold and audacious game, which thus has taken some awfully irrational appearances.

The goal of the most modern sector of capitalism is Gaullism, an authoritarian democracy that is capable of finishing with the ruinous forms of the preceding archaic power (endless colonial war and the Salazarist order) and playing its game in the Common Market. Spinola must have -- if he succeeds -- the function of de Gaulle, but in a much more difficult context. By proposing simply to the rebels that the fighting cease, he starts his politics of colonial disengagement, which de Gaulle called "the peace of the brave." No doubt Spinola will have little success; the war[5] will continue; and the proximity of racist South Africa reinforces the possibilities for secession of the Portuguese colonies in Angola and Mozambique. This is the principal "official" conflict that will inflame Spinola's relations with the Leftist parties now in formation. The officers, even if they are semi-Leftist "captains," will not easily accept the withdrawal of the troops, the "abandonment" of the colonies and the flag. But the soldiers and the sailors can demand these things at the subsequent stage.

Inside [of Portugal], it is clear that all the parties that now appear or constitute themselves -- including the Stalinists -- have already fundamentally accepted the perspective of bourgeois democracy and, as soon as possible, parliamentary democracy. But these parties will be kept on a short leash, because Spinola is not a very presentable ally -- though they want to claim that he is -- and because they can no longer be completely opposed to the workers' demands. Nevertheless, Spinola has allowed them to exist and speak up so as to accomplish this very task. And here will be the roots of the multiple incidences for real discussion among them. These parties dream of immediately subduing the masses and then Spinola, if all goes well for them. But because all of the "democratic" parties still fear that another and more authoritarian Spinola might replace the current one, they want to disarm the masses.

For the moment, the masses are only armed with their hopes and, I hope, demands. Much depends on the quality of these demands. The current atmosphere seems to me to resemble, not so much May '68 or Budapest [in 1956], but the liberation of Paris in '44 or Northern Italy in '45. The end of fascism and the Gestapo, the hunt for collaborators, etc. But the reaffirmation of a "democratic" State, supported by the Stalinists, has sufficed to very quickly dissolve all of the revolutionary aspects, although, in the circumstances that I have evoked, there also exist a large number of armed partisans, who on their own fight a series of victorious insurrections (but also being aided by the presence of regular troops, national or allied, who weigh on the side of the old order). So far, Portugal has known a "Liberation," not a revolution. Nevertheless, if the festival does not absolutely suffice to characterize a revolution, it nevertheless presents many possibilities due to the sole fact that it exists.

The most interesting point up to now is obviously the fraternization of the soldiers and, especially, the sailors, with the people. This can lead to the formation of councils of soldiers and sailors of the workers themselves form them in the factories and want to seize the economy (by disinteresting themselves in parliamentary elections, relative to direct workers' democracy). In that case, the workers movement would be combated by the officers, the petite bourgeoisie, and the Socialist and Stalinist parties, but could be supported by the workers.

At this moment, capitalism makes use of two principal forces: on the one hand, the bureaucracy of the parties and unions in rapid formation; on the other hand, the army, the base of which can find itself in rapid dissolution if the process begun on 1 May[6] continues. There could be a speed-race between the two movements, the second only having meaning through an autonomous affirmation of the proletariat. The game played by Portuguese capitalism is a bad one, like the general conditions of the world in which it has been produced. The retardation of Portugal brings it to the moment Europe was at in 1944-45. But the world born back then has justly collapsed between 1968 and today. The modernization that Portugal seeks is already an archaism elsewhere. The Common Market, the dream of the entire Iberian technocracy, is on its way to dissolution due to the effects of the energy crisis and the economy (Italy actually withdrew from the Common Market this past week). Gaullism, dead in '68, was buried this past Sunday[7] (it had begun to stink). Capitalist democracy, at the moment that Portugal belatedly wants to rejoin it, is in a state of advanced socio-economic crisis in England, France and Italy. The forms of government in these countries no longer function, while revolutionary contestation is affirmed in the factories and all sectors of society.

Thus, if a truly radical current can constitute itself at this moment in Portugal, it must understand and say all of this. What one offers us here has already failed elsewhere. Better than any other country, Portugal knows the secret of the State. It saw forty-eight years of it in its pure state. Thus it is necessary to surpass the State, by workers' democracy in arms (to surpass the electoral and unionist bureaucratic stage that joyously presents itself [today]; and that else only presents itself as lost). The principal objective of Portuguese revolutionaries must thus be: make the current situation a real revolution for our time. Denouncing the global spectacle and the "revolutionary spectacle" of the overdue birth of bourgeois democracy, they must expound the minimum programme of such a revolution. This minimum programme is easily found: it is all that has been made, said and written, moreover, advanced in the world over the course of the last ten years. But especially: the exposition of a revolutionary perspective must still consist of describing and explaining what takes place day after day, and is never satisfied with the ridiculous, abstract proclamation of general goals.

Of course, it is necessary to denounce the Maoists: their counter-revolutionary illusions concerning China and, in the particular case of Portugal, their bureaucratic forms of organization. As for the themes of permanent agitation, I believe that the primary ones must be: the immediate withdrawal of troops from Africa; the daily denunciation of all collusion of the Leftist parties with Spinola, the Church and the bankers; the autonomy of workers' assemblies and their armament (against worrisome subjects, who will not fail to appear quickly: generals, the reconstitution of a political police force, etc.). I do not at all know to what extent the poor peasantry is ready to organize itself in collectivities, but it seems to me that if the working class gives to the peasantry the goal of expropriating the landowners, it must summon the millions of sub-proletarian Portuguese people in Europe to return, by assuring them that, the market system have been abolished, there would be enough for all to live frugally, instead of dying in the search for crumbs in rich Europe. The "utopian" violence will terribly distinguish itself from the projects of capitalist expansion -- and the much worse "sacrifices" that they demand -- that the Stalinists and all the others will forcefully defend. And, in addition, see the real state of the European economy that can no longer pursue its growth, its apparent primitivism taking the most modern route.

Write me concerning what you encounter upon your arrival. I suppose that Ribeiro de Mello[8] (through enthusiasm or threats) can help you publish what will be useful. Also tell me to what degree the arrival of a few foreigners might be helpful. You can receive with tranquility someone who would come "from Glaucos" (you know that Gondi and Decayeux[9] are now ell known in several countries, and even among cultivated Portuguese).

Best wishes. Assure L[eonor] that I still love her.

P.S. From what you have told me, several Portuguese have had the surprise of discovering what wretched [Raoul] Vaneigem is capable of saying and doing in concrete situations -- at least if he does not prefer to quickly re-board his train to return to his office!

[1] General Antonio de Spinola, whom the insurgent soldiers placed at the head of a junta of national salvation on 26 April [1974].

[2] Alexis Kerensky, Minister of Justice, Minister of War and then head of executive power after the Russian Revolution of February 1917; overthrown by the Bolsheviks in October.

[3] Generalissimo Kornilov, removed from office by Kerensky after his failed coup in August 1917, fought against the Bolsheviks at the head of a troop of Cossacks.

[4] Alvaro Cunhal, who had lived in Moscow since 1960, returned to Portugal on 30 April 1974 to assume the direction of the Portuguese Communist Party, which was legalized.

[5] Translator's note: the armed rebellion of Portugal's many colonies, many of them in Africa, sometimes called the "Overseas War," began in 1961 and ended in 1974.

[6] Marked by an immense popular festival, after the dissolution of the secret police, the abolition of censorship and the reestablishment of the rights to unionize and strike.

[7] Translator's note: see letter to Jacques Le Glou dated 6 May 1974.

[8] Publisher in Portugal of The Society of the Spectacle. [Translator's note: the publishing house was called Editions Afrodite of Lisbon; the translator was Afonso Monteiro.]

[9] Glaucos, Gondi and Decayeux were all signatures used by Guy Debord in his correspondence. [Translator's note: In his letter to Eduardo Rothe dated 8 May 1974, Debord explained that "Glaucos is a head-strong foreigner come to fight with the defenders of Troy; in song VIth of the Iliad, he says beautiful things with respect to life." A footnote by Alice Debord cites this particular passage: "Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men. / Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth, / now the living timber bursts with new buds / and spring comes round again. And so with men: / as one generation comes to life, another dies away."

(Published in Guy Debord Correspondance, Vol 5: Janvier 1973-Decembre 1978 by Librairie Artheme Fayard, 2005. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! March 2007. Footnotes by Alice Debord, except where noted.)

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