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☝️ Short intro to the Portuguese Revolution of April 25th 1974, also known as Carnation Revolution or The April Revolution.

Summary

In 1910, Portugal abolished the monarchy and became a republic. The 1st Republic was very unstable. During the first 16 years, there were 45 governments, several bomb attacks, interventions by anarchist unions, and assassinations. Various currents from left to right fought to assert power.

In 1926, a military coup established a 2nd republic, but order quickly hardened into a dictatorship. The dictatorship became official as the Estado Novo in 1933 (“New State”). In this conservative and nationalist government, there were narrow freedoms — Coca-Cola was banished. Besides isolationism, we were at war trying to maintain our colonies, especially Angola and Mozambique. The Estado Novo was led by Salazar until he was succeeded by Marcelo Caetano in 1968. Discontent was visible. The population wanted more freedom. The military did not want the war, were poorly paid, and their complaints were forcefully suppressed.

On April 25, 1974, an armed forces movement called MFA (“Movimento de Forças Armadas”) staged a military coup led by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. The population joined en masse, turning the coup into a successful revolution. Portugal entered two years of uncertainty and 6 temporary governments. Left-wing forces led early on (MFA, COPCON, PCP), heavily influencing the composition of the provisional governments. Nationalizations, expropriations, and media control were commonplace. Conservative forces tried to assert themselves without success, and the radical left was strengthened. However, the elections of the 25th of April of 1975 brought to power the center-left and center-right democrats of PS and PPD/PSD. They took control of the assembly that would write the new Constitution, but it was also clear in the elections that the population strongly supported a moderate rule. The radical left reacted and escalated tensions in the streets, pressuring the government. This was the Hot Summer of 1975. In November 1975, the COPCON leadership and many from the MFA attempted a left-wing coup but failed. On April 25, 1976, the Constitution took effect, and the first elections for the legislative assembly and government also occurred. These confirmed the centrists in power (PS, PPD). Mário Soares became the Prime Minister and Sá Carneiro the opposition. General Eanes was elected president.

And so, we remained in democracy!

Long version

The context of the revolution

On the 5th of October of 1910, Portugal proclaimed the Republic and abandoned the Monarchy.

The 1st Republic that began was very unstable. In its first 16 years there were 45 governments and 7 parliaments, several coup attempts, bomb attacks, and the direct and violent intervention of anarchist unionism. Politicians and central figures were assassinated. The parties did not get along, neither among themselves nor even within themselves. Other forces attempted to start a regime based on messianic character, with absolutist and conservative tendencies (Sidónio Pais), and there were also fascist currents.

On May 28, 1926, a military coup opened the 2nd republic, quickly turning into a dictatorship.

In 1933, this dictatorship solidified an ideological and political plan, and became known as Estado Novo, with Salazar as its leader. He led Portugal for several decades. The Estado Novo was conservative and strongly nationalist, anti-communist, anti-liberal, anti-NATO, anti-US, etc. Portugal controlled several colonies like Angola and Mozambique, but was at war to maintain its control.

In 1974 the economy was growing, but few sectors of society were satisfied. Salazar was decrepit and away from power, and since 1968 the dictatorship was headed by his successor Marcelo Caetano.

The day of the Revolution: April 25th of 1974

The Carnation Revolution started as a military coup.

The key actor was an armed forces movement called MFA for “Movimento das Forças Armadas”. The MFA was created because of the discontent among the mid-level ranks of the military. So, our revolution started in part from banal reasons: the military were poorly paid, their career paths nonexistent, and they wanted to leave Africa. But since they lived in a dictatorship, they could not even demonstrate or organize to demand better conditions. Thus the movement also demanded freedom from the dictatorship from early on.

General Spínola also played an important role. He was critical of the Colonial War, and his book titled “Portugal and the Future” convinced the MFA’s mid-level ranks that they had the support among the military’s top brass.

The coup was successful.

Partly because the dictatorship was rotten and exhausted, and its strong man Salazar was out of the scene. More importantly, the population immediately and very expressively adhered to the coup on the streets. And so it went from a military coup to a Revolution.

(A revolution always implies mass adherence, as when we say “the smartphone revolution”, and that’s what happened then.)

After the Revolution: April 25 1974 to April 25 1976

After the revolution, movements, parties and personalities started to clash.

General Spínola was the first provisional president. He was chosen because he was a high-ranking military officer critic of the Colonial War, and that was useful to legitimize the MFA’s coup. But Marcelo Caetano also made it clear that he would only acknowledge defeat to Spínola.

But Spínola was also conservative, which clashed with the stronger political current of the MFA led by Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, which was leftist and radical-left.

The MFA blocked some of Spínola’s decisions. Weakened, in June he formed a new provisional government with another military, Prime Minister Vasco Gonçalves. He was originally moderate, but who progressively turned to the left.

Spínola was displeased with the start of decolonization — he wanted a federalization of colonies instead — and in September he attempted to take control of the country. But Otelo had created the COPCON, which was the physical and political police of the post-revolution, and it was controlled by left-wing forces. They expelled Spínola from the government, and put General Francisco da Costa Gomes, a moderate, in his place.

The country was unstable and the future was uncertain. 600,000 forced exiles from from the colonies filled the streets, including 100,000 military. Many didn’t have a city, family, or home to return to, as they had been born in the colonies.

The Communist Party (PCP) and other radical parties were very strong, and different plans were debated to turn Portugal into a socialist reality, far from the social-democracy it is now. The clearest communist figure was Álvaro Cunhal, who had returned from Paris where he was leading the PCP in clandestinity.

Nationalizations advanced, taking control of agricultural lands, banks, and businesses of various sizes. Houses were occupied too. All this generated even more instability.

In March 1975, Spínola gathered supporters and attempted a coup. It failed, and Spínola went into exile. The most radical elements of the left formed the Council of the Revolution and established a 4th provisional government, with Vasco Gonçalves at the head. Spínola’s failure resulted in clear a turn to the left.

Mário Soares began to stand out. He had also returned from Paris at the head of the Socialist Party (PS).

A year after the revolution, on April 25, 1975, the first free elections were held to elect for the Constituent Assembly. That is, these elections would determine the parties that would create a new Constitution.

The political center stood out. The moderate socialists of PS won, followed by the PPD (current PSD), with the PCP losing strength (13%) and the CDS taking a smaller position (8%).

The MFA continued to pressure the assembly to implement its left-wing program, while the PCP and others kept their version of the revolution alive on the streets through union mobilization and nationalizations, including the control of newspapers and newsrooms throughout the country. This was the Hot Summer of 1975.

The provisional governments included people from various parties. But in June the PS and the PPD (PSD) left the 4th government dissatisfied with the pressure from the MFA and the PCP.

Different factions showed strength through speeches, newspaper articles and street rallies.

On August 8th, the 5th provisional government was created, which included the PCP, military, and independents. The PCP and left-wing forces controlled various newspaper editorial offices.

Contestation grew across the country, and local PCP headquarters began to be vandalized.

In September, a 6th and last provisional government was created, led by Vice-Admiral Pinheiro de Azevedo and composed of the PS, PPD (PSD), and PCP.

On November 25th, a left-wing coup attempt was made, led by Otelo, COPCON, and members of the MFA. General Ramalho Eanes stopped the coup, and COPCON was dismantled.

The coup is shrouded in some controversy: according to various sources and versions of history, the PCP was involved in the coup, or authorized the coup, or consented to the coup; in other versions, the left attempted this coup only to prevent a new right-wing coup similar to Spínola’s in March 1975.

On April 25, 1976, fresh elections took place, two years after the revolution and one year after the first elections to create the Constitution. This was the election for the first government with a new Constitution, ratified on April 2nd of that year and caming into effect precisely on the day of elections.

The moderate parties confirmed their victory. The PS of Mário Soares won, the PPD of Sá Carneiro came in second, and the CDS of Freitas do Amaral secured the third largest representation. The communists of PCP, led by Cunhal, came in fourth. In June, General Eanes was elected president.

And we have been in stable democracy ever since.