The Spring of Utopia



Considerations on the Carnation Revolution and its aftermath

 “The lesson of examples instructs much more than that of precepts” (Portuguese popular wisdom)

In 1972, General Antônio Spínola published the book Portugal and the future. Marcelo Caetano's government authorized the publication of the book. The assent was given by none other than General Costa Gomes.[I] The war in the colonies plunged Portugal into a chronic crisis.

A country of ten million inhabitants, sharply out of step with the European prosperity of the sixties, bleeding from the emigration of youth fleeing military service and poverty, could not continue to sustain an occupying army of tens of thousands of men indefinitely in a war African. What was not known, then, was that Spínola's book was only the tip of an iceberg and that, clandestinely, in the middle officers, the Armed Forces Movement, the MFA, was already being articulated. The weakness of the Marcelo Caetano government was so great that it would fall like a rotten fruit in hours. The nation was exhausted by war. Through the door opened by the anti-imperialist revolution in the colonies, the political and social revolution in the metropolis would enter.

Mandatory military service was an astonishing four years, of which at least two were spent overseas. More than ten thousand dead, not counting the wounded and maimed, on the scale of tens of thousands. It was from within this compulsory enlistment army that one of the decisive political subjects of the revolutionary process emerged, the MFA. Responding to the radicalization of the middle classes of the metropolis and, also, to the pressure of the working class in which a portion of this middle official had its class origin, tired of the war, and anxious for freedoms, they broke with the regime.

These social pressures also explain the political limits of the MFA itself, and help to understand why, after overthrowing Caetano, they handed over power to Spínola. Otelo himself, defender, starting on March 11, of the project of transforming the MFA into a national liberation movement, in the manner of military movements in peripheral countries, such as in Peru in the early XNUMXs, took stock with a frank disconcerting: “This ingrained feeling of subordination to the hierarchy, of the need for a boss who, above us, would guide us in the “good” path, would haunt us until the end”.[ii]

This confession remains one of the keys to the interpretation of what became known as the PREC (ongoing revolutionary process), that is, the twelve months in which Vasco Gonçalves was at the head of the II, III, IV and V provisional governments. Ironically, just as many captains were inclined to place excessive trust in the generals, a portion of the left gave the leadership of the process to the captains, or to the people's unity formula with the MFA, defended by the PCP.

It is said that, in revolutionary situations, human beings exceed or elevate themselves, surrendering to the best extent of themselves. Then comes the best and worst of them. Spínola, energetic and perceptive, was a pompous reactionary, with the poses of a Germanophile general, with his incredible 25th century monocle. Costa Gomes, subtle and cunning, was, like a chameleon, a man of opportunity. From the MFA emerged the leaders of Salgueiro Maia or Dinis de Almeida, brave and honorable, but without political education; of Otelo, the head of COPCON, a personality between a Chávez and a Captain Lamarca, that is, between the heroism of the organization of the uprising, and the absurdity of the subsequent relations with Libya and the April FP-XNUMX; of Vasco Lourenço, of popular social origin, like Otelo, daring and arrogant, but tortuous; of Melo Antunes, learned and sinuous, the key man of the group of nine, the sorcerer who ends up a prisoner of his manipulations; of Varela Gomes, the man of the military left, discreet and dignified; by Vasco Gonçalves, less tragic than Allende, but also less buffoon than Daniel Ortega. It was from the troops, too, that the “Bonaparte”, Ramalho Eanes, sinister, who buried the MFA.


the democratic revolution

The Portuguese economy, little internationalized, but already reasonably industrialized, was structured around the international division of labor into two “niches”, the two business pillars of the regime, colonial exploitation and export activity. Seven large groups controlled almost everything. They branched out into 300 companies that had 80% of banking services, 50% of insurance, 8 of the 10 largest industries, 5 of the 7 largest exporters. The monopolies commanded, but the growth dynamics was oscillating. The country remained comparatively stagnant, while the European economy experienced the post-war boom. In Portugal, there was no social relief. The overexploitation of manual labor continued, aggravated by the social consequences of the colonial war. Salazar's order was maintained after the dictator's death, with a relentless armed wing – the PIDE – 20.000 informants, more than two thousand agents.

There is, of course, no seismograph of revolutionary situations. Still on the morning of April 25th, upon hearing the announcement of the MFA military uprising on the radio, a crowd of thousands of people took to the streets and headed towards downtown Lisbon, surrounding the GNR (National Republican Guard) Headquarters in Largo do Carmo, where Marcelo Caetano had taken refuge, and was negotiating with Salgueiro Maia the terms of surrender, demanding the presence of Spínola. A few hundred pides – International State Defense Police – entrenched in the headquarters, fired on the popular mass. In Porto, thousands of people surrounded the police in the City Hall building, and they responded by shooting at the population. And that was just the strength of the resistance. They left four dead.

Every revolution has its picturesque. We will never know for sure the greater or lesser veracity of the small episodes. But if it's not true, it's true. In the early hours of the morning, when a column of military cars went down Avenida da Liberdade towards Terreiro do Paço, the florists in Parque Mayer asked them what was going on, and the soldiers replied that they came to overthrow the dictatorship. They, in their simplicity, so happy, offer them red carnations and so, without knowing it, they baptized the revolution with the name of a flower.

Let us remember that a revolution must not be confused with the triumph of a military uprising, even when it is an insurrection with popular support.. It is not uncommon for military coups or barracks rebellions to function, historically, as a sign of a much bigger storm approaching. Palace operations can “open a window” through which the wind of revolution that was contained will enter. In Portugal, the process of political revolution boiled over, as in Russia in 1917, because the army had been torn apart by war.

When, on May 1974, XNUMX, hundreds of thousands of people paraded for hours to the Alvalade stadium, carrying thousands of red flags to welcome those returning from exile, and to embrace those who had left prison, they were marching towards their dreams of a fairer society. They discovered, to their surprise, the social force of their mobilization. It is from this practical experience shared by millions that social revolutions are made.


the last revolution

The Portuguese revolution was the last social revolution in Western Europe at the end of the 25th century. Although interrupted, the dynamic of anti-capitalist social revolution was one of its key traits. The social content of the process that took place in the year and a half after the XNUMXth of April was determined in a complex context: the revolution had pending tasks – end of the colonial war, independence of the colonies, agrarian reform, work for all, raising wages, access to housing, the right to public education – which were not limited to the overthrow of the dictatorship.

The fall of the regime was the inaugural act of an incomparably deeper political stage of popular radicalization – a revolutionary situation – in which experiences of self-organization were being constructed. On the 1st. In May, a week after the fall of Caetano, a gigantic demonstration in Lisbon demonstrates that a mass eruption has already begun. The release of political prisoners, released in Caxias and Peniche, as well as in the infamous Tarrafal, in Cape Verde, is celebrated. Álvaro Cunhal and Mário Soares arrive from exile and, for the first time, give speeches. Soares makes a public demand to the MFA and Spínola, appointed president, defending that the PS and the PCP, in his words, the two most representative parties of the working class, should be the core of the government.

On the 28th of April, residents of Boavista barracks in Lisbon occupied empty houses in a social neighborhood – constructions made by the State – and refused to leave, even when surrounded by the police and troops, under the command of the MFA, carrying out the first occupation. On the 30th of April, the first university assembly in Lisbon brings together more than 10.000 students at Técnico, the faculty of engineering. On the 2nd of May, the return of all exiles is authorized. Army deserters and rebels are granted amnesty. On the 3rd of May, a wave of occupations of unoccupied houses on the outskirts of Lisbon became widespread, with a strong initiative by militants from various far-left organisations. The departure of a military unit to Africa is prevented.

On May 5, workers from TLP (telephone), Faro pension fund, Hospital do Porto, meet to demand the resignation of managers. In Évora, workers transform the Casas do Povo into agricultural unions. A wave of strikes begins, led by large workers' concentrations, such as at Lisnave and Siderúrgica Nacional, demanding the reinstatement of those dismissed since the beginning of the year, and wages. Workers from Diário de Notícias, the main newspaper, occupy the newspaper, and prevent the entry of administrators, who are later dismissed. Half a dozen examples that are just an illustration that even before completing a month of the end of the dictatorship, the revolution invaded all spheres of social life and occupied, in addition to the streets, companies, schools, universities, hospitals, workshops, unions , newspapers, radios, and even homes.

We can periodize the process in three junctures: (a) from April 1974 to March 11, 1975, a revolutionary situation similar to that of Russian February opens[iii]: a broad social front that unites small dissident fractions of the bourgeoisie, exasperated with the inertia of the dictatorship, with the vast majority of the urban middle classes, tired of the archaism and obtuseness of the regime, and the working masses, desperate for war and poverty. In those months, the broadest democratic freedoms were guaranteed, including in the workplace and the ceasefire in Africa, defeating two attempts at barracks and the project to consolidate a strong presidential regime. A strong feeling of unity prevails among the workers and most of the middle sectors, an overwhelming support for the MFA, a feeling in favor of the unity of the PS and the PCP and against Spínola. Society veers sharply to the left;

(b) between March 11 and July 1975, a revolutionary situation similar to the one that preceded the Russian October: those on top can no longer and those below no longer want to be governed as before. The flight from the country of a considerable part of the bourgeoisie, the nationalization of part of the big companies, the recognition of independence – except Angola – and the generalization of a process of mass self-organization in places of work, study and, above all, in the Armed Forces, but without the duality of power finding a way of centralization;

(c) finally, the revolutionary crisis, between July and November 1975, with the split of the MFA, the independence of Angola, the anti-capitalist radicalization with ruptures of mass sectors from the influence of the PS and the PCP, the formation of the SUV (auto -organization of soldiers and sailors) and armed demonstrations, that is, the anteroom either of a revolutionary displacement of the State, or a counter-revolutionary coup. One of these two outcomes became unavoidable.[iv]


the counterrevolution

The first coup attempt failed resoundingly on September 28th, in the form of a public call by Spínola to the “silent majority”, a rhetorical device of an appeal for the counter-offensive of the most reactionary gullies of a deep rural Portugal. On September 26, Spínola attended a bullfight in Campo Pequeno and was applauded by part of the public, but clashes occurred between left-wing and right-wing militants. Lisbon woke up covered in posters calling for the march. The following day, PCP activists and various organizations of the more radical left raised barricades to prevent the right-wing protesters from passing through, who were expected to come from outside. Soldiers spontaneously joined the barricades.

the headquarters of Bandarra, Liberal Party and Progress Party offices were raided – fascist propaganda found – and looted. On September 28, the barricades gained more participation, and cars were stopped and searched, arresting the occupants when they had weapons. Othello claimed to have been detained in the Palace of Belém by order of Spínola. There was no mass adherence to Spínola's call. One hundred and fifty conspirators were arrested during the day.

Forced to resign, but unharmed, Spínola handed over the presidency to General Costa Gomes. AThus, the Third Provisional Government took over, with Vasco Gonçalves remaining as Prime Minister. The energies of the project of “English” neocolonialism had not, however, been exhausted. They will try the “Kornilovian” putsch again on March 11th. Once again, the barricades brought many thousands to the streets. The second coup was the last and desperate attempt by the bourgeois fraction that opposed the immediate independence of the colonies and had the participation of the GNR (Republican National Guard). The RAL-1 (Light Artillery Regiment) in Lisbon was bombed and surrounded by paratrooper units, but the coup was defeated. An episode of negotiation takes place, publicly, in front of RTP television cameras (!!!) and summarizes all the turbulence of an improvised barracks with no significant social base.

Since April 25th, this was the third time that the military faced each other. The first was the crisis that opposed the Coordinator of the MFA and Spínola, in search of reinforcement of presidential authority, and led to the fall of Palma Carlos and the first provisional government. The second was on the 28th of September when Spínola ordered the occupation of radio stations. In the first two, no shots were fired. On March 11, Lisbon's main barracks were bombed and surrounded, and a soldier died. Nobody has any more illusions that big confrontations are on the horizon. The recent memory of the Pinochet coup in Chile exerts strong pressure on the left and on MFA officials. Dozens of arrests follow, articulated by COPCON: the operational commanders of the force that attacked the RAL-1, and several traditional bourgeois leaders: several Espírito Santo, one Champalimaud, and one Ribeiro da Cunha

Spínola and other compromised officers fled to Spain, where Franco received them, and later, many took refuge in Brazil. Subsequently, bank workers went on a political strike and took control of the financial system. The MFA creates the Council of the Revolution, and decrees the nationalization of the seven most important Portuguese banking groups. Many companies are occupied by workers. The bourgeoisie panics and starts to leave the country. Uninhabited mansions are occupied, and crèches will be installed in them.


The Drifting Revolution

The IV provisional government is installed on March 26. A Africa was lost. The bourgeoisie began to fear the worst in the metropolis as well. He hurriedly reoriented himself towards the European project. The reconstruction of state authority, starting with the Armed Forces, still remained a priority. The most complex, however, remained unresolved: he had to improvise a political representation, attract the majority of the middle classes, and defeat the workers.

No longer having Spinola as an ace in the hole - and weakened the PPD and CDS by the connection with Spínola - had no direct instruments - not to be part of the press and the weight on the high hierarchy of the FFAA - and it needed to resort to the pressure of the European bourgeoisie, and of the USA, on the social democracy and on the USSR, so that they included the PS and, above all, the PCP.

After March 11 came the second spring of utopias. Lisbon was the freest capital in the world. The great mass of urban people, both in Lisbon – including the large metropolitan belt that surrounds it – and in Porto as in most medium-sized cities in the center and south of the country, workers and youth, but also the new salaried middle classes in the trade and services demanded the independence of the colonies, the return of soldiers, freedom in companies, wages, work, land, education, health, social security. Historical experience put millions of people in motion, until then politically inactive. They learned almost instinctively, in the heat of the fight, that they were in the majority and could win. Another Portugal still existed, old, rural, backward, distrustful of the revolution, manipulated by the Church, and with a social base in the smallholdings of the north.

But they were a very small minority. In the cities, especially the industrialized ones, the people sympathized with the nationalizations. He agreed that without limitations on property rights – that is, expropriations of those who had supported the dictatorship – they could not win their claims. The stage of what was denounced by the ultra-right as “assembleism”, that is, the duality of powers, begins. Secular hierarchies of political and social authority that rested on cultural traditions of fear and respect collapsed. The masses invaded the social spaces of their lives and they were bold. They wanted to participate. They wanted to decide.

In waves of successive struggles, workers' commissions emerged in all large and medium-sized companies, such as CUF (Companhia União Fabril) – alone, 186 factories – the majority concentrated in Barreiro, an industrial city on the other side of the Tagus. Champalimaud, one of the most influential leaders of the bourgeoisie reacts by declaring “the workers are now too free”.[v]

Political muralism – Mexican-style panels, American-style graffiti, Chinese-style dazibaos, and simple graffiti – made the streets of Lisbon an aesthetic-cultural expression of this “diverse universe” of the revolution. There was everything, from the most solemn to the most irreverent. At the cemetery door the priceless “Down with the dead, the earth for those who work it”. In the great avenues, the dramatic, “Not a single soldier for the colonies”. In the region of new avenues, “The rich people pay the crisis”, signed by the UDP and, next to it, “The UDP pays the crisis”, signed “The rich people”. On the walls at the entrance to the Faculty of Letters, where Trotskyists were most influential, the skeptic: “The Indians were also red and fucked themselves”.

The Church did not escape the fury of the revolutionary process. In Lisbon, the churches were deserted by young people. Associated for decades with Salazarism – when Cardinal Cerejeira was the right hand man of the regime – it was demoralized in the south of the country, and disallowed in the face of broad social sectors. The occupations extended to the means of communication. On the 27th of May, Rádio Renascença workers occupied the studios and the transmission center. The designation of “Catholic Broadcaster” is abandoned. The station starts transmitting programming supporting workers' struggles.

The workers at Lisnave, then one of the biggest shipyards in the world, set an example by organizing pickets to occupy their union. In Amadora, Sorefame, one of the largest metallurgical industries in the country, goes on strike, as well as Toyota, Firestone, Renault, Carris (bus drivers), TAP and CP (railway workers), but also in the interior, such as among the textiles of Covilhã, or in the Panasqueira mines. The wave of self-organization – formation of workers' commissions in companies – that deepens the revolutionary dynamics of the situation, produces reactions: “The PCP unionists complain bitterly: 'The strikers make a clean slate of the traditional forms of struggle, they don't even try to negotiate and sometimes decide to stop even before writing the claim booklet. In many cases, workers do not limit themselves to demanding more money, they take direct action, try to take decision-making power and institute co-management without being prepared for it”. (Channels Rocha to Diário de Lisboa, on 24/6/74). [vi]

Even when the PCP was betting all of its immense authority to curb strikes, invasions of large estates in Alentejo were widespread, at the same time as occupations of uninhabited houses in Lisbon and Porto were spreading; Sanitations – the euphemism for expelling the fascists – carried out purges in most companies, starting with the public service, and student pressure on Universities imposed deliberative assemblies. The whole old order seemed to collapse: “The creation of the national minimum wage covers more than 50% of non-agricultural wage earners. It is the less qualified workers, the women, the most oppressed, who are at the vanguard of the conquest of purchasing power and social rights. The purchasing power of wage earners increased by 25,4% in 1974 and 75; wages which, in 1974, already accounted for 48% of the national income, rose to 56,9% in 1975. The structure of ownership changed: 117 companies were nationalized, 219 others had more than 50% State participation, 206 are intervened, covering 55.000 workers; 700 companies go into self-management, with 30.000 workers”.[vii]

Every revolution has its vocabulary. As the pendulum of politics has swung to the extreme left, speech from the right has swung to the center, and that of the center to the left. Political transvestism – the mismatch between words and deeds – makes the discourse of parties unrecognizable. But, in Portugal, the bourgeois forces surpassed the unimaginable. From the PPD of Sá Carneiro, today the PSD of Durão Barroso, to the PPM (Partido Popular Monárquico), all claimed some form of socialism, which explains the socializing language of the Constitution that even today causes astonishment.

The situation opened up by the fall of Spínola brought greater and more dangerous challenges. The bourgeoisie demanded order and, above all, respect for private property. In the face of pressure, the PS and the PCP, the political forces by far the majority, and the only ones with authority in the direction of the Provisional Governments – apart from the MFA – split and caused an irremediable split among the workers. A year after the 25th of April, the elections for the Constituent Assembly were a surprise. PS was the big winner with a spectacular 37,87%. The PCP disappointed with only 12,53%. An abyss was revealed between its power of social mobilization and electoral power.

Sá Carneiro's PPD (Popular Democratic Party), a liberal leader within the structures of the Salazarist regime, is in second place with 26,38%. The CDS (on the extreme right, led by Freitas do Amaral), the MDP (Portuguese Democratic Movement), a collateral of the PCP that came from the time of the elections under Caetano, and the UDP (Popular Democratic Union), Maoists of “Albanian” inspiration , also achieved parliamentary representation.


the defeated revolution

The presence of a communist party in European governments was taboo during the cold war years. It was a worldwide surprise when Cunhal was presented as a minister without portfolio in the first provisional government led by Palma Carlos and Spínola. The astonishment was even greater when the PCP not only remained in the following provisional governments, but also significantly increased its influence until the fall of Vasco Gonçalves in August 1975.

The repercussions of the PCP's role continued to grow because, starting with the V provisional government, in the hot summer of 1975, Cunhal was accused by the Socialist Party, led by Mário Soares, of plotting a "Prague coup", that is, an insurrection to take power. Soares challenged the hegemony of street mobilization that, until then, the PCP held, taking hundreds of thousands to the streets against Vasco Gonçalves and, supported by the Church hierarchy, the American embassy, ​​and the European governments, stimulating the division of the MFA that became expressed through the “group of nine”.

Months later, when the military movement led by Ramalho Eanes, at dawn on November 25, 1975, in fact, took power by force - doing what he denounced that the PCP was preparing - Melo Antunes defended, unusually, the participation of the PCP in “democratic stabilization”, emphasizing, dramatically, that Portuguese democracy would be unthinkable without the PCP in legality, to make it clear that the coup would not be a pushover, and that it was done to avoid what, in the heat of those days, was interpreted as the danger of civil war, not to provoke it. He therefore admitted that the Sixth Provisional Government and the Council of the Revolution were carrying out an armed intervention in the barracks (a classic autocoup), but claimed that it was in self-defense, to maintain legality, not to subvert it.

The counter-revolution attempted the Bonapartist coup twice under Spínola's leadership and failed. Then he resorted to other leaders and other methods. A combination of sword and concessions. He used the sword, carefully and selectively, on the 25th of November. He used the methods of democratic reaction with the presidential elections of 1976, the negotiation of emergency loans that the NATO states released, and even resorted to the formation of a government in flight solo of the Socialist Party led by Mário Soares.

After November 1975, with the destruction of the dual powers in the Armed Forces, the process took on a slow but irreversible dynamic of stabilization of a liberal democratic regime. The defeat of the Portuguese revolution required no bloodshed, but it consumed many billions of German marks and French francs. Later integration into the Economic Community with access to structural funds, huge capital transfers to modernize infrastructure, and building a social pact capable of absorbing post-Salazarist social tensions, allowed for the stabilization of capitalism and the democratic regime in the 1980s and nineteen ninety.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).



[I] Marcelo Caetano, Testimony. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 1974, p.194.

[ii] CARVALHO, Othello Saraiva. Memories of April, the preparations and the outbreak of the Portuguese revolution seen by its main protagonist, Barcelona, ​​Iniciativas Editoriales El Viejo Topo, undated, p.163.

[iii] A discussion of the times of the revolution and the criteria for measuring social power relations can be found in my book The Dangerous Corners of History, São Paulo, Shaman, 2004.

[iv] Lincoln Secco, The Carnation Revolution, São Paulo, Alameda, 2004, p.153.

[v] Champalimaud in a statement to the morning Diário de Notícias, Lisbon, 25/6/74, quoted in Francisco Louçã, April 25, ten years of lessons, Essay for a revolution, Lisbon, Cadernos Marxistas, 1984, p.36.

[vi] Francisco Louçã, Ibidem, p.36

[vii] Francisco Louçã, Ibidem, 35.

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