“The People are no longer afraid” was the cover of one of the newspapers published on the 12th of May of 1974. On April 25, 1974 a coup carried out by the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), in disagreement with the colonial war that had been going on for thirteen years in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea, put an end to the Portuguese dictatorship, which lasted 48 years under the direction of Antonio Salazar and under the leadership of Marcelo Caetano (after 1968). Thousands of people immediately left their homes, against the appeal of the military who led the coup – which insisted on the radio for people to stay at home -, especially in Lisbon and Porto, and it was with the people at their front door, shouting "death to fascism”, that the Government was surrounded in the Quartel do Carmo (Barracks of Carmo) in Lisbon; the doors of the prisons of Peniche and Caxias were opened for release all political prisoners; PIDE / DGS, the political police, was dismantled; the headquarters of newspaper of the regime, The Age, was attacked and the censorship was abolished.
On April 28, three days after the coup, the residents of the (poor) district of Boavista occupy vacant homes and refuse to leave, despite the intimidation attempts by the military and the police; bank workers begin to control the outflow of capital from banks starting from 29 April and organize pickets at the entrance of the banks; that same day office workers occupy their syndicate (syndicates had their freedom restricted during the dictatorship and the leadership was pro-regime) and kick out the leadership; the following day several unions occupy the Ministry of Corporations and Social Security, changing its name to Ministry of Labor; that same day, 10,000 students meet in plenary at Instituto Superior Técnico, the most important higher education institution in the country, an engineering school, and construction workers dismiss the union leadership and occupy the headquarters. The strike begins at Transul, a transport company, and the Movement for the Liberation of Women (MLM) is created.
One week later the demonstration on the 1st of May – which became Worker's Day – gathers nearly half a million people in Lisbon. A million people join in to listen to two hundred speakers throughout the country. The housing occupations happen one after the other. On the first two weeks of May there are strikes, stoppages and in some cases occupations in dozens of factories and companies. Several protests, particularly those led by the radical left, condemn the colonial war. The revolution had begun in Portugal, a country in Western Europe, in the middle of the 70s, in the geostrategic zone of NATO. It was a surprise for all, both in and out of the country.
The Portuguese empire would fall later in 1974, after mobilizing nearly two million forced workers (in the mines in South Africa, cotton plantations in Angola, among others) and a 13 year war – 1961-1974 – to prevent the independence of the African countries of Angola, Cabo Verde, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau. Having been built to increase the profit of monopolies, as well as to discipline the workforce, the Portuguese dictatorship fell in the hands of the workers in April of 1974. A significant part of the property owners had to flee the country after the nationalizations which were meant to put an end to the workers’ control, which had become generalized starting February of 1975, especially in the banking sector, large metallomechanical factories, etc. The ankylose structure of the empire – as well as that of its Bonapartist regime – led to the most important social rupture in post-war Europe – so great was the rupture and the length of it that no historian to this day has managed to determine how many workers’ meetings happened during the week after the coup by the MFA because there were hundreds, maybe thousands, and countrywide.
Anachronistic as well as brutal, with the frozen social mobility of the metropolis that had little to offer its young – one and a half million people emigrated from the country especially for central Europe between 1960 and 1974 –, the Portuguese empire led the country to near collapse, militarily and financially, until a group of captains put in motion a military coup to end the war on April 25, 1974. Thus the military coup took place with little resistance, totaling four dead which were targeted by the political police when it found itself surrounded. It was the gift that the African people, through the anti-colonial revolutions, gave to Portugal. The scarcity of corpses in the metropolis can only be understood in the light of an army divided by the horrors of the colonial wars. Africans paid the military crisis with blood for 13 years, and the Army thus found itself unable to repress the population in Lisbon, in 1974 and 1975. The historical hypothesis proposed by the Comintern – Get to London via Delhi! - was exemplary in Portugal.
And it got far, coming from Africa. In 1975, the main issue that was discussed in all Western foreign ministries was, after Vietnam, the Portuguese revolution which spread to Franco's Spain and to the Greece of the Colonels, causing the USA administration to consider the hypothesis, which they feared, of a "Red Mediterranean", to use the words of Ford.
The fall of the regime left behind a colonial European country, with a social structure that combined a vigorous industry, a bourgeoisie that was taking its first steps towards internationalization and a people kept in line with low wages, ignorance and backwardness. We are reminded that Portugal was then a kind of “Atlantic Albania” where: “The divorce is repressed, where there are (many) censured books, movies and songs, where all art is censured, where social media is chained, where many children walk barefoot, where the majority of the population doesn't have a refrigerator, a phone, a television or a bathroom, where you can't joke about the authorities or criticize the power, where there is no right to protest or strike, or you need a license to carry a lighter or a battery powered transistor, where agriculture is made with medieval tools and animal traction, where road transportation is filled with carts and oxcarts, where ready-to-wear clothing is nearly non-existent, where Coca-Cola is smuggled, where the political police practices torture in prisons, where there are neither freeways nor... elections.”.
The Portuguese Revolution has four determinant characteristics that can help explain the reach of the social disruption, which even though it took place in a small country in Europe in the 70s, with a dimension of workers' control and disruption of the process of accumulation unused in this region during this period:
It is a process born from a military defeat of a regular Army by guerrilla revolutionary movements backed by the peasants of Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique;
This defeat combined itself with the gravest economic crisis of post-war capitalism, initiated in 1973. The counter-cyclical measures of factory and company shutdown led to firings and the reaction to that will be the generalization of the occupations in 1974-75 of those factories and companies (in 1977 more than 300 companies were registered in self-management and more than 600 as cooperatives);
It is marked by the protagonism of the workers' movement;
It is marked by the specificities of that same movement, characterized by its youth (a large mass of the recently qualified young peasants which moved from the country to the city in the 60s), political and syndical disorganization and its focus in the industrial belt of Lisbon, Portugal's capital city. The non-existence of free and democratic workers' organizations, an Achilles’ heel in the movement during the Estado Novo (the authoritarian regime), was at the same time a part on the radicalization of the Revolution because the lack of such organizations in most factories and companies in the country determined the spontaneous openness to workers' commissions.
What started on April 25 as a coup d'état was effectively the seed of a social revolution (which applies changes to the relations of production), initiated as a political democratic revolution (which changes the political regime). The social actors – the workers –in march for political freedom have led made leap, a democratic revolution to a social revolution in one process, what Trotsky analyzed in the theory of permanent revolution. This democratic revolution did not even wait for the elections to the Constituent Assembly, which would be conducted one year after the coup, on April 25, 1975. Within days or weeks in April and May 1974, the political regime of the dictatorship was almost totally dismantled and replaced by a democratic regime. It was the last European revolution to jeopardize the private ownership of the means of production. This resulted in the transfer, according to official figures, of 18% of income from capital to labor, which allowed the right to work, wages above the biological reproduction (above the "work to live" level), equal and universal access to education, health and social security. It was also the last European revolution where workers' control was developed extensively. There was a broad discussion and confrontation even among self-management (workers are “owners" of the factory) and workers' control (the total production of questioning and refusal to "manage capitalist anarchy and be their own bosses”, to quote contemporary documents). In small businesses without capital self-management dominated, and workers' control dominated in large companies and factories.
The extent of the division of society into classes and the awareness of this division in 1974 and 1975 has a historical dimension. The workers saw themselves as such and were proud of it. The word socialism was trivialized, the belief in the possibility of change is widespread. García Márquez landed at Portela airport on the first day of June, 1975, from Rome. "I seemed to be living again the youthful experience of a first arrival... Not only by the premature summer in Portugal and the smell of seafood, but also for the winds and the air of a new freedom that could be inhaled everywhere..." García Márquez describes Lisbon – whom he calls "the biggest village of the world', for the intense social and socializing its life was lived – as a militant city that never sleeps: "Everybody talks and nobody sleeps, at four in the morning on a Thursday there wasn't even one unoccupied taxi. Most people work without schedules, without breaks, although the Portuguese had the lowest wages in Europe. Meetings are scheduled to start late at night, the office buildings have the lights on until dawn. If anything is going to put out this revolution it is the light bill.”
Who happened to be in Lisbon when the coup happened – also a world-renowned writer and a journalist of future of excellence – was Manuel Vazquez Montalban. He was writing chronicles for the TeleExpress, of Barcelona, when Franco was still standing in Spain: 'Paco Ibañez, Patxi Andion and the new Catalan song are present on radio and television and the same can be said of Spanish democrat politicians and intellectuals who flock to Portugal moved by a slogan: “This is the first revolution we can get to by car”. If leisure tourism was one of the main sources of foreign currency in fascist Portugal, political tourism will replace it in the democratic Portugal (...) hotels fill with voyeurs of freedom."
It's probably one of the rare moments in the history of this country (also happened to sectors of the labor movement during part of the First Republic) in which workers taken pride in being so. That is, there was a social force to impose a culture that questioned the hegemonic ideology of the worker as someone who works because there are others – who are very smart – that manage the production. The ideology of "businesses create jobs". This was completely reversed in the revolution – the worker gained the cultural centrality that corresponds to its economic role.
The Carnation Revolution is, for these reasons, one of the most important revolutions in the twentieth century: the extension of dual power (workers committees, villagers, soldiers, equivalent to councils, elected by basis in plenary, and representatives that can be recalled at any time). It is, from the point of view of the extent of this power parallel to that of the State, a historical process which has many similarities with the Italian revolution of 1919-1920 (known as Biennio Rosso), with the 1956 Hungarian revolution and with the Chilean revolution. The grassroots democracy that prevailed, and had its center in the workplaces and housing, put something like 3 million people involved in the decision-making process, not by delegation of power every four years, but choosing day by day how society should produce, how it should be managed. Never so many people decided so much in Portugal as in between 1974 and 1975.
The defeat of the revolution begins with the coup of November 25, 1975, made by an alliance of the social democracy with the Church and the Right and without the strength of the Communist Party (which considered Portugal under Western influence as per the Yalta and Potsdam agreements). It begins with the imposition of “discipline”, that is an imposition of the hierarchy in the barracks, but is consolidated through a representative democratic government. Portugal is a test case of the "democratic counter-revolution" (theory of democratic transition, according to the liberal-inspired political science) that will be applied in Franco's Spain and then throughout Latin America in the '80s, the Carter doctrine, i.e. the idea that at least for a long period to defeat revolutionary processes, elections and liberal democracy was preferable to dictatorial regimes. Portugal is the first example, from the standpoint of the bourgeoisie, of the success of a defeated with the introduction of a system of representative democracy revolution that, to prevail, had to put an end to grassroots democracy, particularly in the barracks, factories, businesses, schools and neighborhoods.
The State was not conquered by the workers. There was a huge crisis of the state but it does not collapse, particularly because the parallel powers that are created during the revolution never get to develop and coordinate nationally to be a viable alternative power – this is one of the explanations for the easiness with which the right makes the coup of November 25, 1975.
But today, amidst post-2008 counter-cyclical measures, that revolutionary past – when the poorest, most fragile, often illiterate, dared grab life with their hands – is a kind of historical nightmare of the current dominant class of Portugal. So much so that there is an insistence on celebrating only the day of April 25, forgetting that was the first day of the most historically surprising 19 months of the History of Portugal. And that Portugal, next to Vietnam, was the country most accompanied by the international press, because the images of people in slums with open smiles next to cheerful bearded young soldiers filled with hope the people of Spain, Greece, Brazil... And it filled with joy most of the people living here. One of the characteristics of the photos of the Portuguese Revolution, as illustrated in the cover of the book, is that the people in them are almost always smiling. Not coincidentally, Chico Buarque, the most famous Brazilian musician, sang during the dictatorship there in Brazil “Sei que estás em festa, pá” (which translates into “I know you're partying, man”) when he learned of the revolution.