The Hague Congress

The International Workingmen's Association, 1872

Report of the Portuguese Federal Council
The Portuguese Workers to the Delegates of the World Congress at The Hague

Written: in French;
Translated: by Richard Dixon & Alex Miller, for Progress Publishers, 1976.
Transcribed: by

The workers of Portugal greet their comrades in work and poverty; we pray you to receive those who love you; we have the same aspirations as you, we bear the same labours, we are bowed down under the same yoke, we are with you.

Allow us, overcoming our anxiety at the thought of the great work you are going to undertake and at the memories of the sacrifices you have made for the cause of oppressed Humanity and for the triumph of justice, to set forth to you what we believe must interest you.

* * *

This region numbers nearly 4 million inhabitants, and its area is about 9 million hectares. The economists divide it into four agricultural regions: Northern, Central, Southern and mountainous. The cultivated part extends to 2 million hectares; 1,400,000 are devoted to the cultivation of cereals and 600,000 to other crops.

The Northern region has an area of 1,892,836 hectares and has 1,850,197 inhabitants; it consists more of mountains than of plains. Millet and wheat are the most common crops. Small properties and small farming dominate in this region, with the small metayage system. Practically all tile landed property is mortgaged; the real proprietors are the usurers; they lay their hands on almost all the profits from the labour of the peasants, who are very hard-working and frugal. Some time ago stockbreeding was introduced into the country.

The Central region measures 4,770,394 hectares in area and numbers 836,466 inhabitants. It consists of plains more than of mountains. Rice growing dominates here. The land is very fertile. Big estates and farming exist here but the land is cultivated without intelligence or care.

The Southern region measures 2,979,574 hectares in area and numbers 528,000 inhabitants. It is not considerably mountainous. The main crops are fruit-bearing plants (fig-trees, almond-trees), etc. Big estates with big and small farming.

The mountainous region measures 2,314,206 hectares in area and has 769,000 inhabitants. Small property, small farming. Cultivation of cereals and stockbreeding for wool.

At harvest time there is immigration of Spanish labourers in the Northern region. They leave when the harvest is over. In the south there is periodical immigration of peasants from all parts of the country. At certain times there are agglomerations of 30,000 peasants in this region.

We cannot give you exact statistics on property, but basing our calculations on works relative to the tax on landed property we obtain the following table:

In the Northern region there is 1 landowner per 8 hectares.
In the Central region there is 1 landowner per 28 hectares.
In the Southern region there is 1 landowner per 102 hectares.
In the mountainous region there is 1 landowner per 20 hectares.

Proportionally to the total area there is one landowner per 24 hectares.

Proportionally to the area 1 landowner cultivates 4.7 hectares.

Proportionally to the population 9 landowners cultivate 400 hectares.

The rural population is divided as follows:

Servants, shepherds, farm-hands, etc.105,000

On the average the last-named provide by their agricultural labour for a family of 4 persons.

The general condition of the rural population is very miserable, especially that of the class of day-labourers. Their food consists almost exclusively of millet bread, vegetables, cod-fish and salted sardines. Their dwellings are unhealthy, the richer and better cultivated districts being no exception. It is calculated that in Portugal there are about 40,000 beggars. The children abandoned and left exposed on the roads are counted by the thousands. The number of prostitutes is very considerable. At the end of the year 1874 there were 1,359 prostitutes registered with the police in Lisbon out of a population of less than 200,000, and how many are not registered.

Under the specious pretext of remedying social poverty, there are numerous religious institutions (orders of nuns and friars): some of them, which are very rich, maintain hospitals and charitable institutions. This generosity is used to develop religious feeling. The exploitation of this feeling has the most harmful effects on public morality and on productive "work, which is replaced by fanaticism and prejudice.

The capital of Portugal has no industrial or agricultural activity. Big properties are the worst cultivated of all. The chief object of exploitation is the working class, which is the source of the biggest profits for the landowners. There are agricultural companies which have properties worth more than two million francs and the workers there are among the most miserable.

Big agricultural property consists especially of vineyards, the produce of which is exported to a value of about 44 million francs. There is pig, beef and sheep rearing, the lands are arable, and in the woods there are olive-trees, almond-trees and fig-trees. Small property does not produce for export.

* * *

You can obtain a better idea of our industry from the table of imports and exports.

Year 1866.
Animal products9,000,000 frsExports.
Fish8,000,000 frsHides and animal products7,000,000 frs
Wool and hides41,000,000 frsFruit (figs, almonds), etc.14,000,000 frs
Cotton31,000,000 frsMetals14,000,000 frs
Cereals12,000,000 frsMinerals75,000,000 frs
Minted gold11,000,000 frsWines44,000,000 frs
Various metals8,500,000 frsTotal86,500,000 frs
Total91,000,000 frs  

The coastal population is very numerous, especially that part of it which lives on the fishing industry, but very poor, as you can judge by the value of the fish imported. The coastal property system is very onerous for the workers, who more-over suffer severely from taxation, which is pitiless. Along our coasts there are populations engaged entirely in fishing. In some places the ownership of the fishing gear is perfectly collectivised, since the usufruct belongs to the commune and the product is divided equally among the workers. Almost all the coastal population practises a sort of cooperative organisation which gives good results and can easily be modified.

* * *

The manufacturing industry demonstrates the incapacity of capital and the ignorance and stupidity of the owner. In these branches of industry, as in the others, the exploitation weighs particularly on the workers. Portuguese industrialist does not and cannot exploit the material itself, he is the perfect type of parasite. The exploitation which the ruling class engages in today is the same as that which it has always practised. You know what it did in Africa and America as the conquering class. Today the source of the big families' fortunes is still the slave trade.

The only industry in which they are past masters is the cuttivation of the Negro. Many Portuguese traders have estates (roças) in Brazil with hundreds of slaves. All the customs of industry still bear the mark of the slave traders' habits.

The manufacturing industry is quite primitive. All the primary materials with the exception of flax and wool are imported. In order to have a market and make big profits the manufacturers rob the worker by paying him far less than the value of his work. In a district of the mountainous region where about 10,000 persons (men, women and children) work up the wool, they earn only 35-45 centimes a day. Only a few hundred of them have a wage of 1 fr. 50. The highest wage is 2 frs. 50.

With the exception of this manufacturing district, industry is concentrated in two cities: Lisbon and Porto. The most considerable industries are building, food and the iron industries. These two cities also have important mills for spinning and weaving cotton and big tobacco factories. Almost everywhere the working day varies from twelve to sixteen hours; wages are beggarly in all branches of industry except the iron industry, where they are slightly higher.

* * *

These general figures permit you to form an idea of the country's economic condition. The political condition is the image of the economic. Although the property qualification for franchise is very low (555 frs.), political life does not exist for the working class. The landowners and manufacturers encounter no obstacles to their domination. The small proprietors are passive tools in the hands of the usurers, the farmers in the hands of the landowners, the agricultural day-labourers in the hands of the farmers and landowners, and the urban proletarians in the hands of the manufacturers and persons of influence.

In politics the working class is but a herd, and though it has a profound aversion for anything concerning politics it lets itself be carried away by the first charlatan who indoctrinates it. The personal influence of the first comer who has a social position, however low, is felt at every moment. The first work to be done would be to separate the working class from all the political parties and to destroy its prejudices concerning the bourgeois politicians and the profits to be obtained by helping them to rise to political power.

Public education is practically inexistent; technical knowledge is a forbidden fruit for the working class. There are two industrial schools, one in Lisbon and the other in Porto, established by the government, which, however, expressly prohibits attendance of the courses. The rules of the Naval Arsenal contain the following prescription:

"Article 221. It is not allowed to grant apprentices permission to attend public classes in the Arsenal's working hours."

Charlatanism is the essential condition of our political, moral and industrial existence. Over and above economic exploitation we have political and religious exploitation. From our allegedly liberal political constitution the working class draws no profit, we have not even freedom of assembly. We have two sorts of socialist school, one called popular, which preaches the socialism of the bourgeois economists and wanted to inspire us with admiration for the working-class institutions created by the philanthropists in other countries. The working class sets no store by this school. The other is that of the political socialists, who want to achieve an economic revolution by means of parliamentary evolution. This school has no influence among the working masses. So that the working class has no serious conviction and no interest created by the ruling class. It hardly has an outlook, and what it has changes from day to day.

In the month of October 1871 there was formed in Lisbon a small group of Internationalists, as they were disparagingly called, composed almost exclusively of working people, and it kept on growing until January this year. In January this group decided to found a resistance society, as one of the best means of developing solidarity and fraternity among the workers. In February, the Association which we created numbered scarcely 400 members, in March 700, in April 1,000, in May 1,200, in June 1,800, in July 2,200 and at present close on 3,000 members. Other societies have been established after the model of this one in the Lisbon neighbourhood and all along the Tagus.

These associations have a total membership of over 4,000 and are all dominated by the spirit of the International.

We have a newspaper, 0 Pensatnento Social, which spreads the teachings of the International. It was established by a dozen persons and has recently been recognised as the organ of the resistance societies.

* * *

Brothers, you are going to deal with very important and very complex questions. One of them, the organisation of the working class, is perhaps of the most imperative necessity at the present time and the only condition for success.

We consider it our duty to express our opinion on this question and to tell you how we conceive organisation:

For the basis of our organisation we need the local trades section represented by a committee composed of delegates of the sections. From this individual federation we arrive at the regional federation, and from this at the international federation, represented respectively by a regional council and an international council. These councils and these committees all have a similar organisation and distinct functions: technical, statistic, correspondence and administrative.

Out of simple bodies we form composite bodies, uniting correlated trades locally, regionally and internationally, represented like the sections and similarly organised. Out of the trade unions we form the federation of local, regional and international trade unions similarly represented. This is the natural constitution for us, since it depends on the relations of labour and is the consequence of the economic organisation.

Side by side with this organisation of labour, but derived from it, subordinate to it and depending on it, we conceive a social constitution, derived from relations other than those of labour and the economic facts, such as public administration and social institutions. By the election of a small number of members, every trade section takes part in this social institution, which is composed of the local, regional and international federal councils. All these councils today carry out temporary functions, those of organisation, propaganda and economic resistance.

We therefore deem that the existence of the General Council, which has been discussed so much, is indispensable, and if there were no General Council it would have to be created, according to the new conception of society which we have....

Comrade delegates, the world proletariat have their eyes fixed on you; you are going to tighten the bonds which unite us and to perfect our international organisation....

The Portuguese workers could not remain indifferent to the feelings and strivings of the contemporary proletariat:

if they have not all joined you it is because not all of them know you yet, but soon they will learn to know you and will march at your side, for we all wish to be men, to vindicate our rights and fulfil our duties.

The Portuguese sections of the International send their fraternal greetings to their brothers assembled in Congress at The Hague.

By the order and in the name of
the Federal Council of Lisbon
The Secretary,
J. C. Nobre-França
August 15, 1872