The Carnation Revolution turns 48

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By LINCOLN SECCO*

Revolutionary theory is not the god ex machina of no revolution

On April 25, 1974, a clandestinely articulated military operation took to the streets of Lisbon and overthrew the dictatorship that had been in force for 48 years in Portugal. It was the popular participation on the 25th of April itself and in the following weeks that made it a revolution.

Many companies were occupied and self-managed by workers,[I] as well as collective housing, nurseries and university courses. Agrarian reform began. In 1975, 25% of the arable surface in Portugal was managed by cooperative production units: a phenomenon unparalleled in western Europe.[ii] A strong urban movement also settled in Lisbon.

The Residents' Commissions were radical not because of the eventual participation of extreme left groups, although this was probably important to vocalize the demands before the State. The radicalization came from the circumstances of the Revolution and from the objective problems that the commissions faced.[iii]

But the participation of popular urban minorities was not enough to become a power alternative. The parties also could not and did not intend to seize state power and submit it to a “Soviet” logic. Therefore, the dynamics of the Armed Forces was the alpha and omega of explaining the revolutionary failure. It was the military force that opened the gap for the popular movement to go beyond what the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) expected. And it was also because of her that the revolution was subsequently blocked. Could the MFA have become the replacement for the revolutionary ruling party?

Success or defeat is defined from the tactical maneuvers that could change the course of certain policies. But maneuvers cannot do everything. They are constrained by the established battleground beforehand. This “field” is posed by the international situation; by the social and economic forces and by the ideological forces that comprise (or do not) the framework within which they operate.

The Revolution was possible within the general framework of the anti-colonial struggle; the indirect confrontation between the USSR and the USA; of the USA's withdrawal from the rise of class struggles since the XNUMXs (but especially from its forthcoming defeat in Vietnam). But it was limited by the secular structures of the Portuguese economy, by its demographic distribution, agrarian arrangement, mental limits of its political elites, by the country's membership of NATO and, above all, by the fact that it is led by a regular army that cannot be transmuted into a decidedly revolutionary body.

The Armed Forces Movement (MFA) initiated a military operation, which was followed by an urban insurrection, in a country that still has great rural and Catholic influence. Its rapid ideological evolution took place in conjunction with that of the urban population (or a significant part of it). In this sense, he was not an avant-garde. At the same time, the parties lacked the legitimacy of the guns and April 25th to replace the MFA.

The MFA did not represent more than 10% of the officers and had no formal existence within the Armed Forces. He could only become the head of a radical process if he brought the rest of the institution under the thumb, which would require major purges. He would have to use violence (or the threat of it) and oppose officers linked by bonds of comradeship forged in military schools and academies or in the colonial war; break with its own strictly military background; arm civilians and risk being submerged in civil war and losing control of the state apparatus.

In the absence of a party, the MFA would have to fulfill a role for which its rapid creation (in a short time) allowed it, but its slow formation (in the long time of the national Armed Forces) prohibited it.

Revolutionary theory is not the deus ex machina of no revolution. It is not the ideals that make it possible, but the objective existence of a movement capable of directing broad social groups in a revolutionary situation. But for there to be this kind of movement, theory is indispensable.

* Lincoln Secco He is a professor in the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of The Carnation Revolution and the crisis of the Portuguese colonial empire: economies, spaces and awareness (Alameda).

 

Notes


[I] A split of the Revolutionary Communist Committees (CCRs), edited the newspaper The Combat, full of information on the topic. A beautiful facsimile edition has recently been published.

[ii] Baum, M. “Self-management and Political Culture: the impact of Agrarian Reform in Alentejo 20 years later”, Social Analysis, vol. XXXIII (148), 1998.

[iii] Downs, C. Revolution at the grassroots. New York Press, 1989, p.117.

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