45 Years After the Carnation Revolution – Portugal as a Model for a New Socialism?

by Leila Dregger

On April 25, 1974 left-leaning troops move into Lisbon and take over all key strategic places in the country. Forty-eight years of dictatorship are over. The dream of socialism awakens. Today Portugal suffers under a dictatorship again – the dictatorship of capital, as countless graffiti on the walls attest. But Portugal has not fully forgotten the dream of freedom, equality and socialism. After the big demonstrations against the Troika, pioneer groups moved to the countryside to build alternatives – cooperatives for regional subsistence; “Ajudadas” (actions of mutual help); legal and illegal local markets for exchanging goods; “Land Banks” for transferring property between landowners and landless people; citizenship academies. Visionary thinkers already see a new map of Portugal arising – a map of regional economic cycles, modern subsistence, eco-regions and villages, which counter the globalized world with another reality.

“On every corner, a friend. In every face, equality. It is the people who command,” sang Zeca Afonso in the outlawed song, “Grândola.”

“On every corner, a friend. In every face, equality. It is the people who command,” sang Zeca Afonso in the outlawed song, “Grândola.”

It expressed the feelings of the land workers in the Alentejo: bitterly poor day laborers without rights. Tens of thousands ended up in the torture prisons of the “PIDE,” the secret police. There was no freedom of assembly, the highest child mortality rate in Europe, one-third of the people were illiterate.

The “Estado Novo” (“New State”), a construction of the reclusive professor of economics, António de Oliviero Salazar, promoted national self-sufficiency, total censorship and the fierce defense of the colonial empire. The sons of the country were fighting in anachronistic colonial wars in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau.

When the Grândola song resounded from Renascença radio on that Thursday, shortly after midnight, the young officers of the “Movement of the Armed Forces” were already on their way to the capital. The operation “End of Regime” occupied strategic state facilities in the early morning. Approaching military troops joined together.

They were welcomed by masses who lined the roads with gifts of apples, bread and red carnations. The people thus applauded the coup and gave the revolution its name. In the late afternoon the Head of State Caetano resigned. Shots were fired only in front of the PIDE command central, killing four protestors. By the next morning the curse was over.

Six days later, half a million people celebrated May Day on the streets of Lisbon for the first time. Lorries of workers came from the suburbs to the city. Red flags flooded from buses and trains. The prisons were opened, the political prisoners freed. The returning socialist and communist leaders entered the stadium together in a demonstration of unity, saluted by the masses of people, “O povo unido jamais será vencido!” – “The people united will never be defeated!”

The entire nation seemed to radicalize. Businesses and banks were nationalized. Students and professors, so recently still persecuted by their directors, unseated them from their positions and organized their education themselves.

Ideas and groups, prohibited for half a century, exploded like fireworks. Left-wing factions wrote their slogans all over the walls. Self-organized citizenship committees took over the fire departments, roadwork and other long neglected tasks. The workers drove out repressive factory-owners. The agrarian reform, modeled on the Soviets, nationalized land; large-scale landowners were expropriated. Land workers founded hundreds of cooperatives, mostly in the south of the country. Volunteers from many countries came to help. Portugal became the Mecca for European youth who dreamt of socialism.

But the Portuguese people did not take the world into their reckoning. During the peak of the Cold War, the West was unwilling to tolerate a socialist country in Europe. A new Cuba, Vietnam or Chile had to be prevented by all means. The East-West conflict divided the lauded unity of the Portuguese people. The socialists were increasingly influenced by the European Social Democrats and adopted their motto: “Reforms instead of Revolution.” The Soviet Union supported the Portuguese Communist Party; their followers were mostly in the South while in the North, a well-oiled anti-communist propaganda machine was set into motion, financed and organized, many assume, by the US.

The other reason for the failure of the revolution came from inside. The unity of the people broke apart because there was no real vision and experience of a lived socialism, of actual community. Uneducated land workers were suddenly responsible for tasks for which they were ill-prepared.

After 1976, Portuguese society tipped backwards to a bourgeois way of life. The declaration of socialism as a state goal in the constitution remained as empty words. The socialist government was still entrenched in economic webs rooted in the principles of capitalism and did not back the agrarian reforms. Small-scale farmers lost the land they had just cultivated. The remaining cooperatives were deprived of their legal benefits.

End of the Line: Capitalism

The West had won. After the entry into the European Union in 1986, Portugal became Brussels’ exemplary student. The large grain fields were transformed into monoculture forest for export as cheap wood. Portugal, a country blessed by abundant sunshine and rain and with a mild climate, became dependent on food imports which today stand at approximately 85 percent of the country’s consumption.

The destructive mega-projects of the dictatorship, such as the reservoir dams, were carried forward under the EU. One example is the Alqueva Dam in the Alentejo, Europe’s biggest reservoir dam. Its profit is reaped by foreign agriculture companies with their immense olive groves, plantations of genetically modified corn and greenhouse tunnels. Instead of bringing wealth into the region, they annually employ ten-thousands of low-paid migrant workers from Nepal, Bulgaria and Thailand.

Alfredo Cunhal, organic farmer from Montemor-o-Novo says, “In regard to agriculture, dictatorship, socialism and capitalism have all followed the same strategy – centralization and specialization, with a destructive effect on nature and rural development.” His attempts at reintroducing the traditional way of farming, Montado and at establishing a diverse farm, deserve all support.

“In the nineties the banks chased after us with generous loan offers” remembers history professor Antonio Quaresma. The country was soon full of brand-new cars, modern one-family houses and unused highways, but had hardly any means of production. Quaresma says, “We sensed that we would receive the bill for this at some point.”

In 2011 the Portuguese government applied for the European bailout. Austerity measures pressure the workers, small business owners, craftsmen and farmers. The privatizations have pushed 18% into unemployment, 37% under 24. The number of young people leaving the country today is almost as high as during the dictatorship. Countless people are unable to pay back their loans. Innumerable families try to maintain the pretense of order. “They are ashamed,” notes Teresa Chaves, coordinator of Caritas in Beja, who due to the crisis, has to deal with an ever-increasing number of hardship cases. In the local elections of 2013 the voters gave the government a sign of this discontent; half of all municipalities in the Alentejo have communist mayors again.

Portugal has 308 municipalities, 3,092 parishes,and 2,074 local government councils. (Source: Wikipedia)

In the last Portuguese local elections in October 2017, the Socialist Party (PS) under Prime Minister António Costa was the big winner and stayed the largest local party in Portugal. The Socialists won 160 mayors (10 more than in 2013), and more than 38% of the votes (2 Mio people). “The strong nationwide results for the PS helped to legitimize António Costa’s position as Prime Minister after his loss in the 2015 general elections. It was also the first time since 1985, that the party in government clearly won a nationwide local election.” (Source: Wikipedia).

Political Landscape of the Alentejo

“Of the 47 municipalities that make up the 3 sub-regions of Alentejo, 10 never changed their political color. 7 were always led by communist mayors and three socialists.”

Read more: http://www.lidadornoticias.pt/en/alentejo-dez-dos-47-municipios-nunca-mudaram-de-cor-politica/ (2017)

The revolution in local government: Mayors in Portugal before and after 1974

“Since medieval times Portuguese local councils have had a tradition of autonomy and self-government, with local elites holding power in areas where central government could not reach… This changed with the arrival of the New State and its centralized government through which the regime tried to control every aspect of daily life, creating corporative institutions for every section of the economy and society, affecting power relations at the local level. We were interested to see whether the old, local elites were replaced, or whether the same families controlled local affairs under the New State.”

Read more: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/continuity-and-change/article/revolution-in-local-government

System Change

If one drives through the countryside and shares bread and thoughts with the locals, one recognizes that something in the people has remained untouched by the many invading forces. There is a downright defiant connection with the land; village life is still characterized by neighborliness and a quiet non-participation in the pace of global-commercialism; there is also often determined non-cooperation to enviro-economic mega-projects like reservoir dams and mines. Chatting with the customer is still more important to the cashier than the impatient bureaucrat waiting in line.

In the bar on the corner one can still get the illegal home-brewed liquor and the cake baked by a neighbor. The village community is more important to many people than arguments about economics and employment. They silently follow an approach to life different to that prescribed as a panacea in our modern time. In times of globalized capitalism this way of life has been pushed to the brink of abyss, declared as weakness. Yet it did not perish.

In this situation, the first young people from the protest generation move to the countryside in order to create a life outside of the Troika. Projects for neighborly help and modern subsistence arise. They develop alternative cooperatives for regional produce and subvert prohibitions against local trade. They experience for themselves what the older locals hold clear: that village communities and neighborhoods are the most reliable bases in times of crisis.

The largest of these experiments is the international peace research center Tamera, founded in 1995. Today 170 people work on a comprehensive model for a peace society, combining ecological and social solutions for a post-capitalist way of life which can be replicated worldwide. Tamera brings current ecological and social knowledge into the region, and is also a meeting point for a regional autonomy movement.

It seems that the crisis in Southern Europe could help catalyze a system change. Portugal is a cultural and environmental bridge between Europe and Africa. Solutions that are developed here, can also be applied in the Global South and could thereby contribute to dissolving the disparity between North and South. Forty years after the Carnation Revolution, Portugal could become a model for a new socialism.

‘Portugal 1974: Así fue el golpe de estado’ RTVE.es


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