Socialist Worker’s recent article on the Portuguese revolution (Everything was possible, 25 June) brilliantly captures the spirit of those months in 1974-5.
It was indeed a wonderful experience to be in Lisbon and the other great centres of the revolution.
What started as a coup by officers disillusioned by the prospect of defeat in Africa spread very quickly to involve everyone, most notably the workers and peasants who had suffered so much under Europe’s most enduring fascist regime.
The strengths of the revolution were its broad support and the readiness of workers and peasants to take independent action to defeat their enemies.
The fact that the military hierarchy was challenged from below, and in some units entirely overthrown, was also an enormous bonus.
It meant that the ruling class could not drown the popular movement in blood.
The experience of Chile in 1973 was clear in the minds of everyone. There, the military had overthrown the elected leftist government and murdered thousands of its supporters.
The Portuguese revolution was eventually halted in its tracks. The actions of elite military units in disarming the most radical soldiers was an important turning point, but there was no bloodbath along Chilean lines. The defeat in Portugal was primarily political, not military.
For all the energy and enthusiasm released by the revolution, it lacked a clear sense of direction.
The most radical workers and peasants, and many of the young conscripts, wanted to use their strength to overthrow the old order. But many of their leaders had more modest aims.
Without any organisation that could link them to the masses, even the most radical officers were picked off by the right and the movement was eventually demobilised and demoralised.
The parallels with today are obvious, most strikingly in Venezuela. Left wing officers like president Hugo Chavez are sincere about their desire to improve the lives of the poor, and they recognise this means a confrontation with the rich.
The dilemma that they face, however, is that the military organisations are linked to the established order and part of the officer corps will always resist social change.
Without an independent movement, free of any links with the old order, even the most enthusiastic movement will be outmanoeuvred and worn down.
Colin Sparks, North London
Perils of the NUJ’s partnership deal
Journalist John Pilger has recently criticised the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), to which he and I both belong. This is because the union is about to announce a partnership with the New Labour government on “international development”.
Pilger asks, “Why is the union getting into bed with a government whose manipulations it should be exposing, not collaborating with?”
The NUJ deputy general secretary John Fray says that joining hands with the government is about “enhancing the understanding of the need for a positive approach to international development amongst those who report and comment on the issue”.
The government is paying the NUJ £80,000. The NUJ doesn’t have a political fund and therefore doesn’t have the sort of relationship with the party in power that many other unions do.
Why do a deal with New Labour, especially on an issue such as international development, at a time when people are marching on Gleneagles to oppose the G8 leaders?
New Labour’s attacks on the BBC over the Iraq WMD dossier show why journalists must do everything in their power to maintain their independence.
Many of us may conclude, as John Pilger does, that that means keeping our distance from government coffers at all costs.
Julia Armstrong, NUJ member, Sheffield
In defence of Frida
I disagree fundamentally with Cathy Smith and Nick Grant’s attacks on Frida Kahlo’s art (Letters, 25 June).
The fact that Kahlo and Diego Rivera became Stalinists after Trotsky’s death is deplorable but does not negate the value of her (or his) art, anymore than the fact that she had an affair with Trotsky affirms it.
On this basis one could dismiss Pablo Picasso, who became a Stalinist and painted a portrait of Stalin.
The appearance in a larger work of the image of Hitler is taken out of context and misrepresented. Nor is it true that Kahlo contributed little to the history of painting.
For centuries our images of women’s bodies were overwhelmingly from the standpoint of how they appeared to men.
Kahlo, especially in Broken Column, was one of the first to paint how it felt to be inside a woman’s body. This has been hugely influential.
It is also a mistake to condemn artists for being self absorbed and insufficiently hopeful.
Sometimes artists have to confront despair and agony with little hope.
Insofar as they do this with honesty and power, this in itself is a form of transcendance, resistance and affirmation.
Yes, Kahlo’s work is dark and troubling — but it is also filled with a spirit of dignified defiance.
John Molyneux, Portsmouth
Frida Kahlo poured out her pain onto canvas to ease herself. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were human beings. This means that they were very complex and far from perfect.
They were not two dimensional cartoons. If the critics can’t handle that, fine. But they shouldn’t act as though they were dragged kicking and screaming into the Tate.
I enjoy Frida Kahlo and her work. Please don’t spoil it for the rest of us.
Anna Ayres, Minnesota, US
How football can unite people against racism
The third annual Kick Racism Out Of Football tournament on Sunday 19 June was a great success.
Some 150 children competed in the primary school event and received a goody bag containing a trophy, a Kick Racism Out Of Football pin badge, plus stickers and posters from many Premiership clubs.
Approximately 150 parents and school staff were there to support the event. This was active support, as they thankfully refereed each of the 43 matches!
Paul Oppenheimer, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, brought the event to a close.
He reminded us that discrimination in any form is something that we may all have to fight, and that we should take courage from events such as these, since they show that many people are united against racism.
The GMB and Nasuwt unions attended the event, which was also supported by the NUT and CWU unions.
The GMB also brought a trailer. This became the focus for many, as it was the organisational hub of the event.
The competition was mainly funded by the University of Central England, which sponsored three kits to be worn by teams carrying its logo as well as the Kick Racism Out Of Football logo.
Aston Villa, Birmingham City and Arsenal football clubs sponsored other prizes.
Doug Morgan, Birmingham
Don’t fall for the lies about Mao
I am not a Maoist but the idea that Mao “killed” 70 million people is ridiculous (The myth of Mao, Socialist Worker, 18 June).
According to figures released by the Chinese government after Mao’s death, excess deaths during the Great Leap Forward were about 15 million.
Liu Shaoqi, an opponent of Mao in the Chinese government, said the Great Leap Forward resulted in 70 percent of these deaths, while natural disasters accounted for 30 percent.
This has to be set against the massive decreases in death rates achieved in other years by Mao. Does anyone say that the Indian government was worse than Hitler because of all the excess deaths it created by not copying Mao’s policies from 1949-57?
The Great Leap Forward was an attempt to raise living standards and industrialise. According to Mao’s opponents, people died of malnutrition due to policy errors.
It would be obscene to compare Mao’s actions to the deliberate rounding up of men, women and children and their murder in death camps.
By accepting bourgeois lies about communism those on the left are just discrediting socialism for everyone — libertarians and Trotskyists.
Jacob Secker, East London
Planet needs socialism
I read Brian Collier’s letter (Socialist Worker, 28 May) on updating the SWP’s principles on the environment. I have been a lecturer in environmental work, and a researcher for over 40 years.
I, and many others, am devoted to many issues around the world’s environment. Brian says, “No planet, no socialism.”
True, but we have a greedy, exploitive, murderous, capitalist system — no socialism, no planet.
Saving the environment is implied in the struggle for socialism, as shown in the writings of Marx, Engels or Luxemburg.
I believe this is an important discussion which should continue inside the SWP.
Donald Casson, Lancashire
We are paying the piper
I heartily agree about the obscenity of demanding yet more money from Third World countries.
I will be there for the grotesque G8 meeting to tell those self righteous tossers to cancel all debts.
Because of the distant nature of the World Bank, the IMF and other such ghastly capitalist strangling clubs, no one gives a thought as to where these organisations get their money from.
It is taxpayers in all of the member countries that provide their funds. Britain provides 5 percent of the total quota of capital.
I believe this should be made clear, since it also carries with it our implicit right to say whether we want the money back or not.
Gionn Morpheagh, Nottingham
Hope action lights fuse
The action at Bristol Rolls Royce where workers occupied against the suspensions of two colleagues and won, reported by Jerry Hicks (Socialist Worker, 18 June), shows what can happen when workers’ anger is directed.
Workers have the power to win. Hopefully others will see what happens when they take action rather than go through the rigmarole of official channels.
Let’s hope that these sparks will ignite the anger of workers.
Dave Tate, Bristol
Sudan war to control Egypt
I was advised when I suggested that the conflict in Darfur in Sudan was mainly religious that this was not so.
An Egyptian correspondent of mine says, “We regard Sudan as an extension of Egypt.”
In particular Sudan is seen as the source of Egypt’s water supply.
Can there be any reason for war in Sudan other than a desire to control the policies of the slumbering giant Egypt?
The people of Sudan depend on Oxfam water wells.
Most Sudanese have insufficient water for their daily needs. Sudan has a handsome supply of gold and oil.
The southern Sudanese are ethnic African people with a number of different languages, while those who are said to be perpetrating the genocide on them are the Arab Sudanese, the wealthy ones with the weapons.
I was wrong — it is not an extension of the Christian-Islamic conflict worldwide.
Gareth Howell, Dorset
Sartre’s fight for liberation
I was pleasantly surprised to read Rebecca Pitt’s generally sympathetic piece on Jean-Paul Sartre (Philosophy of freedom, Socialist Worker, 11 June).
As Pitt made clear, Sartre lived his beliefs. While Edith Piaf was singing to the Nazi troops in Paris and Pablo Picasso was enjoying cafe society with them, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were active in the resistance to them.
Whatever our differences, we have to recognise the value of Sartre’s contribution to the struggle for liberation.
Paul Harris, New Zealand