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Double podcast episode about the Portuguese revolution of 1974-5, also known as the Carnation Revolution, which overthrew the Portuguese empire and the right-wing Estado Novo regime.

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You can listen to our podcast embedded on this page, or on any major podcast app. Links to a few below.

  • Part 1: Background, anti-colonial insurgencies, resistance in the military, struggles of workers, neighbourhoods, women, LGBTQ people.

  • Part 2: The political factions, tensions within Portuguese society, tensions in the military, recuperation and counterrevolution, and the achievements and legacy  

In these episodes we speak with Phil Mailer, who participated in the revolution and wrote Portugal: The Impossible Revolution?, as well as Raquel Varela, author of A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution, and Jorge Valadas, a military deserter who took part in the revolution.

More information

Where to find out more from WCH about the Portuguese revolution:

Jorge Valadas, born in Lisbon 1945, deserted in 1967 from the army because he refused to participate in the colonial war. Lives in Paris since then. Lived May 68 in Paris and after the Portuguese revolution on the side of the anti-authoritarian radical tendencies. He writes under the pseudonym of Charles Reeve. Participates in the anti-authoritarian alternative press in Europe, such as Mapa in Portugal and CQFD and Lundi matin in France. He writes for Field Notes/Brooklyn Rail in the US. His last book: Le Socialismo Sauvage, essay sua l’auto-organization et la democratic directe (2018), is published in French, Portuguese, German and Spanish.

Glossary

  • Anarcho-syndicalism: an anarchist form of trade unionism
  • Combate: newspaper which Phil mentioned which he worked on with others
  • COPCON: left-wing faction of the army
  • Guevarist: ideology of Che Guevara, Cuban communist guerrilla, heavily influenced by armed struggle
  • Libertarian: term encompassing anarchism and various strains of anti-state socialism
  • Maoism: ideology of Mao Zedong, Chinese communist leader
  • MDM – Democratic Women’s Movement: women’s organisation linked to the Portuguese Communist Party
  • MFA – Movement of the Armed Forces: anti-war group of mostly junior military officers
  • MLM – Movement for the Liberation of Women
  • MRPP – Movement for the Reorganisation of the Party of the Proletariat: influential Maoist group
  • PCP (Portuguese Communist Party): Moscow-linked CP
  • PCP (M-L) – Portuguese Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist): official Maoist party linked to China
  • PIDE – International and State Defence Police: secret police with a vast network of informers
  • PRP: abbreviation of PRP-BR – Revolutionary Party of the Proletariat-Revolutionary Brigades, a Guevarist group

Books and more
We have books about and items commemorating the Portuguese revolution available in our online store, proceeds help fund our work. Check them out here.

Sources
Sources for everything said by WCH during the episodes:

Acknowledgements
Thanks to our patreon supporters for making this podcast possible.
Music used under fair use includes: Zeca Afonso – Grândola, Vila Morena [buy it/stream it] and Zeca Afonso – Traz Outro Amigo Também [buy it]
Episode graphic photograph courtesy Big Flame.
These episodes were edited by Tyler Hill.

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Transcript

Part 1

NB Our transcripts may be lightly edited for brevity, accuracy and to match our style guide.

John:

On 25 April 1974, under pressure from anticolonial forces in Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, a military coup in Lisbon overthrew the right-wing dictatorship of the Estado Novo, or New State. Then, workers in cities and the countryside began to take control of factories and land in a social revolution. This is working class history.

[Intro music]

John:

Hi, and welcome back to the Working Class History Podcast. Firstly, just a quick note that our podcast is funded entirely by you, our listeners. You too, can support us and access exclusive content, like you can listen to both parts of this episode now, as well as a bonus episode at patreon.com/workingclasshistory. Link in the show notes.

Today, we’re going to be talking about the Portuguese revolution in 1974-5, also known as the Carnation Revolution. As in the case of the Spanish Revolution, which we discussed in episodes 39-40, the fact that Portugal in Western Europe, and a popular destination for tourists, was a vicious dictatorship until less than 50 years ago, is not something which is talked about very much. And, as with Spain, we hope that the probable reasons for this will become clear over the course of these episodes.

Just to briefly give a bit of background. Portugal was a monarchy until it was overthrown in 1910 and the first republic declared, which was highly unstable. In turn, the republic was overthrown by a military coup in 1926, and a new regime made Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, the finance minister, prime minister in 1922. Salazar put together a new constitution, which declared Portugal to be a unitary corporatist republic. This was the Estado Novo, or New State.

Corporatism is the ideology that society should be organized by corporations, which integrate both employers and employees into the state machinery. And so, eliminate class struggle. Corporatism was perhaps most famously implemented in Italy by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Independent workers’ organization is completely anathema to corporatism. So, all types of independent unions and workers direct action, like strikes, were banned.

When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, Salazar backed General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist Forces. And in World War II, Portugal was officially neutral, but in reality, it was quietly allied with Britain. And despite it being a brutal dictatorship, Portugal was one of the co-founders of the NATO military alliance and it freely traded with the Western European democracies. Like other western democracies, for example, Britain and France, Portugal was also violently subjugating its overseas colonies which included Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, and others.

And while anticolonial movements in most of the world eventually forced the granting of various levels of independence from European colonial powers, Portugal was hanging on as the last, really old-style empire. And as we’ll see, this would ultimately lead to the downfall of the regime.

Phil Mailer, author of the book, Portugal: The Impossible Revolution, moved to the country in the early 1970s, and soon realized it wasn’t like much of the rest of Western Europe.

Phil Mailer:

I was just amazed at the poverty. Portugal was one of the poorest countries in Europe. It was completely underdeveloped. The whole economy, led by Salazar’s type of fascism, and Estado Novo, favored financial colonial capital, and agricultural capital, and not industrial capital.

It was very, very backward. Trade unions were reorganized as sindicatos, fascist sindicatos, and basically were just run by the bosses. All left-wing parties were banned, including Communist Party, and even small Maoist groups would have a little demonstration, would never be mentioned in the papers, or they might get two lines in the papers, and then the police would come in. Political police, the PIDE, would come in and break it up and arrest people, and then beat them, bring them down to a number of little private prisons scattered around Lisbon, and they would bring them in there and beat them up and then throw them back out again.

John:

The PIDE, P-I-D-E, was the international and state defense police. They were involved in both counter-insurgency in Portuguese colonies, and in domestic repression of Portuguese workers, particularly socialists and communists. And they were renowned for their use of torture.

Phil Mailer:

There was very little organization against this poverty. Just giving example, I mean, shanty towns were all around Lisbon. These were just these wooden huts, shacks, set up on the corners of parks, and there was 150,000 people living in that kind of housing. As well as that were very poor, small, cement apartment blocks, which were very poor, but the shanty towns were just screaming out at you. And you couldn’t help seeing them.

There had been uprisings. I mean, in 1934, the working class had an uprising, and this was led by the anarcho-syndicalist CGT, and by the Communist Party, the Portuguese Communist Party. But it was defeated brutally, and this was a kind of forerunner to the victory of fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

John:

In short, anarcho-syndicalism is an anarchist form of trade unionism. For complex terms like this, we’re going to put some information on the web page for this episode, above.

Phil Mailer:

After that, wages were kept at a minimum, and strikes were outlawed, and the whole fascist apparatus consolidated itself. And this would last right up to the ’70s. It was only in the ’70s that strike movements began to grow in some of the larger companies, like the post office had a strike which was brutally dealt with. The TAP, the airlines company, had a strike and that was very savagely repressed. But it was only then that there began a feeling of a movement. Unions were fragmented and ineffectual, basically.

John:

One key thing that helped change the atmosphere was Salazar himself having a stroke in 1968. After which he was removed from power by the president and replaced. He died in 1970.

Phil Mailer:

And in rural areas, it was almost feudal. Rural areas in the south, there were big estates, big latifundios, as they call them. These are huge, big estates owned by one family and they would have 50 to 100 workers working, and they paid in nothing. They were given wine, they were given vegetables or some cereals. And then in the north, there was a very, very small holdings. I mean, farms of like two acres with four cows or something like that.

It was very, very poor. The whole place was almost, I mean, I remember when I first went there visiting the North and feeling that I was back in the 18th century. So yes, it was rural workers, urban workers. And of course women, they were regarded as chattel by both the bourgeoisie and by the working class.

John:

For anyone who’s not acquainted with Marxist terminology. The bourgeoisie is the capitalist class, i.e. employers.

Raquel Varela, a labor historian and author of A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution, believes that the oppression of women in Portugal was tied up with its economic under development.

Raquel Varela:

So a peasant society until the beginning of the 60s, as either presents more than society, women have a role, much focus on domestic work or work in the fields, work in the agriculture sector. Women could not for example vote, except in some very few exceptions. They could not even leave the country without permission of men. Men were entitled to open the letters women could receive at home, legally. Of course, this all changed a lot during the 60s. There was, with the anti-colonial revolution, women were called to the factories and these have a huge impact even before the revolution, because Portugal has since there the highest feminization rate of labor. Because one and a half million people emigrated to France, Germany and Switzerland during this period to work, because Germany, France, and Switzerland wanted cheap labor from Portugal, Spain and Turkey in order to make them compete with the organized, unionized workers of their own countries.

So 15% of the active population went to these countries, and 150,000 a year to the colonial war. This means that Portugal in the late 60s had the biggest number of women working in a workplace in all of Europe.

John:

Jorge Valadas grew up under the New State, before being conscripted into the navy.

Jorge Valadas:

The Portuguese political authoritarian system at that time was very specific. It was not like the Nazi regime or the fascist regime in Italy during the 40s. It was, I would say probably a little bit less hard than Francoism. It was a police state. It was very, very controlled. Everything was very controlled. Everything was very repressed. Police were present everywhere in workplaces and student life and the daily life. Well, personal life, friends and everybody, there was an enormous network of political informers. I think some people later made the comparison with the Stasi in East Germany. And it was, I think, bigger, in Portugal than in East Germany with the Stasi. And then, so you live in this milieu… but of course, even in this milieu you have a margin of “freedom”, so-called. So you could read some books – there were some books you could never read – you could discuss issues, if you trusted the person and so forth.

John:

The first rumblings, which would develop into the earthquake which would sweep away the New State  began in December 1960 when African cotton workers at a colonial plantation in Angola went on strike. In January 1961. Portuguese authorities responded by mass aerial bombing, destroying villages and killing thousands of people. This provoked a huge increase in support for pro-independence movements.

Phil Mailer:

The difficulties in dealing with the underdeveloped economy could only be salvaged by increasing the exploitation in the colonies,  and at home, obviously. And colonial pillage led to three guerrilla wars, three colonial wars starting in Mozambique, in Guinea Bissau and in Angola. And this became very severe.

John:

Some commentators often described the Portuguese revolution as a bloodless revolution. This perspective is both Eurocentric and inaccurate.

Raquel Varela:

For many years, it was told that the Portuguese revolution started in 1974, and this is not my hypotheses of the Portuguese revolution. What we saw is a dramatic and catastrophic combination of the contradictions of the most chronic colonial regime. So what we saw is that peasants, anti-colonial revolution mainly are based on forced labor, which was disseminated in Portugal until 1974, although not legally after the beginning of the 60s. But in fact this emanated in Angola, Mozambique and in Guinea partially. Much more disseminated in Angola and Mozambique. And this led to a huge support of these workers, these peasants forced to work for the Portuguese empire for the state and for the companies to become very brave and courageous supporters of the liberation movements. So we cannot say that the Portuguese revolution was a bloodless revolution because this is focused on the idea that the revolution was in 74-75 in Lisbon and in Portugal where 16 people died, 16. And this is very few if you compare to other process of social conflict in the history of 20th century. Very few doesn’t mean that this is not important. Every death is important. I’m not making a personal evaluation of these, I’m just comparing with other process. But my main argument is that we cannot speak of a bloodless revolution and we cannot speak of a revolution in 74, 75. We have to speak of a revolution that had started in Portuguese territorial in 1961. And although we don’t have accurate figures for the deaths in colonial war, and some military American historians based on different variables calculate 100,000 people died in Guinea, Angola, and Mozambique. So we are speaking of one of the most deadly processes. So for the people that are listening to us, there was just one society more militarized per capita than Portugal. This was Israel during the period of the 60s. So Portugal had 10 million people and 1.2 million were mobilized during certain years to the colonial war. More or less 150,000 young men each year to go to Africa, to kill in the name of the empire.

John:

Despite the outlawing of dissent, from Phil’s contacts that he’d met abroad he was able to meet up with informal groups of Portuguese radicals and hear about what was going on.

Phil Mailer:

I was lucky in that I knew a group of people who are kind of left-wing, but keeping quiet so I could meet up with them. And I knew where they met and which cafes they would go to. Well, I’d been quite familiar with what was happening before the revolution. Of course nobody knew. I mean, people said something has got to give, but we all say that don’t we? But, well, one fine morning on the 25th of April it did collapse. And I suppose it collapsed because it just was unsustainable. This kind of a cost in people and in money was just unsustainable with the wars. Also people were coming back from the wars traumatized because the war had got very, very bloody and they were very savage and there’d been a lot of massacres, done by ordinary working class soldiers. I mean they were conscripted soldiers. I remember getting a lift from a guy in uniform and cut the stories he was telling of his experience of the war. He was saying this in a whisper as though there were microphones in the car. He was afraid of even telling me, but yes, you could see that the trauma that he had gone through.

John:

Portuguese forces in the colonial war were exceedingly brutal, killing huge numbers of civilians and displacing many more. As with other colonial wars  conducted by powers like Britain and Kenya or the US in Vietnam, as they’re essentially fighting against the civilian population, their response is typically to try to terrorize or decimate the civilian population itself. In this endeavor Portugal was backed by countries like apartheid South Africa, and white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), it also received extensive military aid from the US through NATO, which included things like bombs and napalm. In part to protect extensive holdings of US corporations in Angola, especially oil companies like Gulf Oil.

But as pro-independence movements fought on, the death toll of Portuguese troops increased. And this went alongside the increasing unpopularity of the conflict in Portugal itself, especially as the working class population of Portugal wasn’t even given a share of the plundered colonial wealth. You could maybe contrast this with the perhaps more farsighted nature of British colonialism, whereby a share of the looted wealth began to be used to fund public services for British workers. Things like the National Health Service, which quite effectively help prevent the development of widespread anti-colonial sentimental at home. Opposition to the war also grew within the military itself and increasing numbers of young conscripts started to desert and flee abroad, including Jorge.

Jorge Valadas:

I was not an explicitly political person when I was in Portugal. I was against the war. I was against the Portuguese society, against fascism, against the regime, but I had no reference, political, ideological reference. I was not connected with any political group. I just decide to desert by myself because I didn’t support the situation. It was more, let’s say a sort of ethical or moral decision that I took at that time. So, I had nothing to do with political positions at that moment. And of course that was very difficult because I was a young guy. I had my family, I had a situation which was my parents were from the petit bourgeoisie – my parents were teachers in a technical school for working class. But we lived “correctly”. And for me to go to the navy was a way to improve my social conditions and my family’s. So of course, when I decided to quit, that was a big break in my life, in the personal relations with my parents that was very painful. And it was very painful for my parents. My parents suffered a lot for my decision. And I took a long time in my life to reconcile myself with them. So all of these things are very complicated, but I was not the only one. A lot of people made these decisions without going through political orientations.

John:

On a practical level, deserters who are part of some underground left wing groups could use their organizational networks to get out of the country. Other people could pay a coyote to get them across the border. As many other people did just to emigrate, but Jorge decided to try to leave the country by himself.

Jorge Valadas:

In my case, I tried to do it in a legal way. I asked for an authorization. I had some vacation and I was in a small boat at that time, a small navy boat in the coast. And my commander of the boat was somebody quite open, and not a member of the regime. Because in the navy in fact, the navy was very much known as being, not so much a supporter of the regime. So there was a lot of people sort of democrats there. So the commander of this boat was a sort of democrat and he understood I was against, and he understood that I was going out, but of course he didn’t ask me. And I told him that I want to go and spend a week vacation in Spain. So he gave me an authorization. So I left, I crossed the border with this authorization.

The political police didn’t like it. They looked at me twice more than, or maybe three times or four times, but I had official papers so they let me go. And after, in Spain, I just crossed the border to France. I wrote a letter to the man who gave me this document, this officer, because I didn’t want to imply, I didn’t want him to have any problems with the regime. So I wrote a letter that I sent from Spain to him telling him that I was going to desert and that he had nothing to do with that. And that I had lied to him to get his authorization. So was the way I did it. But it’s very peculiar. A majority of the people, they just went to the border, paid somebody who was smuggling immigrants through the border, and then they did it like that. But, well it was a small adventure. It’s much worse today when you cross the Mediterranean. So that’s no reason to make a big story out of it.

John:

In the early 1970s, a number of mostly junior military officers who opposed the war came together clandestinely and formed the MFA, Movement of the Armed Forces. They launched their coup on the 25th of April, 1974, by playing a particular folk song on the radio. Grândola, Vila Morena by Zeca Afonso, a popular Portuguese folk musician whose music was banned at the time. MFA troops then seized key locations throughout the country. And they were assisted by an effective mutiny of soldiers and officers who remained loyal to the government.

Jorge Valadas:

It was really a very small minority of the army who were involved. And in fact, a very, very small minority of the officers of the institution, military institution. In fact, the Portuguese revolution, I think, and I defend that idea that it’s a sort of mutiny inside the army. Because what was made it possible for this small group of officers to bring down the government: the fact that there was an enormous mutiny of the soldiers. The rank-and-file of the army, till the last moment, even when there was a confrontation between different military forces on the 25 April – there are now, there are several documents and interviews and studies done about that – even at that moment, the majority of the army was sent against a few officers who came outside of the city to bring down the government. And they were going to smash them. They were going to make a blood bath, but they couldn’t do it because some of their own soldiers also mutinied and joined the other soldiers.

John:

Later that day, the government surrendered to António de Spínola, a former military officer and colonial governor who became a key representative at the MFA. But to those on the ground, on the 25th of April itself, it wasn’t clear exactly what had happened.

Phil Mailer:

I was woken up early one morning by my neighbor, and she was firing her fingers in the air. And she told me that there was a revolution and I shouldn’t go to work. I shouldn’t even go out. Of course, I thought she was mad. And so I did, I got up and got in my car and I went into town and sure enough, there were troops all over the place. And that was the beginning of the revolution. People were just everywhere and not only were they everywhere, they were climbing up on tanks and armored cars. Nobody knew who these people were. This group of army officers staged this coup I mean, even on the day we were asking, were they right wing or were they left wing, nobody really knew. And Spinola, who was the supposed leader, he was certainly not left wing. He was one of the colonial generals, was quite renowned for not-so-good things. But on the other hand, there were other people there who were working class. And so it was very ambiguous.

John:

Even though there was anxiety about what the coup actually meant. Jubilant people started flooding the streets. Red and white carnations were in season at the time and being sold widely by women in the streets. So people started giving them to soldiers and putting them in the barrels of their guns and on their uniforms. Some media outlets credit restaurant worker and pacifist, Celeste Caeiro, as the first person to do this. But there’s not really any historical evidence confirming this. And the practice was extremely widespread. As a result the uprising became known as the Carnation revolution and symbolized by red carnations.

Phil Mailer:

That first week, which I described in the first chapter in my book, I was in and out of various demonstrations and various meetings of people in the streets. After the first week, the 25th of April was the 1st of May, which is kind of Worker’s Day. They would normally be banned, but was just a fantastic, I mean, there were half a million people out in the streets of Lisbon. People with red flags, all sorts of flags. I mean, Portuguese flags. I mean, there was just everybody, there were people from the country had been bussed in,  young people, there were old people. And I describe this, I remember describing an old man who’d been probably in his 80s. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. I would never my life forget it.

John:

Living in Paris at the time, Jorge and his Portuguese friends heard about the revolution. And after just a few days decided to return home.

Jorge Valadas:

I must say that one of the first events that I will never forget was that we took the train from Paris to Lisbon, and when we crossed the Portuguese border. Well in Spain, the Spanish police was of course, very aware of what was going on, very on the observation of things, but today didn’t intervene. They knew that a lot of Portuguese were coming back to the country, but they didn’t intervene. And so when we got to the Portuguese border between Spain and Portugal, there was no more the political police waiting for people there, as they did before. They came in strength, they controlled people, they asked questions. Eventually they arrest people. But so all these awful people had disappeared. And there was some army people in the border, the young soldiers. Because as you know, the Portuguese army, and that’s part of the, that’s an aspect of the Portuguese revolution: the Portuguese army was not a professional army at that time. There are some professional corps, some professional institutions but they were very limited. The majority of the population was dragged in the army to go to the war.

So there were these young kids of the army that were at the border and they got inside of the train and they welcomed everybody in the train. They said, “Welcome back to Portugal. And now we have freedom.” And that was really very strong, for the train of was of course, full of people coming back for the revolution. So the way they greeted us, it was really very strong. And particularly when they came to where I was, in my compartment, one of these young guys asked me, “You are living in France?” I said, “Yes, I was living in France. I desert and I went to France because I didn’t want to do the colonial war.”

And this young guy, he looked at me and he said, “You have done the right thing.” And that was something I will never forget till the end of my life, because it was a sort of reconciliation with myself. It’s not always easy to leave a situation, to desert a situation, to break with your family and break with your status and start another life somewhere. And that was really very, very strong. I don’t know where he is, this guy now. I hope he’s still alive, but I really want to thank him for what he told me. So he, that, that was just an event like that.

John:

Jorge soon saw that the Portugal he returned to was very different to the one he had left.

Jorge Valadas:

Of course, when you have been living for 20 years, like I was in my case. I was born in Lisbon. And when I left, I was 21. When we have been living there for 21 years, and when we came back in that situation, it was strange because it was the same country and another society. It was the same society and another society. Because people were just motivated and pushed by these feelings of freedom and change and fulfilling their dreams and changing their lives. And that makes the society completely different. So I discovered Lisbon in a completely different way, because Lisbon was a very, very sad city when I left. Even though it’s a very beautiful city, it was a very, very sad city. And when I came back, it was full of joy and people were really having the impression they were building their own life. So that was very, very strong.

Other things were more difficult to understand if there was change, like what we call today the gender question. I mean, relation between men and women, the question of sexuality, all that was still very, very marked by the Portuguese old society, which goes back older than Portuguese fascism. I mean, of course, I mean, it’s a very traditional conservative society since it was created in the middle ages. I mean, it’s a society that was created by the military orders. And the Inquisition had an enormous importance in the formation of the country and all that. So these conservative aspect to us was really very, very present still, but mixed with this desire to change things.

And so people were very active, were creating things, were speaking. There was the freedom of talk and that’s something very, very important. And so that was very obvious in the daily life. That was something that you realize right away, that people were changing and they were changing their lives. And at the same time you had the conservative authoritarian aspects of the society, which was still there.

John:

As it became clear that the New State was really gone. Years of discontent exploded and workers started to take advantage of their new-found freedoms and assert their own interests.

Phil Mailer:

The first problems in the factories and in the workplaces was what’s known as saneamento, “cleansing”. In other words, getting rid of all the people who were fascist elements, who’d been working in the factories and had been informing on any kind of activity, they had to be got rid of. The second thing was the wages. And so lots and lots of factories were occupied by the workers and they would make a list of demands, but there were factory struggles everywhere. The whole thing just burst into a hive of activity. It was something like 600 occupations, the factories like in the first three months.

The other thing was renaming, everything, like Salazar bridge became the 25th of April bridge. All the street names that had fascist names or fascist dates, and some of the big, big struggles at that time were workers of Timex, the watch factory, an American company. They fired the bosses and took over the factory themselves.

John:

All the strikes breaking out weren’t organized by the emerging unions. They were organized by the workers themselves who held mass assemblies to make decisions and set up bodies called workers’ commissions to coordinate the struggles.

Portugal was a relatively homogenous country with a predominantly white Portuguese population, but in areas with significant numbers of Black workers like construction, Cape Verdean, Black migrant workers participated in the struggles as well. For example, 800 builders in the Miraflores Industrial Park, half of whom were from Cape Verde, went on strike on the 14th of May demanding a minimum monthly salary of 6,000 escudos, up from just 2,600 before the revolution. As well as a maximum eight hour, five day working week, 30 days paid holiday and more. They also stated their intention to spread the strike to other employers.

In the countryside too, workers started to fight back against that almost feudal conditions.

Phil Mailer:

The agrarian situation was a mess. Most of the lands was owned occupied by one family. And I think it was January 1975, that the newspaper A Capital had an article with a photograph of a land occupation near Beja in the South, in the Alentejo. And it was carried out by an armed group of workers. And this just was like, I mean, it was like an image from the Spanish Civil War. It just sparked occupations all over the place. And they would call in the army. The police were almost nonexistent, and the real policing was done by group called COPCON run by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, one of the leaders of the original coup. And COPCON were left wing. Very often, they came in and they disarmed the workers, but they handed the farm over to the workers.

And this just took place all over the place. There were thousands of occupations. Then there was the Institute of Reform Agrarian, the Agrarian Reform was set up. And this set out to help the rural workers in terms of managing the farms. And this was quite, it just was all obviously only in the South. I mean, in the North, they had a very a different mentality.

John:

The North-South divide is going to be a recurring theme in this story. There were and still are lots of differences between Northern and Southern Portugal. But a key distinction here is that in the North, much of the rural population were peasants who owned small pockets of land. Whereas in the South, the rural population were mostly wage workers. Related to this, the North was also a lot more conservative and in particular, the Catholic church had a lot of power. The church had been a big supporter of Salazar who had reestablished Catholicism as the state religion, after the institutions were separated under the Republic. As well as in workplaces, working class people organize themselves in their communities and started trying to take control of and improve substandard housing.

Phil Mailer:

It was not only the shanty towns, but there were housing problems in general. A lot of occupations of houses took place. Any empty house was occupied. Again, the government was against a lot of this and they brought in laws trying to control it. But urban struggles were perhaps not as successful as some of the other rural struggles and the factory struggles. And the problem was there was no new housing being built at this time and the shanty towns kept on expanding. So it was a huge big problem.

Raquel Varela:

When the revolution started, workers organized in their workers’ commissions, which is similar to soviet institutions of workers’ organization, but also in neighborhood commissions. So the neighborhoods they started to be run in a self-organized way, not by local mayors – they had very, very little power – but by neighborhood commissions. And in these neighborhood commissions women had an essential role. They were very, very important in these local organizations.

John:

As in most places like New York in the early 20th century, Glasgow in 1915, Italy in the 70s, and many others. Housing struggles were organized mostly by women. And by April 1975, there had been over 20,000 housing occupations. In parallel with struggles over economic conditions, women began to fight against their subordinate position in society more generally, although this wasn’t something which their male comrades necessarily always supported. The PCP, which Phil mentions in a minute is the Portuguese Communist Party.

Phil Mailer:

There couldn’t be any discussion about housing and urban struggles without mentioning the specific example of women. In societies where most women stay at home, as they bear the brunt of bad housing and bad urbanism. And an attempt was made by a group of women to set up an organization, MLM, the Movement for the Liberation of Women, and about 10 women carried posters and placards. And they met in one of the big parks in the center of Lisbon and they put out a manifesto.

John:

LGBTQ people in Portugal also began organizing and demanding an end to discrimination. On the May Day demonstration in 1974 in Porto, the first placard demanding freedom for homosexuals was seen. And less than a fortnight later, a newly formed group, the Revolutionary Homosexual Action Movement published a manifesto called Freedom for Sexual Minorities. It came out in the Diário de Lisboa and Diário Popular newspapers. And it demanded the legalization of homosexuality and an end to the widespread persecution, extortion, and blackmail of LGBTQ people. Newspapers, and the media themselves had been drastically transformed as well by the revolution.

Phil Mailer:

Lisbon in particular had quite a few newspapers. There were three or four main morning papers, but then in the afternoon, there were probably about six or seven, maybe even eight, newspapers that came out every day. All of them were taken over by the workers. And in the Diário de Notícias, for example, the Nobel prize-winning writer José Saramago took over as part of the workers’ committee. And he became the editor of the main morning newspaper the Diário de Notícias, which was like the official journal. That’s where all the government statements and that kind of thing would be printed. In the afternoon papers, which were a little bit more sensational, of their 24 pages, probably 12 would be devoted to football. The other 12 would be maybe manifestos. They weren’t like newspapers that we know them at all, they were manifestos. They were interviews with workers, committees or whatever was happening on the day.

Some people read more than one, or they shared them around. The interesting newspaper was Republica and Republica was a really a Socialist Party newspaper. And this was occupied by print workers and it became an extreme left newspaper. The Republica newspaper plus the radio station, Radio Renascença which had been occupied by workers became the main left-wing mouthpieces for the revolution. And they were promoting, they were taken over by workers of a Maoist bent, on the whole, but they were not only… There were anarchists there and there were libertarians.

The media was very, very important and it was one of the mainstays of feeding the revolution. But mainly it was in the South, in Lisbon. In the North, it was slightly different. The newspapers were more conservative and people didn’t buy them as much, but they would listen to the radio.

John:

In terms of the political factions mentioned just then, if you’re wondering about those, we’re going to give a proper run down at them in part 2. Newspaper and radio were the most important media outlets of that time. As most people were far too poor to afford televisions.

Phil Mailer:

There were TVs in the cafes and people would go to the cafes and they would watch it in the cafes. However, TV there were only two stations. So they were on the first part of the day. I mean, they would start at six o’clock in the evening and then they would stop at 11 o’clock at night. The TV station wasn’t taken over by the workers as such, but they were very much controlled by the workers. For example, there was a kind of art festival and the theatre group, Comuna, had put on a play piece, which was very critical of the Catholic church and the government decided that they would cut off the TV. Now the workers in the TV actually rebelled against it and turned it back on. Now for a symbolic 10 minutes or something like that. But of all the media probably the TV stations were the less controlled by the workers and less controlled by the left in general. The Socialist Party and the social democrats seemed to control the television stations more than anybody.

John:

Phil and some of his friends were one of many groups who also decided to set up their own newspapers.

Phil Mailer:

I joined a group of like-minded people who had set up a magazine, a paper newspaper, and it was a fortnightly newspaper at the beginning in which we would carry out interviews with workers and just ask them what they were doing. And we would publish the interview in full, not edit it, words and all, even if when they said things we didn’t agree with, we’d publish it anyway. And I used a lot of those interviews in the book.

Another thing we did was we arranged round table discussions of different factories to discuss what they were doing and see if they could learn from each other. But one of the problems that came up in these discussions was the party political nature of some of the groups. And it was very difficult to distinguish or to stop. Obviously if a person is a Maoist, they’re going to have a Maoist bent on things, and they’re going to see through things through certain eyes. They’re also going to ally with certain people and be against others.

John:

That paper come back has been digitized and is available in full online, link above.

In addition to the traditional press, workers started using other media to get across their ideas as well. One of the concepts Phil references in this next clip is the fado, a kind of Portuguese music. Typically a mournful song.

Phil Mailer:

There was a huge musical upsurge folk protest songs. That’s a huge element of the way Portuguese folk music evolved, especially with the likes of the Ze Mario Branco and with Zeca Afonso. Not so much the fado, the fado is a different type of music and wouldn’t have been part of the revolutionary music. But the other music, the other protest music was certainly, very, very important. And the other thing was just a colorful nature of everything. I mean, all of Portugal was just spray painted with murals and posters and it was like wallpaper everywhere. It was just wonderful, you felt alive in the middle of it. Very different from advertising, you know, that has replaced it.

[Outro music]

John:

That brings us to the end of part one of this double episode. In part two, we take a more detailed look at the different political functions in the revolution. We look at tensions which emerged within Portuguese society and within the military. And we look at the end of the revolution and its legacy today. Relevant levels of our patron supporters can listen to that as well as an additional bonus episode right now. To support our work and access exclusive content like this, learn more and sign up at patrion.com/workingclasshistory, link in the show notes. For everyone else, part two will be out in the next couple of weeks.

To learn more about the revolution, we highly recommend getting hold of Phil Raquel’s books. They’re available in our online store. So links to both of those above, and our patrons can get 20% of those and all of our books. If you enjoy this podcast, please do share episodes on social media and tell your friends about us.

Thanks to all of our patron supporters who make this podcast possible. Thanks to Tyler Hill for editing these episodes and thanks to you for listening, catch you next time.

Correction
In part 1, the host states that Jorge Valadas was an electrician before being conscripted into the Navy. Jorge actually became an electrician after leaving Portugal, in France.

Part 2

John:

Hi, and welcome back to Part Two of our podcast on the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 to ’75. If you haven’t listened to Part One, I’d go back and listen to that first.

[Intro music]

John:

As we touched on last time, there were a lot of different political organizations involved in the Revolution to some extent. So we asked Phil Mailer, author of Portugal: The Impossible Revolution, who took part in the events, to give us a quick rundown of the most important ones.

Phil Mailer:

Basically, this split in Portuguese society was manifold. I mean, it was the old right and the fascists were still there. Even if they weren’t in the country, they still had money, they could still produce newspapers and leaflets. And then, there would be the extreme right, people who, from the CDS, those Christian Democratic Socialists. They just hated the Communists.

Then towards the middle, you had the Popular Democrats. They used to be called the Popular Democrats, became the Social Democrats, and the Socialist Party. And so, you had a right wing, you had the middle, and the Socialist Party and the Social Democrats wanted parliamentary democracy, and they wanted to be European.

Then you would have the Communist Party. Now the Communist Party moved to the left, sometimes moved to the Socialist Party, sometimes it was hovering, but they were very coherent about what it was they wanted. Sometimes, they would use the extreme left, which would be the Maoists, and all the Trotskyists, mainly the Maoists, they were mainly Maoist groups. The anarchists, unfortunately, were almost nonexistent, because they had been destroyed after the 1934 uprising.

But the Communist Party was in control of the trade union movement, and they certainly controlled the streets, in terms of demonstrations. They would use the extreme left when it was necessary, and they would use the Socialist Party when it was necessary, but they didn’t really … I mean, the main enemy was the Socialist Party. The main competition would have been between the Socialist Party and the Communist Party.

The right wing, there were elements of the CIA involved in Portuguese society at this time. There were right wing fascist groups from Spain. The US Embassy was very, quite active. Carlucci, who was the ambassador, was very active. He had been a CIA agent, and he was very, very active on events around and on the side. It was a very, very divided society.

John:

An important thing to bear in mind here, especially for younger listeners, is that the 1970s were during the Cold War. The Soviet Union very much then existed and was considered an existential threat for the West. And Portugal opting for a Soviet-style state run economy was something which many people thought was a definite possibility, which was very much feared by employers and Western Bloc governments.

Maoists are followers of the ideology of Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. The most significant Maoist group in Portugal at the time was the Movement for the Reorganization of the Party of the Proletariat, MRPP, although it wasn’t officially recognized by China. The official Maoist group recognized by China was the somewhat confusingly named Portuguese Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist), which wasn’t as influential. Anyway, we’ll come back to them later.

Going back to the official Communist Party linked to Moscow, Raquel Varela, author of A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution, and a forthcoming book on the CP during the revolution, explains their strategy. And unlike what you may expect from the name, it was not to make Portugal communist.

Raquel Varela:

We’ve come to the conclusion is that the Communist Party, they didn’t want a revolution. They wanted to control the state apparatus inserted in the forces of the Cold War. So, as [USSR leader Joseph] Stalin and [US president Theodore] Roosevelt and [UK prime minister Winston] Churchill had negotiated in Yalta and Potsdam, in the end of Second World War, the 1945, that Portugal was part of the American sphere. Angola was not, Mozambique was not, Guinea was not, so these were places where they could fight for influence – both China, US and the USSR. But Portugal should be part of NATO, should be part of capitalism. So the Communist Party here did whatever they could, I’m underlining this, to stop the revolution, to stop the self-organization of the workers.

For example, I’ve made a full investigation of strikes, which are dozens of strikes, in fact, hundreds of strikes just at the beginning of the revolution. And the Communist Party is against all these strikes, and not just against theoretically. They send their militants to the factories to say that strikes should not be done, they should support the Front Popular Government because the Communist Party was with the government, with right wing and Social Democrats.

So a typical Popular Front situation, like in France in ’36, or at, let’s say later on, a situation like the government of [Alexander] Kerensky in Russian Revolution, if we want to make some kind of analogy. And this was, it’s very interesting to understand that the May of ’68 has stopped the Stalinization in workers in Europe. But the Portuguese Revolution went even further.

So the attitude of the Communist Party against the strikes and the workers led to a huge influence of the so-called extreme left, or radical left, mainly Maoists, Guevarists, and Catholic progressives to self-management, Catholics, and Trotskyists in small proportion. So this is the role of the Communist Party.

They wanted a regulated capitalism, so they defended labor rights, they defended some nationalizations, but they were against any self-emancipation that could lead to taking the power of the state by the workers. In fact, they obliterated, they did whatever they could to stop this. The price they had to pay for this was that this had led to a development of extreme left, very strong, which lastly until ’86, ’85, in Portugal.

John:

Briefly, just to explain a couple of the terms there. Guevarists are ideological followers of Che Guevara, a central figure in the Cuban Revolution, who had a heavy focus on armed struggle. Trotskyists are followers of Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, who fell out with the party leadership under Joseph Stalin. Communist Party strategy was also for Portugal to respect all of its existing international agreements and treaties, including its membership of NATO, and instead, the Soviet Union would seek to bring Angola into its sphere of influence.

On the other end of the political spectrum, capitalist governments everywhere were watching events in Portugal closely, with a great deal of concern. The term Raquel mentions in the next clip, neoliberalism, essentially refers to free market economic reforms, things like privatization, reduction of social spending, and so on.

Raquel Varela:

What we realize after the opening of archives of Germany and US is that, first of all, after Vietnam, Portugal was the main concern of US foreign policy and German foreign policy, the first concern was Portugal. The idea is that they had to stop the Portuguese Revolution, to avoid the contagion to Spain, because of the influence of the Portuguese Revolution, the end of Franco’s regime, and the end of Dictatorship of Colonels in Greece. So they, Gerald Ford, the President of US, was afraid of, in his words, “a Red Mediterranean”.

So what we saw for example, in my opinion, I’ve developed this in The People’s History of the Revolution, although it’s a contrafactual idea, I believe that the Portuguese Revolution was the beginning of a revolutionary process in Southern Europe that was, made the pressure over the governments of Northern Europe to postpone neoliberal policies until the ’80s crisis. So just was not after the ’70s crisis but after the ’80s, crisis that the anticyclical measures of neoliberalism were … They had a way to impose… In the ’70s, the Portuguese Revolution had such a radical influence, that they could not handle, in the process of a revolutionary Portugal as it was seen at the time, so radical, giving so much hope to the countries, to the people of Europe, to threat, to dare, to close the minds or destroy the traditional unions as they have done in the ’80s. In fact, they have done in the ’80s, not because it was a crisis, but because there was not a political answer. There was not a revolution in the ’80s, that’s why capitalists were strong enough to develop neoliberal policies.

So what we saw was that the biggest amount of money ever given from Germany to a country, from Social Democratic Party, was to socialists in Portugal to avoid the revolution. Now this is open, the archives. And this money was coming, it is supposed, from US. But in fact, US put it here, Carlucci, Franco Carlucci, as the man who should avoid the revolution.

They developed here, the US, a notion of counterrevolution that was after applied in Spain and in Latin America in the ’80s, was the idea that you shouldn’t stop a revolution by a bloody coup d’etat, like they have done in Chile. Here, they were not strong enough to do this.

You should stop a revolution by doing elections and let’s say, democratic reaction, A democratic counterrevolution. You should support yourself in left reformist parties, and in a elections process, that could avoid the development of self-organized soviets or commissions or councils, workers’ councils.

John:

Back in Portugal, after the initial military coup, the Movement of the Armed Forces, MFA, set up the first provisional government, including all the major parties, from the Conservatives, to the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. Being given power within the capitalist state had a significant impact on how the Communist Party would act.

Phil Mailer:

The Communist Party, in the old days, had been so brave. I mean, they were the only people who came into the 25th of April with a clean slate. So many of them had gone to prison, were tortured. And they were listened to.

But when the Communist Party started to join the first government, it came out against certain strikes. For example, it came out against the airline strike, the TAP workers’ strike, saying that it was reactionary, when in fact, it wasn’t. So yeah, it was, they were certainly heady times. And they were quite fascinating.

John:

A lot was going on at the level of the government in the Portuguese Revolution. In total, there were six provisional governments, and at least four military coups. We’re not going to cover all of this in a lot of detail, because what’s more interesting and important to us is what’s going on at the grass roots, amongst the working class itself.

In Part One, we spoke about workers’ struggles quite briefly. Now we’re going to go into them in a bit more detail. This is simplifying it a bit, but you could generally divide the kind of workplace struggles that took place in the Portuguese Revolution into two broad categories, one being, workers fighting for particular demands, like pay increases, and saneamento. That’s the removal of fascists and their informers, using strikes and occupations. The other one being workplace takeovers.

The Portuguese Revolution also didn’t take place in a vacuum. It broke out during a global recession, which began in 1973, following the collapse of the Bretton Woods monetary system, which was a series of monetary policies adopted by most Western powers towards the end of World War II. This resulted in a large number of Portuguese capitalists either deciding to shut up shop, or make layoffs.

In many such enterprises, workers decided to take them over, and self-manage them collectively. But the new self-managed enterprises would then have to contend with the same problems, with a global capitalist marketplace, as their previous owners.

Phil Mailer:

The problem with that is that they didn’t know how to manage. I mean, they weren’t managers, they were workers. And obviously, they couldn’t export, because people at the other end, people in Europe, wouldn’t deal with a workers’ committee. So it led to an awful lot of problems.

John:

Some well-known retailers, like Marks & Spencer in Britain, stopped purchasing from their Portuguese suppliers, which had been taken over by the workers.

Phil Mailer:

First of all, finding a place to meet which suits everybody. You know, the difference between men and women, for example, is a huge factor. The political party nature of some of the discussions, and people attacking each other on political lines … I mean, the Maoists were notorious in this, but the Communist Party was pretty bad as well.

John:

Raquel thinks it’s important to distinguish between these instances of workers’ self-management of capitalist enterprises, with movements at the same time for workers’ control, which she believes is qualitatively different.

Raquel Varela:

What we had in Portugal was, in my opinion, two phenomena that should be theoretically distinguished, because they are different, from the empirical point of view, and political point of view. We saw that the companies that were abandoned or decapitalized by the capitalists after the revolution, or even after the crisis of the ’70s, and the end of Bretton Woods, so the immobilization of productive capital by the companies led to them to make collective dismissals.

Workers then started to occupy these companies, and start self-management of these companies. And we are speaking about over 600 companies, during two years of revolution, were occupied and self-managed. So it’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest inhumanity. I cannot say it’s the biggest, because we have to think of the Biennio Rosso [Two Red Years] in Italy, in 1920, or even in Popular Front in France in ’36. But there are not many examples where you can see 600 companies occupied by the workers, in one country, some of them with links to international capital.

But these companies were, from the capitalist point of view, being decapitalized. So there, for example, the Social Democrats were in favor of this. The problem was that, in these companies, workers learn how to take care of themselves. And we have wonderful testimonies that I tried to put in a book about this. But the companies were, from the economic point of view, in rupture [going out of business].

What we saw, which is much more radical from the socialist point of view, is workers’ control. Workers’ control is not self-management. They were not managed by the workers. So we are speaking of big companies in Portugal that were not in rupture. They were in process of accumulation. And workers decide to control, for example, the wages, saying the management could just earn 12 times more than the average worker.

The management could not earn 12 times more than a worker, saying that they wanted to open the accountability of the companies, and control the accountability of the companies, and saying directly, “We don’t want to become bosses of ourselves. We don’t want to be capitalists. We wanted to be organized in this company to take state power.” This is workers’ control, which is much more similar to, for example, the Russian Revolution, than to the process of self-management.

John:

Now, while other writers and groups in the past have used different definitions of terms like workers’ control, and worker self-management, which can confuse things a bit, this is a really important distinction. Because the Portuguese experience showed that capitalism can coexist quite happily with worker self-management.

So the Portuguese government decided to recognize most of the new self-managed enterprises in order to recuperate them into official state channels. Then, in the self-managed enterprises, to some extent, it’s just then the workers’ commissions, or other democratic bodies, which have to agree to lower wages or increase hours to keep the enterprises profitable, rather than the boss.

Now that’s not to say that workers in these cooperatives were happy to just go along with whatever the market dictated. In many cases in Portugal, during the revolution, they fought and demanded that loss making enterprises be nationalized and subsidized by the state.

Jorge Valadas, a military deserter who returned to Portgual during the revolution, explained a bit more, looking at the example of agricultural collectives, which were originally seized, sometimes by armed groups of workers, and how they were recuperated by the state.

Jorge Valadas:

They’re rather big, quite an important network of cooperatives and self-managed small factories, and less small, and land occupations? See, it’s difficult to summarize that in a few words. In the countryside, the land question, the experience of the cooperatives in the Portuguese Revolution is very important, because it concerned us, practically all across the country, and it was an enormous sector.

But that sector was very, first, controlled by the Communist Party, through the state… And that’s part of all this discussion about cooperatives, and now, these days, of this discussion about the commons.

So it involved all this sector. To develop and to function, they needed to have credits, because they were still functioning inside of a market system. And so, the credits were done through, even through the state, and through the Minister of Agriculture, which was controlled by the Communist Party.

These credits were done in exchange of specialists. We bring here another aspect of this question, which goes back to the Russian Revolution. One aspect, which is this aspect of the role of the specialists, I mean, the role of the specialists is very important in a movement like that.

Because first, the idea that you need to have specialists is, in a way, true. But in another way it’s a danger, because the specialist, if it has the power, connect with the specialization, I mean, it becomes an authoritarian sector inside of your experience. And so, in this agricultural system, the specialists, that who came with the credits, with the money, were agrarian specialists. They often had a role, became more and more important inside of the occupations of land. And they became a part, sort of the [de-radicalisation] apparatus. So that was one aspect of that. So the first aspect of that is the fact that, which brings us to the question today.

You can develop all these cooperatives, or these commons, but if they don’t develop, if they don’t create by themselves a new form of reorganization of society, if they still function inside of the same market framework, monetary framework, they are bound to be destroyed, or recuperated very fast.

John:

As more time passed, a number of issues started to emerge within the workplace struggles.

Phil Mailer:

At this time, I met up with a group of open revolutionaries. A lot of people became Maoists. They started joining political parties. And they would take that political party stuff into the plenary sessions. And you could tell exactly who was who, from the language they were using. I mean, an awful lot of the workers wouldn’t use that language. They just wanted to get along with the business of cleansing the fascists, of getting better wages, and having a reorganization.

John:

Efforts to bring different workers’ commissions together to coordinate were also hampered by squabbles between left groups, as each major left wing organization tried to set up its own network of commissions, which was under its own control.

Phil Mailer:

The MRPP had its own organization. They didn’t say it was the MRPP, but they called it Inter Empresas (Inter Companies). And the PRP had the workers’ councils movement. There were attempts to set up an organization, towards society, which could band together in a non-party way. But they ended up being manipulated by political parties, both Inter Empresas, by the MRPP, and the workers’ councils, by the PRP, the favorite group of the International Socialists group.

John:

The PRP were a Guevarist group, and the International Socialists were a British Trotskyist group, who later rebranded themselves as the Socialist Workers Party, which most British lefties would have come across in one way or another. Anyway, they sent over some of their supporters to get involved.

Phil Mailer:

They, in turn, sent out thousands, filled up Ryanair planes with revolutionary tourists, to visit, and it was a bit of a mess. These revolutionary tourists were actually negative, on the whole. A lot of them were very good, and they came to help, but a lot of them just got in the way.

John:

Revolutionary tourists also contributed to some problems within rural collectives, as there were cultural clashes between their liberal attitudes towards things like sex, and those of the locals, which were more small C conservative, after decades of dictatorship and repression. And this caused some problems and resentments, for example, when foreigners started sleeping with local people.

While members of the far left groups played important roles in the strikes and in workers’ commissions, Phil believes the inter-party rivalries had a negative effect, Especially as they sometimes descended into violence, for example, between the Maoist MRPP, and the Communist Party, whom the Maoists considered were “social fascists.” As a minor detour for any lefty history nerds, this is quite an ironic position, given that during the rise of fascism in the 1920s, the official position of Communist Parties were that the Social Democrats were social fascists, and to be considered as much the enemy as natural fascists.

Phil Mailer:

The MRPP, the main Maoist groups, led by Arnaldo Matos, was a very strange, very, very strange group. Their worst enemy was the Communist Party, and they were worse than the right wing. They were a pain in the ass… I mean, they produced these huge murals, and very colorful antiwar paintings, but on the other hand, they were very active in the workers’ committees. But they were a, really, a divisive force. They actually attacked demonstrations, and they were quite vicious.

John:

Many workers and neighborhood commissions tried to put an end to the party political infighting.

Phil Mailer:

One of the problems was the political parties. If you had a demonstration for housing, certain groups started to bring out their own banners, like the Maoist banners, or the Communist Party banner. And people said, “No, no, this is not your demonstration, this is a general demonstration.” Party banners were actually prohibited at demonstrations. A general movement was very unique, I think.

John:

Elsewhere, there was a left wing backlash against the surge of feminist activism. This culminated in an appalling incident during a protest by the Movement for the Liberation of Women, MLM, a group Phil mentioned in Part One.

Phil Mailer:

But this manifesto, proposed demonstration, was publicized in the most trivial forms in the newspapers. A Capital, for example, an evening newspaper, which is usually a serious newspaper, treated the whole thing as a joke. It was announced as a sort of bra burning episode. And like all the other newspapers, it promised a striptease.

The MDM, the Movement, Democratic Movement of Women, which was the PCP organization, violently denounced the demonstration, and sent its supporters. And crowds of men turned up and began to boo. They jeered and taunted the women, and the women, they had to really, basically, escape from there.

This was typical Communist Party and leftist thinking: instead of treating women as individuals, they were basically treating them as an adjunct to the family, and looked at their importance through that.

The repression of that demonstration put the women’s movement back, right at the beginning, and was never, ever to come out again, in any real kind of sense. There was no real women’s movement, even through the rest of the time, the rest of the revolution. Women were part of the general factory struggles, and never developed an agenda of their own.

John:

That horrific incident aside, there were many practical examples of solidarity between men and women in the working class as a whole, including many strikes for equal pay, some undertaken by mostly male groups of workers, for example, metal workers. As the revolution progressed, divisions also opened up within the military.

Phil Mailer:

But the main controlling elements were the army, and there were three factions in the army. There was the right wing faction, and they really didn’t, they had lost out. There was still General Spinola and others, but they had lost out after two unsuccessful coups on the 28th of September, ’74, and then on the 11th of March, ’75. And a lot of these guys had escaped to Brazil or to Europe somewhere.

So the main group, two main groups in the army, controlling factions of the army that were left, were the so-called Group of Nine. And they had quite a bit of power in the army. And then the other section was COPCON, which was controlled by the far left.

John:

The two attempted military coups were by right wing factions in the army. And they were defeated by a combination of swift action by the working class, as well as left factions of the army. The Group of Nine was a moderate social democratic grouping, broadly aligned with the ideology of the Socialist Party. As well as the military, divisions in the general population also grew, creating a potentially explosive situation.

Phil Mailer:

When the right wing started moving in the summer of ’75, and they started burning down the Communist Party headquarters, and there was a real danger of, that it could break into a civil war. There was the Commune of Lisbon in the south, but in the north, the Catholic Church was still very, very strong. A lot of right wing Catholic priests were very afraid of Communism, and came out preaching against Communism.

The people, they got afraid, and they started to burn down Communist Party headquarters. So it was a dangerous situation. Also, the left, the far left, infiltrated large sections of the military. And there was a real danger that the two sides could come to blows.

John:

One factor, which strengthened the counterrevolutionary reaction, was the return to Portugal of large numbers of disgruntled colonists.

Phil Mailer:

Now when the colonies collapsed, something like half a million people from Angola and Mozambique returned to Portugal. There was nowhere for them to stay. They were put up in hotels, they occupied hotels, and they were camped in parks, and they were all over the place, all over Portugal. And these were, as you can imagine, quite this embittered Portuguese poor people, and extremely right wing.

This was part of that summer of ’75, and the right wing started bombing the Communist Party headquarters, and that. The Socialist Party headquarters, some were attacked as well. It was a huge problem.

One of the really largest problems was, where to put them up? And there was nowhere. You couldn’t, you can’t have a city of a million and a half people suddenly gets an extra half a million people. It creates all sorts of problems. And it created an awful lot of bitterness.

John:

As another example of how deep the divisions in the left were, some of the Maoist groups actually even supported the terrorist attacks against the Communist Party.

Throughout the revolutionary events, the state was walking on a bit of tightrope. Those within the MFA genuinely wanted to be on the side of the people, so they were reluctant to use a lot of military repression.

Instead, their tactic was generally to grant concessions, including major ones. So, as one example, after bank workers occupied the banks in March 1975, demanding they be nationalized, the following day, they were. And in general, the state would give approval to land- and work-based takeovers which workers had done themselves.

On one level, this was meaningless, because workers had already created the new situation. But the state formally acknowledging them did bring these radical acts, which had challenged the institution of private property, back into the realms of legal channels, and instilled confidence in the workers in the institution of the state.

Meanwhile, state violence would only be used sparingly, when, as the state saw it, workers tried to go “too far ”. And in many cases, the left wing force of the MFA, COPCON, would even be used to protect workers taking action. So in general, it had a lot of support amongst the working class.

Jorge Valadas:

That was very, very difficult to criticize [the army] in the daily lives of the movements. Because people didn’t feel safe enough to go further, and they always asked for the help of the democratic army, to come and help them, if they had said, “Take a factory,” or, “Take the land.” And they didn’t really trust in themselves, so they asked the help of the army. And with the help of the army came the state, came these political parties, and came a recuperation of the movement.

John:

The fact that revolutionary left groups had a fair amount of influence within COPCON, combined with the general light touch of the MFA on the working class movement, meant that there were comparatively few efforts made to develop autonomous rank and file organization in the army, or for the working class to arm itself. There were some minor exceptions to the latter, like the armed land occupation spoken about in Part One. And some of the Guevarist groups did amass some small arms.

In terms of rank and file organization within the army, attempts to do this did begin at a late stage in September 1975. At this time, Portugal was on its fifth provisional government, and this one had a very narrow base of support, which was essentially just the Communist Party and other elements of the far left.

The MFA forced Prime Minister Vasco Gonçalves to resign. Then a group of anonymous soldiers set up Soldiers United For Victory, SUV, a rank and file organization aimed at organizing soldiers themselves to be able to potentially act independently of the officers. The military brass cracked down, and arrested two soldiers for distributing SUV leaflets. This resulted in the biggest demonstration by soldiers in Portuguese history, calling for their release.

This was potentially a truly revolutionary development, as the intent of SUV was to work alongside workers and neighborhood commissions, and constitute a direct counter power to the state. As SUV wasn’t controlled by any particular left group, the Communist Party, the MRPP, and a coalition of other Maoist groups all started their own “rank and file” soldiers’ organizations, as well.

The need for the capitalist state to reassert itself became ever more pressing.

One key thing it had to do to regain control, put an end to all the turbulence, and get back to business as usual, was regaining control of the media, which had largely taken over by the workers after the 25th of April. To illustrate how they did this, this is what happened in the examples of República, the newspaper of the Socialist Party, and Radio Renascença, the Catholic Church’s radio station, which were taken over by the workers, and discussed in Part One.

Phil Mailer:

República had lots of ups and downs, and it was eventually banned, and Radio Renascença, the radio station, was blown up by the army, because they couldn’t control it.

John:

Shortly after that, there was another final military coup, on the 25th of November, 1975, where military officers linked to the Socialist Party decided to consolidate their power, and end the revolution.

Raquel Varela:

My interpretation of the 25th of November is that it is the right wing military provoked a very small sector of the left military, that made a kind of a coup, very small. And all the right wing and Social Democrats mobilized with the right wing and the church, led by the Social Democrats to do what was undoubtedly a right wing coup. After this coup, 130 radical officials of the armed forces, and old soldiers, thousands under their leadership, were arrested. The officials and soldiers went out of the army, sent out of the army. So there is no doubt about this.

John:

Crucially, the army shut down COPCON, the left wing faction of the military, which left groups like the Communist Party had thought they could use for their own ends. But they hadn’t reckoned for the military hierarchy, or at least, not until it was too late. The rank and file organizing within in the army was only small, and in its early stages.

Having COPCON do the bidding of the left was all well and good, until the upper echelons of the military hierarchy decided to put a stop to it. And in the absence of widespread self-organization of the troops, the soldiers and junior officers of COPCON were either expelled, or just followed their orders, as they’d been trained to do.

Phil Mailer:

Whatever was the problem with the Portuguese Revolution was that the working class forces relied too much on the military. Now it was the nature of the military, because it came from the working class – it was mainly conscription – so people felt that they were part of the working classes, as well as being part of the military.

The actual Communist Party and some other left wing forces, some other Communists, said that the military should be infiltrated. They saw themselves as being able to infiltrate the military and use it for their own benefit. And to some extent, I mean, that worked out on that, proved true on the 25th of April, ’74.

But on the other end, it meant that the working class never developed its own military force. It relied completely on the military, and this was a mistake. Because once COPCON was disbanded, I mean, there was nothing left. There was no defense whatsoever, so people were left isolated.

It also put too much emphasis on the military in terms of organization. So that this reliance on the army is what made the revolution quite successful, in some ways, it was also one of the drawbacks, and one of the weak points.

John:

Portuguese revolutionaries who wanted to go further than just establishing social democracy also had another serious problem.

Phil Mailer:

The problem with Portugal was that it was on its own. I mean, the Portuguese revolution was just isolated. Social Democrats are like the Labor Party, and they were all against the revolution. They wanted a parliamentary democracy. They didn’t want a revolution, and they were making sure that it was the right of the Socialist Party that actually were going to win, and not the Communists and anybody else.

The only way out of the isolation of Portugal was if Spain, which was in the dying gasps of Francoism … Franco unfortunately didn’t die until November of ’75, and was a bit too late. He should have died a little bit earlier… April 26th would have been a good time.

But Spain was, I mean, it was just amazing. You’d go into Spain, all the walls were completely blank, and you come into Portugal, and there was murals everywhere, and posters. It’s like day and night. You go just across the border, and it’s like a different world. And it was, this fear of Spain exploding was very real in Europe, at that time, and in the political parties.

Now, if that had happened, it would have been a whole different ball game. And unfortunately, it didn’t. Working class memory was still focused on the Spanish Civil War, and the bitter memories of the Civil War. And people didn’t want that to happen again.

John:

As luck would have it, General Francisco Franco of Spain would die just after the Portuguese Revolution ended. His hand-picked successor, Luis Carrero Blanco, had recently been assassinated by Basque separatists, ETA. His car was blown 20 meters into the air over a five-story building, causing him to be dubbed “Spain’s first astronaut.” He was a key figure, able to bring together different wings of the Francoist state. And without him and Franco, it began to fall apart, and a huge wave of wildcats strikes organized by workers holding mass assemblies broke out. But again, this was too late to link up with events in Portugal.

The final military coup of November 1975 wasn’t fought against by the bulk of the left, because a deal had been made beforehand.

Phil Mailer:

What actually happened was, the President, Costa Gomes, who was known as The Cork, because he always floated above everything, made a deal with the Communist Party, and the group of Social Democrats, this Group of Nine, in which, if there was to be a coup, a right wing coup, which did happen in November 1975, the Communist Party would not be outlawed. And the Communist party agreed that they wouldn’t come out on the streets, if there was a right wing coup.

Something had to give. I think the Communist Party realized that it was either civil war, or making some sort of compromise. And they agreed to compromise. So that would be the end of the revolution. We were all scared that it was going to be a, kind of a Pinochet deal, but it wasn’t, thankfully. It was social democracy.

John:

General Augusto Pinochet was the Chilean military officer who led a coup in 1973 against the elected left wing government of Salvador Allende, after which tens of thousands of radical workers and socialists were tortured, murdered and disappeared. While in retrospect now, it seems that a Chilean-style option wasn’t really on the cards for a country in Western Europe, that wasn’t clear to all of the participants at the time, and Pinochet’s coup cast a long shadow over the Portuguese events. After that final coup, there was no energy or momentum amongst the workers to fight on.

Jorge Valadas:

Yes, I think it’s altogether … I think people had confidence in them very strongly in the beginning. There are other periods in which, during which this confidence was growing, and that the period of revolutionary movement while still alive.

But slowly, the political aspect of it, of these interventions of parties inside of these struggles, and inside of the organizations, they’re trying to control the committees, trying to control the rank and file unions, all these struggles, all these bureaucratic struggles, became very tiring for people.

When the second military coup arrived on November 25, I think the reversal – from my point of view, and it’s not only me who think like that – I think the reversal was already done. I mean, the people were already very tired. People were already very disappointed.

And then, in a certain level, the strategy of the Communist Party, at that moment, was accepted. The strategy was that we should save what can be saved, and then, negotiate with the new power, which was behind this second coup, which was basically the capitalist traditionalist power, and the power of the capitalist class. So we should negotiate a space for us inside of a democratic society.

And so, I think this idea, that was the idea, that the leader of the Communist Party, Álvaro Cunhal, defended very brilliantly, because he was a brilliant politician, defended that in a brilliant way. I mean, I think it was accepted by the majority, then, of the working people, because they had lost confidence in themselves. And they were tired with all these political struggles inside of their own organizations.

I think it’s a lot of organizations that have been created by the working people, the peasants, the students, and the office workers, and so forth, the teachers. And so, inside of these organizations, there was already, if one can use that heavily, a word, there was already the counterrevolution. Because there was already this political perspective of negotiation, for having just a space for functioning in a more democratic society.

John:

In terms of the squabbling between political factions in the assemblies, and workers and neighborhood commissions, and the effect that had on the majority of participants, I’m sure that a lot of our listeners would have experienced something similar, albeit to a lesser extent. For example, for anyone who took part in the movement against the Iraq War in the early 2000s, or the Occupy movement a decade later, places where mass movements emerge quickly. But many of the forums which originally emerged for discussion and action shrunk, and became talking shops for activists in various left wing political parties.

In the end, while the Portuguese Revolution didn’t usher in socialism or communism, it did result in the disbanding of the bulk of the Portuguese empire. Between 1974 and ’75, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, Angola and East Timor, all gained independence, although East Timor was then invaded by Indonesia.

The only territories Portugal held onto were small islands, including the Azores, Madeira, and the Savage Islands. In Portugal itself, the revolution won many new democratic freedoms and civil liberties, as well as significant material improvements in the lives and conditions of working class people.

Raquel Varela:

I would say that, of course, we saw the independencies of the colonies, and the end of the empire. We saw the building of a welfare state, a national health service and universal education system. All, most of the children, did not study more than four years before. They were obliged to study at least nine years after the revolution, in the whole country.

There was a national health service for the entire country, totally free. We saw a change from income, from capital to labor, from 18%, one-eighths, the biggest in all Portuguese history.

John:

What that means is that the share of national income going to labor, i.e., in workers’ wages, as opposed to investments and profits, went up by 18 percentage points, which is an incredibly significant increase.

Raquel Varela:

We saw all the democratic rights you can imagine, free press, free parties, free meetings, free association, elections, et cetera. This was all assured. We saw the nationalization of the biggest companies and banks, without compensations.

Well, literally, the bourgeoisie escaped from Portugal. They went to Brazil during one year, due to being afraid of the Portuguese. So we are speaking of the last revolution in Europe which questioned private property.

John:

Many of these concessions last to this day, but they’ve all been under attack since the revolution ended. For example, rent control was enacted in Lisbon, in response to tenants’ struggles, lasted until 2012, when the government used the financial crisis as an excuse to liberalize them.

Many of the self-managed enterprises and cooperatives also continued beyond the end of the revolutionary period. And while these didn’t undermine capitalism as such, the experience drastically altered the consciousness of the worker owners.

Jorge Valadas:

Oh, another side, there is another aspect, which I think it’s important to underline. Yeah, the fact that the people who participate in this experience, they get to develop a consciousness themselves, and thus, the possibilities to change themselves and the world, and this society, which cannot be recuperated.

That is, for me, the only thing in the commons and the cooperatives cannot be recuperated in this element of social subversive consciousness. And that exists for several years in Portugal, in small places, very isolated, but keeping that experience is still in the mind of a lot of people.

John:

Between April 1974 and November 197S, Portuguese workers and soldiers transformed not just the country, but perhaps more importantly, they transformed themselves, as well.

Raquel Varela:

But what we have seen above all, I want to underline this, is my opinion, is not just about results. Because the counterrevolution slowly ended these results, but slowly. Some of them even still exist today. The most important is that among 10 million people, three million were engaged in workers’ councils.

This is absolutely impressive. People change when they change the country. They learn how to live in a different society, with solidarity and freedom, and they’ve changed themselves changing the country. It’s absolutely amazing, this process of transformation.

So I think, as radical historians, as Marxist historians, or as socialist historians, we have to focus not just on results, but on process, the role of possibilities that month, where people were on their own live show to the world. This is so important, in my opinion.

Phil Mailer:

These 18 months were just awe inspiring, and left a lasting impression on me.

[Outro music]

John:

That brings us to the end of this double podcast episode on the Carnation Revolution. For anyone interested in going into a bit more detail, we’ve got a bonus episode for relevant levels of our Patreon supporters, where we talk about some other aspects of the events which didn’t quite fit into these main episodes, like the nature of the new state regime, whether or not it was fascist, different tactics by left groups on deserting the military, and more. You can check that out, link above.

To learn more about the Portuguese Revolution, we highly recommend getting hold of Phil and Raquel’s books. A People’s History of the Portuguese Revolution, by Raquel Valera, is a great grass roots overview of the events, and Phil Mailer’s Portugal: The Impossible Revolution, is an exciting first person account, with a lot of analysis of the actions and strategy of the revolutionary left.

You can get them in our online store, link above. And our patrons can 20% off these and all other links in the WCH store.

If you value our work, please consider supporting us on Patreon, to enable us to make this podcast more sustainably and more regular. Go to https://patreon.com/workingclasshistory to learn more, and sign up. Link in the show notes as well.

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Huge thanks to all of our existing Patreon supporters, without whom this podcast would not be possible. Theme music for these episodes is Traz outro amigo também, by Zeca Afonso. Links to stream and purchase that above.

These episodes were edited by Tyler Hill. Thanks to all of you for listening, and catch you next time.

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