Portugal between 1974 and 1975



Never have so many people decided so much


Once upon a time there was a man, or almost a man, who wanted to eat the fruit from the top of a tree. He looked, calculated the distance, decided that he wanted (conscious act) to eat the fruit and thought about how to get there. He started with a liana, which broke, reflected on the weight, and thought that he could produce, with his own hands, some “steps”, until he built a ladder. And he wanted to teach his community what a ladder was, how to make it, how to use it, and that's why he gave names – to the rope, the ladder and the act of going further, going higher.

Complex signs and imagination in action: language and thought. And (self)education. Transmit knowledge. Ultimately, literate culture. Everything originates from work. We are work, and just because we work we are human – language, thought, culture (with the same root of lap/cultus/culturus – fertilization, agriculture, religion, etc.) tells us who we are. Without work, we are nothing. It is through work that we become human, with it we transform the world and ourselves. The man who does (faber), who knows that he knows (sapiens sapiens) and imagine (imaginasus). The man who made the ladder, named it and taught it. Man invented everything, from wars to revolutions against wars. Yours and your opposite.

I want to defend, in this brief piece, a key idea: social history, the history of those below, or of the people, is not the history of a part of the population or a specific theme, as would be the history of ideas and mentalities, of eating habits, or military history or – that which has been dominant in our midst since the 1980s, and the entry into the period of sharp decline of global capitalism, neoliberalism –, political and institutional history. We went from kings and lords, under the influence of resistance to Nazi-fascism and anti-colonial revolutions, to a diffusion of social history in the 1970s. And to a history, after 1986-89, of States and structures, that is, institutions .

The history of the people is history as a whole, this is the central argument of this text. When we do this, we mobilize not only those who work and social dynamics as subjects, we summon the core of what is central to explaining human societies and, even, humanity. What determines all social life – work. Let me explain: the so-called thesis of the “centrality of work” is not just an option of Marxist historians, enamored with the working classes and their epics, but also tragic, contradictory sayings and deeds.

The mystery of the work ranges from the definition of who we are, a theme that passionate psychoanalysts, to the tectonic forces that lead to the clash between classes and social movements, social revolutions. Work is so important that it defines the way we live in society and the regime that regulates social relations. Ellen M. Wood (1942-2006), Canadian Marxist historian, a voice of rigor and intellectual honesty, made a fascinating defense of the idea that democracy was born in Ancient Greece because there was autonomy of work – slaves, of course, had no not even rights, but the basis of political democracy and, therefore, of the (still fascinating) splendid Greek culture was the number of free men in the city. -Polis, master craftsmen, craftsmen, who, by having autonomy in their own work, enabled a resplendent flowering of the first democratic organizations in the womb of the city-state. There is no democracy without democracy in the workplace.

Social history – what we tried to do in History of the People in the Portuguese Revolution and Brief History of Portugal (both published by Bertrand) – allows us to climb to the top of the mountain and, from there, see the horizon line. It places us in a place that allows us to understand different societies not in their appearance (mercantile exchange, money-form, “things” etc.) or in their figuration (parties, Church, leaderships etc.), but in their essence – everything What is produced in society comes from work and only work produces value.

And work, in actually existing capitalism, is not a contractual arrangement signed between free people, this is just its formal legal representation, but a social relationship between different social classes: the bourgeoisie and the workers. These classes are not the only ones that exist, but they are, after being consolidated in the contemporary period of advanced capitalism, those that determine the entire social structure in which we work and, therefore, the entire way of thinking, feeling and living life. And so, I come to my second point, work. The history of work and its world is not the history of workers, it is, in fact, the history of society as a whole.


Around three million people were involved in forms of participatory democracy in social and political life in Portugal between 1974 and 1975, “when the future was now”, in the happy expression, coined by Francisco M. Rodrigues (1927-2008), and which refers to the notion of pre-figuration. But what is this? What is this word, “prefiguration”? It is also explained by work – work and its consequences allow for what distinguishes us from animals and which the founder of the concrete psychology of man called higher psychic functions or processes (directed attention, we decide to pay attention to, focus on; volitional memory, not is involuntary memory; conceptual abstraction;

Basically, what Liev S. Vigotski (1896-1934) says is that through education – hence it is barbaric to watch the degradation of school education – it is through education that we learn to develop ourselves and be masters of our own decisions, regulating our own conduct, among them we learn to create, we decide to create, we choose to invent.

In social revolutions it is about political prefiguration in action – we collectively create a whole new society, permanently, we “do” what we “know”, and thus the desired future appears in action. This is the deepest meaning of the history of the people in the Portuguese revolution, and that only social history can analyze, interpret, describe, narrate, explain and understand: never before have so many people decided so much in the entire history of Portugal. Never before have so many people learned so much to decide what and how to do what will become.

Without waiting for the State and often against the institutions, they took decisions that were crucial for the country and that determined a tiger leap from the middle ages to modernity and contemporary times. They changed the country and they changed themselves. Politics then stopped being, in a Portugal with 300 years of inquisition and 48 years of dictatorship, a profession for a few and became the management of public affairs, common, for many, for everyone. The colonial war ended, celebrated in the streets “not one more soldier for the colonies”, red carnations rose from the barrels of rifles.

But only those who had nothing want everything: teachers in each school organized their management, with elected representatives, debated pedagogy and didactics, content and curricula, always among peers; doctors decreed that human blood transfusion would never again be commercialized, private hospitals would then be included in a National Health Service whose first draft was drawn up in 1974 and 1975 with the nationalization of old mercies and the opening of new emergencies, demanded by doctors to expand care to the population and, thus, medical know-how itself.

In companies and factories, workers gathered, for the first time in the country's history, entirely freely, and imposed limits on night work, wages above the minimum, right to work and right to rest, paid holidays, social security; hundreds of thousands of people had access to a rented or self-built house.

Freedom arrived in earnest, conquered and improved: theaters and ballets, where artists debated what art is, why it is a fundamental need, they performed in the workplace, women began to decide side by side with men where the freedom is. daycare, because bus routes must serve all neighborhoods, but they also began to decide without men, essential questions of intimacy, and even the meaning of life – private ownership of the fundamental means of social production shrank, and The individual freedom of anonymous millions, freed from the corset of brutal scarcity, expanded like never before.

Portuguese liberalism, which began in 1820, did not guarantee the right to vote, but the Carnation Revolution, the biennium of the PREC, not only brought the right to vote, assembly, association, and individual and collective freedoms and guarantees, it brought the right to live in democracy, without fear, in the workplace and in all spheres of life.

“The people are the ones who give the most orders, within you, oh city!” The Portuguese revolution, which followed the 25th of April 1974, and lasted approximately two years on end, was the most extensively revolutionary period, but also the most deeply democratic in the history of Portugal. Substantial democracy – much more than the procedural democracy of the ballot box – taught us that there is another possible way of life and work, in cooperation, solidarity and freedom.

This past is today glossed over and feared by the dominant classes who want to make the PREC (Revolutionary Period in Progress) a time of turmoil, confusion and generalized chaos, omitting that this historical time, this beautiful dream because it is real, was the time in which more people , in a more free, responsible and committed way (re)built the country, bringing it from the colonial war, forced labor and miserable wages in the metropolis, to a place where one entered a school with joy and desire for transformation, a hospital to be welcomed with tender and open arms, and safe in the workplace.

The sad passion of fear was opposed, with social and collective struggles, by the joyful passion of hope. 50 years later we must celebrate this time to build the future, understand how we can, once again, get involved in public affairs and thus expand our individual and collective freedom, our own humanity, recognize… a friend on every corner.

*Raquel Varela She is a professor of history at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She is the author, among other books, of Brief history of Europe (Bertrand) [https://amzn.to/3I1EOFs]

Published in We are books magazine.

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