Portugal - The Impossible Revolution?
-- Phil Mailer
I. The First Week
The 25th was a cold morning for April. At 7.45 am the following radio
announcement stunned hundreds Of thousands of Portuguese into a realisation
that a new phase in their history had begun:
'The Portuguese Armed Forces appeal to all the inhabitants of
Lisbon to stay at home and to remain as calm as possible. We
sincerely hope that the seriousness of the hour will not be
saddened by personal injuries. We therefore appeal to the good
sense of all military commanders to avoid any confrontation with
the Armed Forces. Apart from being unnecessary, such action would
only create or aggravate serious divisions between Portuguese
people, which must be avoided at all costs. It is because of our
concern to spare Portuguese blood that we are appealing for a
civic spirit. All medical personnel, especially those in
hospitals, should hold themselves ready to give help, though it
is hoped this will not be needed. To all political and military
forces, the Command advises maximum caution to avoid any action
which may be dangerqus. It is not our intention to shed blood
unneeessarily, but if we meet provocation we shall deal with it.
Go back to your quarters, and wait for orders which will be given
by the Movement of the Armed Forces. Commanders will be held
responsible for any attempt, in any form whatsoever, to lead
their sub-ordinates into conflict with the Armed Forces We appeal
to the forces of the GNR (National Guard) and PSP (Riot Police) -
and even to the DGS (Political Police) and Portuguese Legion -
who may have been recruited under false pretences to remember
their civic duty of maintaining public order. In the present
situation this can only be achieved if there is no reaction
against the Armed Forces Attention, all military and police
units. Since the Armed Forces have decided to take your place in
the present situation any opposition to the troops which surround
the city will be deak with drastically. By not obeying this
advice you could provoke a senseless blood-bath, whose
responsibility will be yours alone.
8.15 am. My neighbour wakes me , crazy look in her eyes as she stands there
in her pyjamas. She tells me not to go to school today: all schools are
closed, the Army have taken over, shooting, everyone to stay at home. She
speaks in broken Portuguese to help me understand, firing her fingers into
I close the door thinking she's mad, turn on the radio and return to bed.
Nothing: the usual ads. I can't believe it. I can't sleep though I need to.
I try other stations. Marching music on the National Radio. Could she be
9.10 am. Already late, I arrive at school. No buses outside. I meet R, a
teacher who is bursting with the news. D, the school fascist, is also
there. We ask if it's from the right or from the left, or even from which
forces on the right: the generals or Spinola? The question remains
unanswered all morning. No one knows.
10 am. Breakfast with R, a kind and good-hearted person, dying to find out
but afraid to go into the centre of the city. Coffee. The radio is playing
Zeca Afonso, a left-wing singer. Could it be true? An announcement.
'It has been reported to the Command of the Armed Forces that the civilian
population is not respecting the a p peal to remain at home, an
appeal which we have already made many times. Although the situation rifay
seem almost under control, since the ex-Minister of the Army has abandoned
the Ministry and is in contact with the commanding officers of our
Movement, we ask the population, once again, to stay at home and not
endanger themselves. A communique' will be broadcast shortly, to clarify
I explain what I know of Spinola: his Nazi training, his support for Franco
during the Spanish Civil War, his declarations as a 'war-hero' in the
Portuguese colonies. His interview with the magazine Vida Mundial, some
weeks earlier, had outlined what he's written in his book Portugal and the
Future, and for these views he's been sacked by Caetano. His book had
called for an end to the search for a military solution to the war and for
change within Portugal, along 'democratic' lines. We talked about the
revolt in March, when troops had marched from Caldas da Rainha, in the
north, in what had seemed at the time a farcical attempt at revolt.
Or was it a putsch by certain right-wing generals, dissatisfied with the
'liberal' policies of Caetano, and wanting a return to a purer form of
Salazarism? No one knew. Either way, it seemed the coup could only be from
At 10:45 am I phone Joao, the son of Mario Soares. The phone is busy. I
phone R, a worker in a blood-bank. She's on 24-hour call. Troops are on the
streets outside. It's impossible to enter Lisbon except through Praca de
Espanha. She knows nothing of what it's all about. I decide to go into
Lisbon to see for myself, driving along the Marginal which follows the
river Tagus. The greatness of sixteenth century history is far from my
thoughts. I arrive at Infante Santo and am diverted by traffic police.
Something is definitely on. I accelerate, arrive at the centre, park the
car. I can see nothing out of the ordinary except that all the banks are
closed. I walk towards the lower part of the city. Troops and tanks in the
Chiado, soldiers everywhere. The tanks look gigantic in the narrow streets,
the machine guns threatening. It is impossible to enter. The troops are
cautious but friendly. The crowds have a mixture of fear and hope in their
eyes. Everyone is asking the same question 'Who is it?' 'What do they stand
for?' It's 11.30. I've promised to lunch with C, at noon. She may have
heard more. In C's house we listen to short-wave radio and pick up the
walkie-talkies of the Forces. From her nextdoor neighbour, an old and
already saddened Salazarist, we hear the news that 'Caetano and Toma's have
sought refuge in Belem (the Presidential Palace) and Quartel do Carmo (the
GNR Headquarters) respectively.
Someone phones to say that his car has been requisitioned, as a barricade.
He is laughing on the telephone. There is a great feeling: the fascist
dictatorship is crumbling. For the moment few can think further.
We go again into the city. There is still nothihg definite. We go to San
Sebastiao and see the troops. Large groups are talking to the soldiers. The
troops have already become 'forces of liberation'. No one is yetyet
specifically asking who is going to be 'liberated'. And from what? The
confusion is immense. Can an anti-fascist coup really have taken place? Led
by a fascist? We search for precedents, and discover already how new the
features are of what we are witnessing.
We buy the newspapers. The headlines are startling; 'Golpe Militar', 'Amplo
Movimento das Forcas Armadas'. Their accounts fill in some details. At
23.30 houts, last night, radio programmes were apparently interrupted and
'Depois do Adeus' and 'Grindola, Vila Morena' were played .5 Shortly after
midnight the College of Military Administration was occupied. At 3 am the
studios of the pop-radio station Radio Clube Portugues were occupied and
other radio stations soon after. The airport fell. A little later the 7th
Cavalry, Spinola's crack troops, moved into Praqa do Come'rcio, the great
square in the lower part of the city. At 7 am tanks took up positions on
the other side of the river, facing Lisbon.
We listen to the radio. At 10.15 am the Quartermaster General, Louro de
Sousa., was detained. At 10.30 am troops occupying Rua do Arsenal joined in
the revolt. At noon comes the announcement that the armed forces are in
control, both north and south. 1.00 pm: the DGS headquarters are surrounded
and some political prisoners released. 4pm: the CDE and most of the
political groups applaud the movement. Shortly after, Marcelo Caetano
surrenders. He has been on the phone to Spinola. 5.30 pm: prisoners from
the Caldas da Rainha rebellion are released, to cheers from the crowds. At
5 pm the television broadcasts a statement saying that the Armed Forces
Movement 'have liberated the people from a regime which has oppressed them
for many years.
I take C home and go out again into Lisbon. The PIDE have resisted and
refuse to surrender. There are crowds calling for their blood. They want to
storm the offices and burn them down. The y are unarmed. The PIDE have
machine guns, pointing from their verandas. I feel helpless and decide to
leave. Later we learnt that a PIDE had fired into th'e crowd from a window,
killing 5 and wounding 50. The sailors fired back. The PIDE are desperate.
They have tortured their victims too much and for too long to hope for
I return home and go to a tasca. We drink wine and wonder what it alt
means. People are excited, fantastically excited. I go to R's for dinner.
All restaurants have been closed in compliance with the communiques. We
cook dinner: an assortment of old vegetables. We are completely unprepared,
like everyone else. We listen to the foreign stations to see if they have
any news. We can't really believe what we hear. As yet, no names have been
given. The coup is completely anonymous. I phone a friend who lives near
the radio station: the area is surrounded by troops and he can't get out. I
phone another friend who is very tired, having been up since 6.30 that
morning. I don't want to go home. I want to go to Lisbon.
I'm euphoric. A French girl who is present shares some of my enthusiasm.
Everything is confusion. Spinola has moved from being a fascist that
morning to being a 'liberator' that evening. We try to gather our thoughts,
to analyse. What class forces are involved? Spinola had married into one of
the richest families in Portugal: the Melos. He was an 'individualist'. In
Guine'-Bissau, he had often flown right into the scene of battle and
commanded great respect from the troops who'd served with him. His monocle,
his conservative ways, all that just didn't fit the role of a radical
liberator. The ambiguities of 'anti-fascism' were already apparent.
There are so many divergent interests. The middle class look to Europe and
the EEC as the only future for Portugal whereas the 'burguesia' of the '100
families' still has large undertakings in Africa, especially in Angola.
Some sections of the middle class have their eye on economic expansion,
others support a moribund Salazarist ideology which is a break to
expansion. In Africa white 'colons' face black Africans. But the greatest
opposition of all is surely the one between all these elements and the
It was marvellous: natural amphetamine. M and I left together. We want to
go out despite the curfew. We went to a friend's who lives near the radio
station. The streets were blocked. We spo keEtglish. A smiling 19 year old
soldier called his officer anWwe explained that we wanted to sleep in a
house nearby. The young soldier, a rug over his shoulders and machine gun
looking huge against him, escorted us to the house. All the way he smiled
happily. He was feeling great too.
Everyone there was asleep, dead from a day of movement and discussion, but
we managed to find some blankets. Almost immediately we too fell asleep,
I Friday, April 26. Day 2.
> We awake wondering what has happened during the mght, sore from the
floor, and with a terrible hangover. M makes coffee, I go to get the
The headlines are startling. sprnola, the leader of the new Junta, has
promised the 'demo cratisat ion of politics'7 new elections as soon as
possible, an end to all fascist institutions, negotiations over the war in
Africa. Caetano and Toma's have been exiled to Madeira. Some PIDEs have
been captured, one with his trousers down which made us all laugh.
We go off to lunch and pore over the morning papers. The photos are
telling. Masses of people are involved. This is clearly more than just a
coup d'etat. Already the old structures seem to be falling apart. We just
aren't reading the same newspapers as yesterday though the names, lay-out
and style are much the same. Nervously, faces on the streets are beginning
to smile. Whiffs of freedom are rising over Lisbon and people are passing
them on to one another in their speech and laughter. It is fantastic,
Troops everywhere are giving the victory sign. We hear about Caxias, the
notorious political prison: 170 prisoners have been released and about a
hundred PIDEs put in their place. I'd had friends who'd been sent there,
then beaten and tortured. The pictures in the papers are tremendous.
Thousands had been to Caxias to welcome the prisoners. We hear that the
Junta had only wanted to free a few of them, but that the crowds had
noisily insisted on releasing the lot.
Organisations, which had been living hand to mouth, underground, were
surfacing and making statements: the Communist Party (PCP), the Socialist
Party (Pa), CDE, LUAR. We pinch ourselves to see if it is really true.
There was other news, but it didn't interest us. Someone mentioned that
Mitterand stood a chance in the French elections. So what? The pictures
were spectacular, unfaked. Everj; photo seemed an image of liberation.
Could those be t e same newspapers which only a few weeks before had
reported, in some corner of an inside p age, that the police had attacked
student trouble-ma ers on an attempted demonstration, without mentioning
the number beaten up? Free speech seems to be getting freer every minute.
A crowd is gathering near Rossio (a big Lisbon square). Troops come towards
us. What will happen? They raise their fingers in a V sign. The crowd cheer
like I've never heard cheers before. I'd heard crowds shout in anger, but
this was joy, unmitigated.
I couldn't understand, nor could M. The feeling sent shivers down us. We
remembered Prague 1968, when people had placed flowers in the gun barrels
of tanks, in gentle irony. But now people were giving carnations to the
soldiers, like one gives to one's loved one on the night of Santo Ant6nio,
the patron saint of Lisbon. They were buying them newspapers, offering them
beer, sandwiches. I clapped, incredulous. I remembered pictures of
revolutionary troops during the Spanish Civil War, their hands clasped in a
fist: the Durruti column. I tried to think of the Kiel mutiny which led to
the Spartacist revolt in Germany in 1918, of the rebellious troops in
Russia in 1917, of the troops during the Paris Commune. My thoughts were
running away with me.
It started to rain, heavily. Lightning lit up the sky. There were peals of
thunder, like some grumble from the Gods. M commented that heaven was not
on our side. We decided nothing could happen until night, even if other
forces were still holding out, even if the PiDEs were trying to reorganise.
We were tired and the rain depressed us. We went into a cinema for two
hours, saw a Paul Newman film, then headed off again in the direction of
Rossio. On the way, we crossed a demonstration. I'd often dreamed of it.
I'd seen photos of 1910, when the workers had marched up Avenida da
Liberdade occupying its enormous width. And here it was, made real, right
before my eyes. The Maoists were in front with their banners. But behind
were all sorts of groups, with banners of their own. 'We salute the Armed
Forces', 'Free Unions', 'Power to the Workers', 'The Right to Strike'. It
was heady, despite the palpable contradictions.
I'd often walked this avenue conscious of the irony of its name (a residue
from more liberal days) and feeling oppressed as hell. And here, right in
front of me, were several thousand people parading up its middle. Motorists
could not get through. They blew their horns - not in anger but joyfully,
as is the custom at Portuguese marriage feasts. We were in the centre of
the street, in a free demonstration. It was unheard of. We were still
afraid of course, expecting the PSP (a special riot police force, created
to deal with demonstrations) to erupt from a side street, at any minute.
Emotions were so high that even traffic cops were embraced as 'liberators'
much to their embarrassment and confusion.
Tanks appeared. The cheers grew louder than if Sporting FC had beaten
Benfica. People ran after the tanks, clambered all over them. The soldiers
smiled and raised their machine guns in the air.
For forty eight years there had been no demonstrations of joy in Portugal.
Two generations had nassed without being able to walk the streets freely:
now fathers and sons were there together. An old man in rags, an old man
for whom Salazarism hadn't done anything, carried the Republican flag. He
was embraced so much I thought he'd have a heart attack. I asked him if it
was like this in \the days of the Republic and he said it had never been so
good. I too wanted to embrace him, he was so babyAike. He knew I was
foreign from my accent. Which part of Ireland? The South, I answered. He
clapped me and told me he remembered the Easter rebellion. He probably
remembered 1917,1918, 1936 as well, though I didn't ask. What beauty can be
found in people at such times!
We arrived at the great statue of the Marques de Pombal, sometimes known as
Portugal's first (1755) dictator. It was now covered with May Day slogans:
'Paz, Unidade, Liberdade, Democracia. Podor aos Trabalhadores'.
We passed it and arrived at the CDE office. We could have marched all
night. Some aspiring politicians were trying to make speeches, but it was
not the right day for that. Their every sentence was inaudible. The crowd
just cheered, repeating the slogan of the day: '0 povo unido jamais sera'
vencido' (United the people will never be defeated).
CDE had commanded fairly wide-based support. They had used the month prior
to last November's elections for political agitation. Leaflets and some
graffiti (quickly daubed out) bad app eared on the walls of Lisbon and the
independent Republica had even been able to get certain articles yast the
censor. Then at the last minute they had with rawn their candidates,
denouncing the elections as a farce.
The Maoists were already more active than others. This was annoying, as
they were so unimaginative. Their clearest slogan was 'Nem Marcelo, nem
Spinola: Revoluca"o Socialista' - neither Marcelo (Caetano) nor Spinola but
Socialist Revolution. It was difficult not to have a certain respect for
them, and for the Communist Party too. They had been among the bravest
under the old regime, had been tortured and beaten, yet had returned night
after night to put up their slogans on the walls, only to have them painted
out, in the small hours of the morning, by the police. Yet the situation
was already different: ideas which for decades had influenced people's
thoughts about revolution were now to be tested. Those who had kept hopes
alive started as heroes. If they were to remain heroes they would have to
measure up to the challenge of the new. We met a group of workers singing
the Internationale. We were astounded. How had they remembered the words,
after all those years? We bought the papers again and went to the Monte
Carlo y, a haunt of the so-called 'night-people', a cafe' that had been
repeatedly raided by the agents of PIDE and by the police. The news had
again overtaken our wildest hopes.
Headlines ''Freedom for all Political Prisoners. Prison for all PIDEs'. We
weren't reading newspapers any more, we were reading political manifestos.
Censor-ship had been trampled underfoot. In all the papers: the picture of
Spinola, looking older and more tired than ever, ta en rom his television
broadcast last night. The Junta had presented an ominously detailed
programme (see Appendix 1).
What contradictions does this 'liberal' programme cover? Yesterday: a coup
d'etat. Today: already massive popular involvement. Something important is
developing. A new spirit has invaded all public life. How will the Junta
allow it to go? How much will the Junta be able to control it?
We read about Caxias and about the joy of the political prisoners. We learn
that they were awaiting their liberation an hour before it happened,
informed of developments by morse signals, sent over car-horns. We ee the
photos of the machine gun bullets at the PIDE Jices. We learn that a group
of demonstrators had smashed the windows of a bank in the commercial
We met G and others, in a cafe. They had been to Caxias. The place had been
forced open. A PIDE had been attacked by the crowd and barely saved by the
Army from being beaten to death. He was carrying an infant and people had
called out to 'save the baby'. The man was now in prison.
What to do? Four hours sleep in two days. This was difficult to sustain,
especially with little food. We decided to go to a tasca near my home in a
working class suburb of Lisbon. The atmosphere was electric. Joflo greeted
us with 'Long Live the Revolution'. Some workers, who also happened to be
soldiers, were in uniform. It was the first time l'd seen them like this.
Others were full of spirit, in every sense of the word. Only one, very
political, was sceptical; "what about the workers?" he asked. We listened. He
had been to his factory that morning - but only to talk, to discuss. The
tasca had never been so lively. The radio was p laying Portuguese music and
everyone felt proud. Yes, sad fados were played, but also the lively music
of the exiles in France, the hope of thousands, perhaps millions. And yet
it was obvious that the people hadn't £hanged in a day. The owner Joao,
till now a racist, was calling for the independence of the colonies. Yet
revolu-tions weren t ma a e overnight. In a loud voice Joao shouted abuse
at a government which for 48 years had repressed and tortured the people
into submission, had sent their youth to bekifleci in a useless war, had
destroyed free speech and censored all publications, had ruled brutally and
bloodily, allowing neither strikes nor any other form of dissent and whose
subjects were afraid even to utter its name. Joao railed against the old
regime. But, when he came to name it, he lowered his head to mine and his
voice quivered ever so slightly. He whispered the horrific word:
We went upstairs, sore, tired, but still excited. We listened to some Cabo
Verde music: a sad music of a people near to destruction. Some refrains
were soothing and nearer to what we felt. The great hope was the outcome of
a great despair. For a long time we couldn't sleep, but finally doze off. I
awoke once, in the middle of a dream, and remembered the day I had gone to
listen to a clandestine radio in the deserted hills nearby. But now,
instead of listening to forbidden broadcasts, we were marching on Lisbon.
Saturday, April 27. Day 3.
We couldn't be dragged from our dreams. We'd gone too far in our talk and
our thought. We awoke late. The TV was already on. The news was dreadful:
no more demonstrations without permission, or that was how it sounded.
I spoke to my neighbour. The fear and hesitancy was gone from her face. She
never drank, but had already had 3 whiskies. She had already strolled out
into the streets of Lisbon, to watch. She was happier than I ever thought
possible. The first concrete thing she said, after expressing all her joy,
was that her rent could not now be raised.
We made straight for the Chiado. The hunt for the PIDE was on. People who
knew where a PIDE lived went there. Only the Army saved many from being
lynched. That afternoon, in the Eseola Pobteenica, a PIDE was spotted by
someone in the crowd as he tried to get away in a car. The cry went out:
'Death to PIDE'. I understood the hatred. I'd known a girl who had been
seized in a demonstration, beaten and th en had her hair shaved off. I knew
that PIDE had beaten up the wife of a University professor, a sixty year
old woman. I too wanted to lynch the man. The Army barely rescued him. His
car, the engine ticking over, was still there. A youth started pushing it.
Others helped. The car was overturned, douse in petrol and within minutes
was a flaming mass. The soldiers, our brothers, gave the sign of victory.
The Junta had no control over this little episode - it was only the natural
revulsion to taking human life, common to soldiers, that saved that man.
We moved on down to the PIDE offices again. I knew my passport was there. I
wanted the troops to storm the building and get it for me. We met a worker
to whom I'd given a lift at Easter, on the road between Setflbal and
Lisbon. We'd talked politics in the usual cautious way, without hope,
without any real feeling for what we were saying. There had been nothing to
give any hint of what he was saying now. 'Spinola is no socialist. And
socialism is the only answer to the present situation.
At the Brasileira, an old haunt of poets and artists, people were talking
and discussing feverishly, but it didn't seem as interesting as what was
happening on the streets. After lunch at M's we again marched up and down
the Avenida da Liberdade. It was like showing off our own defiance. People
marched up to the top of the Avenue, didn't quite believe they'd done it,
and then marched down again to prove it was really possible.
In Rossio, the Maoists were dominating the situation. Their spray guns had
been active. We met a very middle-class English person w ho shrugged off
the whole thing as if it were a Portuguese football match. I wanted to
string him up there and then, but doubted people would have understood. We
talked to a German comrade, full of hope and enthusiasm. We then came
across a group of Portuguese friends and discussed the contradictions in
the situation. They were still tinged with the memory and fear of PIDE,
afraid to take any action, to do anything. I wanted a spray gun to write on
the walls, to challenge the maoist monopoly.
We thought up new slogans: 'Pide Escholhido' (PIDE already old hat) or
'Portugal Livre', a new drink composed of bagaco and cocatola. Cocatola had
been banned in Portugal, allegedly because of its 'harmful' contents but
really - as everyone knew - because a government minister had a monopoly of
the soft drink trade. We discussed the fact that none of the girls had
kissed the soldiers like in France after the Second World War, or in Spain
during the Civil War. They'd given flowers, sandwiches, food, their hearts
- but no kisses. Forty eight years of sexual repression was difficult to
overthrow in a couple of days. We talked about the demonstrations. Why had
there been no music, so natural to the Portuguese? Experience was lacking.
There had been no legal political activities. In the dark hours, at a
certain moment never publicised but known all the same,even to those in
prison people would gather quietly, a speech would be made. If the police
came, it was all over. That had been the previous experience.
The slogans had moved on, hour by hour '0 povo unido jamais sera' vencidor,
'Down with the colonial war, 'Death to PIDE, 'SocialAsmo, socialAsmo'. The
mystification implicit in the first slogan was still very widespread. What
crimes against the working class were soon to be perpetrated in the name of
this spurious 'unity'!
Twenty three trade unions had quickly met and issued a joint statement.
Their demands (Appendix 2) amounted to little more than the Junta had
alread promised. The unions had been institutionalised by the previous
government, denied autonomy, denied the right to withdraw labour, or even
to hold a public meeting. lf there was dissatisfaction the Ministry of
Labour had to be informed. Discussions would then take place and the
grievances 'coped with' (i.e. talked to death) in this way. There had been
strikes of course: a thousand people suddent reporting sick on the same day
and staying at home. Many Lisbon workers live on the other side of the
river. One day the ferrymen had all mysteriously been smitten and there had
been no ferries: pandemonium had resulted. The ever increasing cost of
living (housing, food, clothes) had provoked illegal strikes which had
become more fre}uent during the past twelve months. Strikes had taken p ace
in Robbialac (the paint factory), Sacor (the oil refinery), Electro Arco
(civil engineering), Sorefame (machine tools), and in many other places
too. The electrical industry had been parti-cularly hit and the bank
workers had been particularly militant.
Support is pouring in from abroad. The new regime is recognised by the
Middle-East countries, who had put a petrol embargo on Portugal because of
Caetano's support for the Americans during the Arab-Israeli War. Brazil,
still fascist, tollows suit. Finally the Nato countries grant recognition.
The situation is moving fast. It is obvious that the Spinola 'solution' can
only be temporary. Spinola is not the instigator of the revolt. He himself
has acknowledged as much, saying 'this is a movement without leaders'. We
remember that he was put under 'protective custody' by the Captains, during
the first stages of the coup, and that he only later jumped onto the
bandwagon. We learn how the movement had started months before, in
Mozambique, how it had snow-balled through the ranks until it reached
Spinola's doorstep. Spinola is known and prestigious, a father figure of
rebellion against Caetano. People have many illusions in him. How long will
Palma Inacio, the well-known advocate of direct action speaks at the
Theatre of Maria Matos and gives an interview to Republica. He is tired but
still retains his old panache, this 'Scarlet Pimpernel' who has been
captured and escaped so often. He'd been involved in the rebellion of 1947.
In 1951 he'd highjacked a plane and dropped leaflets on Lisbon and Porto.
LUAR, the organisation to which he belonged, had carried our bank robberies
in a style that commanded admiration. Incio had once been asked by a judge
sentencing him if he wanted to say anything in his defence. He wished
nothing, he said, except a dark night and a storm. That very night he
escaped from one of Portugal's top security prisons.
Mario Soares, the general secretary of the illegal Socialist Party is to
return tomorrow. His policies may sound more radical than those of CDE, or
those of the Junta, but he is a professional politician and things are
already moving beyond him.
We drink at Joao's. The talk is quieter and more guarded. These swings of
mood will be with us over the next few days: intense optimism, depression.
We're already worried about being carried away by events, about only
judging things through a minority. Someone makes a vague remark about
losing what has been gained by going too fast Most of us reject this, but
we re too tired to argue.
So many things have happened to restore our faith in life and revolution.
We are amazed by the working class who have taken the situation into their
own hands, putting their own interpretation on the Programme. How much they
could achieve, given the right conditions. I become more convinced than
ever of the specific identity of this class. I'm flabbergasted at the
memory people retain of their own revolutionary past. Present events have
shaken that memory. Dates never learned at school, songs never sung openly,
are recalled in their totality. It's been another great day, a day I never
expected, a day I'll never forget.
Sunday, April 28. .Day 4.
MArio Soares arrives and is greeted by thousands. The joy at the station is
immense: 'Long live liberty', 'Free unions', 'Power to the workers'. Vast
crowds await Southern Express No.1002, due in from Paris. No one could have
imagined it, just a few days earlier. The 'freedom train', as it is now
known, arrives at Santa Apol6nia Station, carrying hundreds of returning
exiles: Mario Soares and other PS leaders, the actresses Maria Barroso and
Maria Coelho, LUAR members from Paris, certain PCP officials. All are
choking with emotion as they step onto the platform. Fernando Oneto, exiled
for his part in the 1959 rebellion, had tears in his eyes.
'These are our finest sons and daughters' someone near me says and somehow
it doesn't sound corny. Thy feeling is nationalistic in the extreme. Only
few, at this stage, are aware of all the mystifications of this 'unity', of
this 'anti-fascism'. Later a basis of criticism must develop, and people
must begin thinking in terms of antitapitalist forces, of working class
We march away towards Infante Santo, taking up the entire street. Car horns
of stopped traffic blare at us in a crazy, sensual, liberated joy. Maybe a
hundred thousand people are on the streets. Who knows? Reporters and TV men
are there and the crowd gives them the victory sign. They feel stronger
than heaven. Although we don't know it, thousands are marching in Porto, in
Aveiro, in Beja, in Castelo Branco, in e very tiny Alentejo village.
We are tired, tired from the emotion, from the lack of sleep, from endless
marching. We go to M's house to eat something. I phone the school to see if
I must turn up tomorrow. I'd completely forgotten the usual banalities of
life, such as having to get up for work in the mornings. We part after
three days of bh'ss and total togetherness. I suddenly realise that I know
absolutely nothing personal about her, that we haven't discussed anything
at that level, so completely taken up have we been with events. Yet I feel
I know most of what there is to know.
Monday, April 29. Day 5.
In its impotence the school is another world. I talk to some right-wing
teachers, who realise the importance of what is happening. They compare it
to Cuba, to Uruguay. I enjoyth eir fear, without sharing their illusions as
to the 'revolutionary' nature of these regimes. Those at the extremes of
the political spectrum see the situation most clearly at first.
Instinctively, they have the best analysis.
I finish at 3 p m. The banks are still closed. Between 2 pm and 5 pm they
only pay out salaries, on production of a note from one's employers. Since
the Caldas da Rainha revolt, on March 16, three thousand million escudos
have left the country. The super-rich panicked, lining their Swiss accounts
in anticipation. I realise how unprepared we'd been, how little we'd known
about the economy, about the shadowy meetings that must have taken place.
It is a day of preparation, discussion, organisation. Work, everywhere, has
come to a standstill. Meetings and argument have taken place, instead. This
word 'normal' is so bandied about that it's lost all meaning. Yesterday
Republica carried the headline 'Normalidade em todoo pats' (normality
everywhere). If this was normal, I'd hardly noticed it! It was the voice of
the burguesia, trying to assert that the country still functioned, that it
was still theirs. 'Normality' was stressed by all the political parties,
showing how trapped they were in the old conceptions, values, mentality. It
was ridiculous. People made jokes about it. 'I won't pay for my coffee,
that's normal' someone told a waiter in a cafe'.
4 pm. We learn that the Junta has declared a national holiday. 'May Day
will be a test for the new regime' write the foreign newspapers, echoed
forthwith in the Portuguese press.
I go to Rossio and stand in amazement at the size of the crowds. I feel the
adrenalin returning. The Hotel Workers' Union marches by, their voices
raised in hope and expectation. Are they sweating out the grease of all
those tourist kitchens where for so long they've worked in silence? They
march twice round the square, gathering momentum and support, and then up
the Avenida da Liberdade. I go up with them. Everywhere sm all groups are
It is a night of manifestos on radio and TV. Unions of every kind are
organising, demanding. It is unbelievable. I had read such manifestos as
historical ieces, from 1871, 1917, 1936. Now the radio was roadeasting
them. Students from Lisbon, Coimbra, and Porto are making speeches. Songs
of Frehmo (the Mozambique 'liberation movement') are heard again and again,
played perhaps for the first time over public radio. The act is subversive,
whatever one thinks of these regimes. Then an official declaration:
'The Junta informs the GNR and PSP that it welcomes the
demonstrations of joy planned for the First of May by the
workers, and asks them not to intervene.
Amid a propaganda barrage the Maoists have occupied some empty houses in
Boavista and moved Peoyle in. Boavista is the 'Indian quarter', a shanty
town of ilapidated 'barracas'. A Capital, the evening paper, gets stories
from some of the squatters::
'I've lived here, in a shanty, for 15 years. I'm married with 5
kids. I did like everyone else and occupied an empty house. There
were some y oung people, students, who told us to smash down the
doors and take over. No one was caught during this action. I've
been down for a house for about a year now. (Mariette Barbara)
'I've lived in this shanty since it was first started, 34 years
ago. It was after a cyclone that we had to move into it. Seven
months ago my husband threw me out. Since then I've been living
with neighbours, 4ragging the kids from one crowded place to
another. I'd really no choice. People started occupying houses
and, well, I just did the same.' (Lucinda Lima):
Later that night the police and army arrived and stopped further squatting.
Those already in refused to move. They were allowed to stay. The many other
empty houses in the area were guarded by troops.
I was scared, as everyone else was, at what might happen on May Day. The
Army had already fired shots into the air, during a demonstration, because
of what a major had described as a 'dangerous situation'. He had warned 'We
won't hesitate to use force if the population doesn't cooperate. They may
demonstrate peacefully, but not provocatively'. The tone was ominous, a
reminder that the military were in charge. They were still very popular,
however, and people immediately obeyed their orders. But contradictions
were already coming to light.
The PIDE offices had not been immediately attacked and this had given them
an opportunity to destroy certain files, in particular those relating to
agents and informers. Later their headquarters are opened to the press.
Great caches of guns, grenades, and other light weapons were discovered, as
well as files on every militant or suspected militant in Portugal.
Left-wing banners and posters are displayed in a special room. Also, under
glass cases, pamphlets and leaflets dating back to the 1930's. The PIDE
have the best revolutionary library in Portugal: a complete collection of
marxist and anarchkt writers. On the wall of the library, in large letters,
a poem by Salazar, written when he was 18. Next to the torture chamber (a
long bare room with lights and a stage) is a little Catholic chapel. It
contained many Portuguese art treasures and was dominated by a statue of
the Blessed Virgin. The PIDE had already created a museum. All that was
needed now was for them to become the prime exhibit.
We learn that demonstrations in Angola and Mozambique have called for
complete independence. In Angola there has also been a demonstration
calling for continued alliance with Portugal.
Africa will be a major problem for the Government. The 'liberation
movements' in these countries must be the sole arbiters of their own
destiny, whether that destiny be state capitalism or not. The new
government must immediately grant them the complete right to
selfijetermination But the Junta hesitates. Spinola wants 'federation',
although the local people have already gone way beyond that idea. Angola,
with the largest white population, will be the most difficult to
'decolonise'. A new political party has been organised there, among the
The PCP has distributed a leaflet. They ask for things which have already
been promised by the Junta. There is not a vestige of a class approach in
all this. The PCP is tail-ending the MFA, and the MFA is the mouthpiece of
the liberal bourgeoisie. Tuesday, April 30. Day 6.
A changed political situation has such an impact on one's frienffs! People
don't move at the same pace. What could be shared in opposition to fascism'
suddenly becomes irrelevant. A new situation is created.
I phone E and we plan the evening. During the afternoon I clear up
outstanding work, knowing that over the next few days I'm not going to have
I read the news. Students and workers have occupied the main offices of the
old regime. A former Minister has been arrested, withdrawing 80 million
escudos from a bank. The flignt of the fascists, and their hunt by the
All sorts of political groups, including the PS, have now published
manifestos. I find this both beautiful and horrifying. Beautiful because
only a few days earlier many of these groups had not existed in the public
eye. It is hard for anyone who hasn't lived in a fascist county to realise
what the absence of a free press really means. Workers come out on strike,
someone is killed in a demonstration, 20 people are arrested as
'terrorists' and there is maybe a small derogatory note at the bottom of an
An ignored and harrassed 'underground press' is allowed to function in most
non-fascist capitalist countries. Here there hadn't even been that.
Suddenly all voices make headlines. And those whose voice had been
strangled for decades begin to realise they can talk.
But it's horrifying too, because the demands are so conservative. Every
established p arty has been overtaken by events and is incapable of facing
the new situation. The demands of the PS and PCP are already inscribed in
the programme of the Junta. There's a chance to move through centuries, and
these people only want to crawl forward an inch. There's a chance to blow
the lid off completely, and they only want to peep inside. The workers,
miles ahead of them, are calling for a minimum wage and for a whole list of
other 'practical' demands. Maybe one should rewrite Lenin's famous dictum.
Perhaps it is the Party of the Proletariat that can 'only achieve a trade
The PS manifesto is aggressive, though still reformist. Under the title
'Coming out of Clandestinity' it outlines its main objectives:
1. An end to the colonial wars. Immediate cease- fire.
Negotiations with the Government of Guin6- Bissau and with the
liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique. 2. Immediate
amnesty for all deserters and draft-dodgers. 3. Liberation of all
political prisoners in the colonies. 4. The right to vote at 18.
5. Immediate elections by universal suffrage to a democratic
Camara (Parliament). 6. The removal of all those directly
involved in the previous Government. 7. A struggle against
monopolies and the dismantling of corporations. 8. The
establishment of diplomatic relations with all countries.
This is the most 'radical' position so far advocated by any of the
bourgeois politicians. Compared to the PCP, the PS's programme seems more
sincere, more aware, less manipulatory, in fact less party-political. The
manifesto is unsigned, the result of long meetings over the Sunday.
The Communists have a line in keeping with the requirements of Russian
policy. They are already campaigning for votes, trying simultaneously to
please all sections of the population. The PS, however opportunistically,
has at least made some demands relevant to working class life. But people
have reservations about Soares. He is the bourgeois politician par
excellence, a member of the 'Second International', a friend of Wilson and
Mitterand, of Brandt and Mrs. Chandi, those pseudo-socialists who at every
opportunity seek to make use of the oppression of others to build up their
own self-image. While Cunhal seeks to impose his line by every conceivable
means Soares bends with every wind, makes friends, uses them, uses anything
that will help.Alvaro Cunhal had arrived at the airport to a hero's
welcome. The PCP, formed in 1921 in support of the Bolsheviks, had been
smashed in 1941 by the political police of the time, called 'Vigilance and
Defence of the Nation'. The Party was slowly rebuilt during the following
years. Cunhal was arrested in 1949. In 1951 he escaped with others from the
high-security prison in Peniche and ended up in Russia, where he settled.
Thousands had been exiled. Many are returning. Soares and Cunhal are only
the tip of a vast iceberg.
On the way to town I pass E's house but get caught in a traffic jam: such
things continue, revolution or not. I read the papers. The CDL have taken
over the head-quarters of the 'Mocidade Portuguesa', the old youth movement
known as the 'green shirts'. The Junta have decreed new laws relating to
the export of money and metal. But on the whole they seem afraid. They warn
'The present situation is delicate. It still hasn't been possible
to control certain elements who will use it to provoke
disturbances. We call for the greatest possible calm during the
celebrations of May 1. Anything else would endanger the
The Junta can't possibly keep tabs on everyone and everything. Many
prisoners have been released but no one knows how many. The authorities
urge 'all cx-political prisoners not yet definitely identified to go to the
Archives of Identification to receive identity cards'. A large meeting of
university students has decided to pull down the statue erected by the
fascist regime to the glory of Portuguese women and to erect, in its place,
a tribute to Catarina Eufemia, the peasant girl killed by the National
Guard in 1954. The statue is torn down and a simple placard p ut in its
We are stil worried about tomorrow, May Day. I pass a supermarket and seek
to buy some spray paint There isn't any. I eventually find some in an art
shop. The instruments of culture, revolutionary or otherwise, remain in the
hands of the middle-class.
I meet M, depressed as hell by her colleagues. We burst into discussion and
talk of our feelings since we last met. We mention groups actions, people
we'd spoken to. We go to an old tasca which had been a marxist-leninist
student haunt. It's past midnight, but no one is where they should be. We
hope they're out doing things, preparing banners, working with groups. We
feel helpless. It seems ridiculous for two foreigners to try anything on
their own. We get slightly drunk. Our depression becomes impaticnc(' and
anger and we go out and write on the walls ourselves. We decide on the
standard slogan 'Down with the colonial war' but finally add some graffiti,
made up on the spur of the moment. We do it for ourselves, because of our
own helplessness, because of our desire to be a part of the great movement
already under way. And we feel good. People pass and give us the clenched
fist salute. But we are also afraid. I am writing a large slogan. Halfway
through I panic and shout at M 'How do you spell revolution in Portuguese?'
M laughs loudly, her joy very real.
Wednesday, May 1. Day 7.
We have never seen anything like it before. The whole of Lisbon is out, the
emotion beyond belief. All morning the radio has been calling for 'calm and
dignity'. The authorities are supposedly afraid of the right, a real enough
fear since there are still some 20,000 PIDE agents at large. But we feel
they are very much afraid of the left, too. We stand at the corner of
Alameda and try to absorb it all: the noise, the spirit, the joy surging
out in floods, after half a century of being bottled up. We meet some
friends as arranged.
This is the day of the workers and all Lisbon is here. There are lorries,
obviously borrowed for the day, packed with people coming in from
surrounding towns and suburbs. 'No one paid us to demonstrate' a banner
says, clearly referring to the practices of the previous regime. I could
cry. Others are weeping already. All day we march, lost in different parts
of a crowd half a million strong. Flowers, carnations everywhere. Along the
way, people are offering water to demonstrators, from their windows.
We make for the newly re-named 'Stadium of the First of May'. There are
tens of thousands inside, more thousands outside, trying to get in. At the
rostrum, the predictable politicians: Cunhal, Soares, the trade union
leaders. The speeches begin. The hammers and sickles fly high as Cunhal
speaks. Soares gets a warm reception. The speeches are depressing,
reformist, opportunist. The real argument is taking place in the streets,
outside. Workers explain to one another what 'auto -gestao'
(self-management)means or could mean.
We leave and head towards Rossio. The metro is the only means of transport.
There are only two carriages per train. More can't be added because certain
stations had only been built to that length, and that as late as 1973. We
squash in like Portuguese sardines. We arrive in the square, to scenes
The sailors' band is there, somehow caught up with the maoist and
trotskyist demonstrations. Here is the so-called fardeft. But it's like
anywhere else in the city. There just isn't room, literally space, for
Young workers are dancing to the music. Police cars go by, with
demonstrators on top of them. A bus passes, the driver tooting his horn in
rhythm with other noises. There's no telling where that vehicle will end
up: it's going in the opposite direction to the destination written on the
front. The emergency exits of all buses are open, flags protruding from
every window. A group of youths pass, 'the Gringos of Samba' according to
their banner. Their Latin-American music is very catching. More people
begin to dance. A group of students pass shouting '0 Povo armado jamais
sera vencido' (an armed people will never be defeated). People laugh at
this subversive variation of the 'official' slogan. The whole thing is
confusion. People are cheering anything and everything. Someone shouts
'Viva Spinola, viva 0 communismo'.
We go to the house of certain young singers whose songs had been banned.
Their records, censored, were rarely played on the radio. Everyone is
drinking. A singing session ensues, which after an hour moves back to
Rossio. We stay there, sitting on the ground, until 3 am, singing, watching
peo plc jump into the icy cold fountain. Finally, exhausted, I decide to go
I shall never forget that First of May. The noise, the noise, the noise is
still ringing in my ears. The horns tooting in joy, the shouting, the
slogans, the singing and dancing. The doors of revolution seem open again,
after forty eight years of repression. In that single day every-thing was
replaced in perspective. Nothing was god-given, all was man-made. People
could see their misery and their problems in a historical setting. How can
words describe 600,000 people demonstrating in a city of a million? Or the
effect of carnations everywhere, in the barrels of rifles, on every tank
and every ear, in the hands of troops and demonstrators alike? It is the
climax of a week of hectic, fast-moving events. Working people have left an
indelible mark on the situation. The call is for socialism and masses of
ordinary people have been involved in making it. What started as a military
coup is assuming new dimensions. The Junta is still in power, but it is the
people who have called the tune, in particular the working class.
A week has passed, although it already feels like many months. Every hour
has been lived to the full. It is already difficult to remember what the
papers looked like before, or what people had then said. Hadn't there
always been a revolution?