1974: Revolution In Portugal

A HALF-CENTURY of fascist rule was swept aside in a day.
It started at 12.25 am on Thursday 25 April 1974 when the rebel song, Grandola
Vila Morena, played on the radio.
By early evening the end of dictatorship was
announced. The Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA), radical mid-ranking
officers, had executed the plan devised by Captain Otelo de Carvalho.
secured Lisbon and the second city, Porto. Key installations were taken,
ministers arrested.
MANNY THAIN explains the revolutionary events which

THE NEWS of the regime’s downfall spread like wildfire.
People flooded the streets. MFA vehicles were mobbed by adoring crowds.
Thousands of school students marched, shouting "Down with fascism". Red
carnations, the symbol of the revolution, blossomed in rifle barrels and
festooned the streets in this festival of freedom.

The ex-dictator, Marcello Caetano, cowered in National
Guard barracks. He was the successor to the fascist regime consolidated in the
early 1930s by Antonio Salazar. Paramilitary groups terrorised left-wing and
industrial militants. Independent trade unions and the right to strike were
illegal. The secret police had a massive network of agents and informers.
Torture was systemic.

Even under these conditions, workers resisted. Illegal
trade unions operated. The Partido Comunista Portugues (PCP) maintained a
clandestine organisation. Student protest flared up.

Colonial revolution

But it was the armed African liberation struggles –
especially Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique – begun in the early 1960s,
which drove the final nails into the coffin of the fascist regime. Many
mid-ranked officers had been influenced by the Marxism they read in
counter-insurgency training. Radicalisation continued in Africa with the
brutal repression meted out to the people fighting for their freedom. A policy
of fast-tracking new officers fuelled the anger.

For Caetano’s regime, the colonies meant the difference
between Portugal being regarded as an insignificant nation or an international
power. But Portugal was also the poorest country in Western Europe, its
economy underdeveloped, centred around the export of sardines, textiles, cork
and wood. The wars consumed over 40% of the budget.

The MFA set up a ‘junta of national salvation’ to rule
until a provisional government was formed. Elections were promised within a
year. It announced freedom of association and expression, and an amnesty for
political prisoners.

Spínola and the MFA

General Antonio de Spínola was made acting president. The
son of a friend of Salazar, Spínola  had impeccable fascist credentials. He
had, however, called for the easing of direct colonial rule, which gave him a
certain amount of support.

The MFA reflected a wide range of political views. The
lefts, including Carvalho and Vasco Gonçalves, were strongly influenced by the
‘socialism’ (Stalinism) of Eastern Europe, Cuba or Algeria. Others, such as
Melo Antunes, were linked with the social democrats around Mario Soares.

Having suffered at the hands of bosses and landowners
linked to the regime, workers drove them out of the factories and off the
land. The editor of the daily, Diario de Not’cias, was forced out on 7 June
after print workers seized the presses, publishing a front-page article
exposing his fascist connections. Homeless people occupied empty properties.
Shipyard and underground workers went on strike for a 50% pay rise. Car
workers won a 40-hour week. Bakery and textile workers struck. Train and tram
conductors refused to collect fares.

Spínola’s coalition included politicians with ties to the
old regime – for example, the new, conservative Partido Popular Democratico (PPD)
– alongside the PCP, Partido Socialista (PS) and the MDP/CDE (linked with the
PCP). Mario Soares, PS leader – a well-known lawyer funded by social
democratic parties (and the CIA) – returned from exile on 28 April. Alvaro
Cunhal, PCP leader, got back on 30 April after 14 years in exile in Eastern
Europe. Almost immediately, they were sharing power.

Spínola aimed to use the PS and the PCP to turn back the
revolutionary tide. Both parties saw explosive growth. PS membership rose from
200 in April 1974 to 60,000 in early 1975, its support mainly from
white-collar workers and professionals. The PCP strongholds were among
agricultural workers in the south, and in the industrial centres.

Horrified and impotent, the imperialist powers looked on
as the PCP joined the government of a Nato country. They feared the effects of
a ‘communist’ state in Western Europe, especially on Franco’s dying
dictatorship in Spain.

There was little base for reaction, the US superpower had
just emerged humiliated from Vietnam, and the worldwide economic recession
limited the scope for action.

The workers’ parties

Unfortunately, influential leaders like Cunhal based
themselves on the methods of the Soviet Union’s ruling bureaucracy, not on
independent mass action by the workers towards socialism. The working class
was mobilised as and when its support was required, while PCP leaders relied
on their influence with the MFA left, exerted in meetings behind closed doors.

The radical measures taken by the MFA were in response to
the mass movement from below rather than as part of a conscious socialist
programme. A minimum wage of £55 a month affected 65% of the workers. Controls
on prices and rents were introduced, taxes imposed on under-utilised farmland
on the big estates. A thousand leading company directors were dismissed.

Thirty thousand postal workers struck from 17-21 June.
Rail, electricity, shipping, and major industries saw strikes. Frantically
trying to control the movement, the PCP tried to hold back the workers.

Its newspaper, Avante, criticised bosses for conceding
wage increases which were "too high"! And the PCP helped introduce a trade
union law which both legalised and attempted to restrict industrial action.
Workers had the right to picket but not to occupy or organise solidarity

The PS cynically condemned the restrictions – part of a
strategy to win over the working class, away from the PCP and far-left. Soares
frequently called for the ‘socialist transformation of society’. Once the
revolutionary heat had cooled, however, he planned to direct the movement down
a safe, reformist, capitalist road.

Attempted coup

Spínola called a ‘silent majority’ demonstration for 28
September. He was testing the balance of power. Rumours circulated of a
right-wing coup. But armed workers set up roadblocks to stop reactionaries
moving on Lisbon. And as the silent majority evaporated, a dejected Spínola
called it off. Right-wing officers and civilians were arrested.

Political confrontations were becoming increasingly
violent. The first national congress of the right-wing Centro Democratico
Social (CDS – based around members of the former regime), in Porto on 25
January, was besieged by left-wing protesters and cancelled. Soldiers sided
with the demo.

On 7 March, a PPD meeting in the industrial city of
Setubal was broken up. Two protesters were shot dead in clashes with the

Spínola made one more pathetic bid for power, on 11 March
1975. But the paratroopers he mobilised mutinied. The fact that six members of
the Espirito Santo banking family were implicated in the coup fiasco fuelled
further outrage.

The colossal economic and political power wielded by the
banks meant that they were particularly hated by workers and much of the
middle class.

The bank workers’ investigation revealed that the Espirito
Santo family had siphoned off money allocated to provide jobs for demobbed
troops, to safeguard the family’s wealth in the event of nationalisation. It
was funding right-wing parties. Workers occupied the banks, preventing the
bosses from removing documents or transferring funds. On 14 March, Portuguese
banks were nationalised!

On 11 July, the PS withdrew from the government in protest
over the takeover of the pro-PS Repœblica newspaper by Communist print
workers. Soares accused the armed forces of attempting to impose a
‘communist-style police state’. On 17 July, the PPD also withdrew, and the
fourth coalition government in 15 months collapsed.

Matters were coming to a head. A triumvirate of President
Francisco de Costa Gomes, Prime Minister Gonçalves, and Carvalho gave the
impression that the PCP/MFA-left had been strengthened in the corridors of
power. But right-wing parties were growing in confidence, with attacks on PCP
and MDP-CDE offices and members intensifying, particularly in the north.

Counter-revolution in ‘democratic’ clothes

The MFA pro-Soares wing around Antunes was emboldened. On
29 August, Gonçalves was removed and a group supported by the PS and PPD
emerged to lead the MFA.

MFA troops refused to intervene when 30,000 construction
workers surrounded the assembly on 13 November demanding higher wages and the
nationalisation of building sites. Carvalho was dismissed and PCP members were
kicked out of the ministries.

Right-wing groups mobilised farmers – mainly poor
smallholders from the north – setting up barricades on 24 November to try to
isolate ‘Red Lisbon’. Next day, troops under right-wing Lieutenant Colonel
Antonio Eanes occupied military bases. A state of emergency was called.

‘Order’ was restored. However, it would take years of
militant defensive struggles before the bosses could take back what they had
been forced to concede: far-reaching reforms on land, health, education,
housing, social services, wages and conditions, and the nationalisation of
three-quarters of the economy.


Without a revolutionary programme, the Portuguese working
class had ensured that 50 years of brutal dictatorship ended – another
magnificent achievement. The scale of the movement, however, meant that it
could have achieved much more.

A socialist revolution was on the agenda. A clear
socialist direction – which can only be provided by a revolutionary party
respected by the working class – was missing. Nonetheless, Portugal’s workers
set a high standard – maybe a world record – for revolutionary initiative,
energy and determination. They will have to call on these rich traditions in
many battles to come.

Free Elections

The elections on 25 April 1975 were the first based on universal suffrage in Portugal’s history. More than six million people were eligible to vote.

A massive 91.73% voted. The PS gained 37.9% (115 seats), PPD 26.4% (80), PCP 12.5% (30), CDS 7.7% (16), MDP-CDE 4% (5), UDP 0.8% (1 seat). In total, 58.5% had voted for left-wing parties (including those which did not win seats).

This showed the widespread support for socialist ideas in general. There was also a deep suspicion of Stalinism. The model provided by the former Soviet Union was unattractive to the working class, and the PS exploited this genuine fear for its own gain.

“Only A Revolutionary Leadership Is Missing”

Militant, the forerunner of the socialist, carried articles immediately after the 25 April coup. They were translated into Portuguese and circulated in the workers’ parties, particularly the Socialist Party and the Young Socialists.

The material explained the criticial role of the workers’ parties and their leaders in successfully transforming society along socialist lines. In particular, it compared this task confronting the PCP and PSP leaders with the successful revolution carried out in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917.

“The Socialist Party has had no tradition of struggle under the Salazar/Caetano regime. Nevertheless, it will undoubtedly grow into a mass workers’ movement under the present conditions, just as the Mensheviks [a reformist party] became a mass force in February 1917… The millions of politically naive, untutored masses pouring on to the political arena will not at first distinguish between the different working-class tendencies.

That makes it all the more vital that the Communist Party, with its prestige among industrial militants, should tirelessly and patiently explain the danger of leaving power in the hands of the capitalists.

“That is how the Bolsheviks won the overwhelming support of the Russian workers within a few hectic and stormy months and led the world’s first socialist revolution in conditions far less favourable than those existing today in Portugal.”

… “So far the role of the CP has been to limited to policing the workers in the interests of the junta. The CP has condemned the workers’ spontaneous action in occupying the factories, and now a planned steel strike has been called off after an appeal by the CP.”

… “If either the Socialist or the Communist Party were revolutionary parties, the workers could be in power today. But instead, we see all the authority of these parties prostituted at the service of the capitalist class.”