|Portugal Table of Contents
A key catalytic event in the process toward revolution was the publication in 1973 General António de Spínola's book, Portugal and the Future, which criticized the conduct of the war and offered a far-ranging program for Portugal's recovery. The general's work sent shock waves through the political establishment in Lisbon. As the first major and public challenge to the regime by a high-ranking figure from within the system, Spínola's experience in the African campaigns gave his opinions added weight. The book was widely seen--a correct assessment as it turned out--as the opening salvo in Spínola's ambitious campaign to become president.
On April 25, 1974, a group of younger officers belonging to an underground organization, the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Forças Armadas--MFA), overthrew the Caetano regime, and Spínola emerged as at least the titular head of the new government. The coup succeeded in hours with virtually no bloodshed. Caetano and other high-ranking officials of the old regime were arrested and exiled, many to Brazil. The military seized control of all important installations.
Spínola regarded the military's action as a simple military coup d'état aimed at reorganizing the political structure with himself as the head, a renovação (renovation) in his words. Within days, however, it became clear that the coup had released long pent-up frustrations when thousands, and then tens of thousands of Portuguese poured into the streets celebrating the downfall of the regime and demanding further change. The coercive apparatus of the dictatorship--secret police, Republican Guard, official party, censorship--was overwhelmed and abolished. Workers began taking over shops from owners, peasants seized private lands, low-level employees took over hospitals from doctors and administrators, and government offices were occupied by workers who sacked the old management and demanded a thorough housecleaning.
Very early on, the demonstrations began to be manipulated by organized political elements, principally the PCP and other groups farther to the left. Radical labor and peasant leaders emerged from the underground where they had been operating for many years. Soares, the leader of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista--PS) and Álvaro Cunhal, head of the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português--PCP) returned from exile to Portugal within days of the revolt and received heroes' welcomes.
Who actually ruled Portugal during this revolutionary period was not always clear, and various bodies vied for dominance. Spínola became the first interim president of the new regime in May 1974, and he chose the first of six provisional governments that were to govern the country until two years later when the first constitutional government was formed. Headed by a prime minister, the moderate civilian Adelino da Palma Carlos, the government consisted of the moderate Popular Democratic Party (Partido Popular Democrata--PPD), the PS, the PCP, five independents, and one military officers.
Beneath this formal structure, several other groups wielded considerable power. In the first weeks of the revolution, a key group was the Junta of National Salvation, composed entirely of high-ranking, politically moderate military officers. Working alongside it was a seven-member coordinating committee made up of politically radical junior officers who had managed the coup. By the end of May 1974, these two bodies worked together with other members in the Council of State, the nation's highest governing body.
Gradually, however, the MFA emerged as the most powerful single group in Portugal as it overruled Spínola in several major decisions. Members of the MFA formed the Continental Operations Command (Comando Operacional do Continente--COPCON) composed of 5,000 elite troops with Major (later Brigadier General) Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho as its commander. Known universally by his unusual first name Otelo, Carvalho had directed the April 25 coup. Because the regular police withdrew from the public sector during the time of revolutionary turmoil and the military was somewhat divided, COPCON became the most important force for order in the country and was firmly under the control of radical left-wing officers.
Spínola formed a second provisional government in mid-July with army Colonel (later General) Vasco Gonçalves as prime minister and eight military officers along with members of the PS, PCP, and PPD. Spínola chose Gonçalves because he was a moderate, but he was to move increasingly to the left as he headed four provisional governments between July 1974 and September 1975. Spínola's position further weakened when he was obliged to consent to the independence of Portugal's African colonies, rather than achieving the federal solution he had outlined in his book. Guinea-Bissau gained independence in early September, and talks were underway on the liberation of the other colonies. Spínola attempted to seize full power in late September but was blocked by COPCON and resigned from office. His replacement was the moderate General Francisco de Costa Gomes. Gonçalves formed a third provisional government with heavy MFA membership, nine military officers in all, and members of the PS, PCP, and PPD.
In the next year, Portuguese politics moved steadily leftward. The PCP was highly successful in placing its members in many national and local political and administrative offices, and it was consolidating its hold on the country's labor unions. The MFA came ever more under the control of its radical wing, and some of its members came under the influence of the PCP. In addition, smaller, more radical left-wing groups joined with the PCP in staging huge demonstrations that brought about the increasing adoption of leftist policies, including nationalizations of private companies.
An attempted coup by Spínola in early March 1975 failed, and he fled the country. In response to this attack from the right, radical elements of the military abolished the Junta of National Salvation and formed the Council of the Revolution as the country's most powerful governing body. The council was made responsible to a 240-member radical military parliament, the Assembly of the Armed Forces. A fourth provisional government was formed, more radical than its predecessor, and was headed by Gonçalves, with eight military officers and members of the PS, PCP, PPD, and Portuguese Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Português--MDP), a party close to the PCP.
The new government began a wave of nationalizations of banks and large businesses. Because the banks were often holding companies, the government came after a time to own almost all the country's newspapers, insurance companies, hotels, construction companies and many other kinds of businesses, so that its share of the country's gross national product (GNP) amounted to 70 percent.
More about the Government of Portugal.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress