Assess the viewpoint that the Colonial Wars were the most important reason for the start of the Carnation Revolution in 1974.
The Carnation revolution of 1974, took place in Portugal. The revolution was a military coup d’état carried out by a group of middle-ranking soldiers, Generals and Captains’ who later became known as ‘the April Captains’ and went down in history as some of the greatest heroes in modern Portuguese history. Their actions in the early hours of the 25th April 1974, which led to the death of “up to 6 civilians” (BBC News, 2018) and overthrew over 50 years of the Authoritarian establishment. But what caused their discontent? Palmowski argues that it was the economic backwardness of the country which caused discontent among the working and middle-classes. He said that “a large number of social, economic and political reforms, plunged the country into a deep crisis.” (Palmowski, 1997). C. Reed, on the other hand, argues that the brutal methods of torture and appalling treatment of prisoners and suspected criminals by the secret police - International and State Defence Police (PIDE) is to blame. Reed argues that PIDE “were so feared by the Portuguese, pedestrians (they) would cross to the opposite side of the street to pass its… offices in Lisbon.” (Reed, 2004)1 This view is supported by historians such a T.C. Bruneau and S.C. Boraz who argue that in a truly democratic society, the tensions arising from intelligence can never be resolved.2 Another alternative view which suggests that the growing international tensions in the context of the 1960’s and 1970’s may have contributed to the overthrow of Marcello Caetano on the 25th April 1974. The cold war showed no sign of slowing down and both the western and eastern countries were attempting to expand their spheres of influence. Portugal, due to its isolationist stance that it had taken since Antonio Salazar had taken full control of the country in 1932, was a victim to its sphere of influence being hindered by both the Soviets and the U.S.A. A. Weisboard describes Portugal’s relationship with Britain as “intimate” and that “there was always the warm friendship of the United States to bring Portugal into NATO with heavy military aid and subsidiaries,” (Weisbord, 1974). However, it is clear that the overall factor that had the biggest impact on causing the Carnation revolution of 1974 was the Colonial wars in the overseas provinces of Portugal, the first of which started in Angola in February 1963 with Maria’s war.3 This to many historians, primarily R. H Chilcote argue that the Carnation Revolution was caused by “dissented middle ranking officers” who had been embittered by their experiences in the colonial war. (Chilcote, 2010) Clearly, the fact that the revolution of carnations was a military coup d’état would evidently suggest that discontent in the military was the biggest cause of the revolution.
The first reason that suggests the colonial wars did not have the biggest impact in causing the Carnation Revolution of 1974 is the clear and prevalent economic conditions and social backwardness that had overshadowed Portugal since António de Oliveira Salazar had taken full control of the country in 1932, by creating the constitution of the ‘Estado Novo’ in 1933.4 The main historian leading this line of argument is J. Palmowski. His view that the economic and social backwardness led to a crisis in the country comes in the form that “His [Antonio de Oliveira Salazar] fiscal conservatism in fact hindered Portugal’s development into an industrial technological nation. Its economy remained heavily reliant on agriculture.” (Palmowski, 1997). K. Ettingoff and S.C. Indovinno add to this when describing the growth of the economy in Portugal under Salazar as very slow, adding that “By the middle of the twentieth century, the country was clearly behind those of the rest of Europe.” (Indovinno, 2013). Furthermore, the economic climate in Portugal which may have caused discontent was the priority of the spending of the budget. The war, on average, consumed one third of the annual government budget expenditure and represented more than 40% of budget expenditures during the 1960s. According to a journalist looking back on the economic climate during the 1960’s and 70’s “The trade deficit jumped from -5,9% of GDP to -12,9% of GDP between 1973 and 1974. Between 1973 and 1974, Portugal’s net borrowing requirements deteriorated by 7.9 percentage points from -1.9% of GDP to 6% of GDP.” (Ricardo Cabral, 2014). This does present a strong argument against the Colonial Wars having the biggest impact on causing the Carnation revolution of 1974. However, the cause of this financial slump may have been the 1973–74 stock market crash which caused a bear market between January 1973 and December 1974. This affected all the major stock markets in the world, and it was one of the worst stock market downturns in modern history. It was also compounded by the outbreak of the 1973 oil crisis in October of that year. It was a major event of the 1970s recession.5 This shows that perhaps it was the Colonial Wars which had the biggest impact on the Carnation Revolution of 1974.
The second aspect concerns social issues within Portugal. Salazar himself is quoted with saying that he “consider(s) it more urgent the creation of elites than the necessity to teach people to read.”6 Clearly, the social minus in Portugal during this period didn’t bother Salazar or Caetano, Salazar’s successor after his stroke in 1968. R. H. Chilcote also attributes the cause of the revolution to “The class struggle that shaped… revolutionary movements (in Portugal leading up to the 25th April].” (Chilcote, 2010). A source at the time highlights the issue with Portugal at this time: “Portugal is an economically backward country, in which about 50% of the population is illiterate, a country which you will find at the bottom of all the statistical tables of Europe.” (Cabral, 1974). Amilcar Cabral was writing in Portuguese Guinea during the colonial war, and so is trying to encourage his fellow countrymen to fight against Portuguese colonialism, viewing them as the evil oppressors so would clearly have a negative view of Portugal and the Portuguese people. He was, in fact, the figure head of the alleged ‘Revolution in Guinea’, as head of the PAIGC he was described as a “Talented Leader” (Laqueur, 1976). The PAIGC were Guinean separatists who fought during the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence that took place in Portuguese Guinea between 1963 and 1974. This therefore vastly limits the credibility of his argument. However, his statistic does point out the striking underdevelopment of Portugal and the lack of any kind of education for a large proportion of the population. Another witness to the events, an American political analyst working in Lisbon at the time of the revolution says that one of the main purposes of the revolution was to “improve socio-economic conditions at home” (Carson, 2018). This clearly demonstrates that the social and economic conditions were very poor in Portugal. This is a failure of the government and would certainly cause grievances within society. With this in mind, can this be considered as having a big impact in causing a revolution? After all, an illiterate population is much easier to control than one exposed to other ideas and concepts that they would receive from getting an education. This therefore shows that the colonial wars most likely had the biggest impact on causing the Carnation Revolution in 1974, rather than the social or economic conditions experienced in Portugal during the Fascist era.
Another alternative reason which suggests that the colonial wars were not the biggest cause of the Carnation Revolution in 1974 is authoritarianism. In Portugal, authoritarianism came to its most despicable fruition in the form of PIDE. The powers of the PIDE were continuously increasing, especially after the passage of decrees in 1943 and 1947.7 This in turn meant that the techniques used by PIDE were increasingly inhumane.8 C. Reed is the historian who leads this viewpoint, commenting that “[PIDE] were so feared by the Portuguese, pedestrians would cross to the opposite side of the street to pass its unmarked offices in Lisbon.” (Reed, 2004) Reed is an American journalist who researched the CIA’s involvement in Portugal during the Salazar and Caetano regime. He found that people who were found to be subversives were imprisoned for a period of time but then released.9 Why was this so? Reed states it’s “because the success of the PIDE’s state-of-the-art imported torture techniques meant that their previous lives were now irrelevant. In the PIDE’s words, they had been “taken off the chess board”. Their lives, old and new, were destroyed.” (Reed, 2004) The detrimental effects faced at the hands of PIDE was clearly very harsh and extremely severe. This would clearly cause discontent enough to start a revolution. Revelations after the Carnation revolution highlighted the horrific conditions at the time for people accused and imprisoned by PIDE. For example, Joaquim Lemos de Oliveira, a barber and democrat from Fafe, aged 48, and Manuel da Silva Júnior, a worker and anti-fascist from Viana do Castelo, aged 69 both had died inside a prison in Porto in 1957; officially, they had committed suicide. “Álvaro Roçadas, a lawyer aged 62, declared in his statement about the deaths: … The fact was that on the corridors of the same court he had been told that a man had been found dead under unexplained conditions in the State Defence and International Police jail, and later he had also been told that in the same premises of the same police force another death had occurred under the same conditions.” (Durate, 2015) Another case is mentioned by Durate, when she gives the example of Luis Nogueira, 42, living in Fafe who declared, “on one occasion an Agent whose name he cannot remember brought the man Oliveira in from the recreation area and called to the prison guard: ‘Jailer, keep this scoundrel inside; he is dying on us but he never dies, does he, the motherfucker.’” (Durate, 2015). These cases clearly demonstrate the aforementioned point very significantly. However, there is an issue with eyewitness testimonies. It is simply one person’s recollection of events many years after the incidents. They may be exaggerating or may have forgotten significant details. Indeed, S. Tzamarelou supports Reed by saying “that the illegal practices applied by the PIDE, directed the Portuguese public opinion.” (Tzamarelou, 2014) Whilst T.C. Bruneau and S.C. Boraz who add that in a truly democratic society, the tensions arising between intelligence and democracy can never be resolved.10 This would clearly have caused massive discontent among the Portuguese population, and so may well have caused the carnation revolution in 1974 as Reed suggests. On the other hand, there were 2 paramilitary organisations used for state control and 4 additional form of police used as state apparatus of repression of control.11 The 2 paramilitary organisations were the Leigao Portuguesa and Mocidade Portuguesa. The motto of the Leigao Portuguesa makes the oppressive and aggressive nature of these organisations perfectly clear “Let us believe firmly in the possibility of raising against the foreign enemy the steel wall of our Phalanx: "The Leigao Portuguesa"' (Diario da Manba, 1936) The idea of a paramilitary militia was presented by Jorge Botelho Moniz. The Mocidade Portuguesa was an organisation that was a 'Civil legion designed to encompass all those who, by a conscious and voluntary act, and accepting wholeheartedly the greatest of sacrifices, take a step forward and answer this appeal for the defence of everything we hold most sacred.' (Diario da Manba, 1936) The defence was against communism. Despite all of this, these organisations played a minor role in the lives of normal people. Bar indoctrinating people, similar to the Italian Opera Nazionale Balilla or the German Hitlerjugend (on which these organisations were based), public opinion was influenced very little by these organisations, clearly showing that the Colonial wars did most likely have the biggest impact in causing the Carnation Revolution of 1974.
However, an additional part to this argument is the entirely coercive, authoritarian state which Salazar had created in 1932 with the constitution of the Estado Novo. A central feature of the Estado Novo was authoritarianism.12 D.L. Wheeler paints a picture of the Estado Novo’s authoritarianism by noting that “a fundamental function of PIDE was to control or neutralize any groups or persons who were deemed to be a threat to the Dictatorship. Social ‘order’ was a key driver in the dictatorship in Portugal and is well mirrored in the oath every official had to take before working in the government.” (Wheeler, 1983). Without Salazar and his brand of corporative fascism then the people of Portugal would not have suffered the oppression bestowed unto them for over 40 years. On many separate occasions Salazar reaffirmed his strong authoritative character. As early as 1928 he is known to have said: ‘I know quite well what I want and where I am going… When the time comes for me to give orders, I shall expect it [the country] to obey.’13 And in his memoirs in 1966 also said that those who can, must obey.14 In 1928 he had not yet consolidated his total power, this only came in 1932, yet he still made a comment as such. In 1966 he had a firm grip on power and seemed to have very little opposition, hence why he made such a comment. These all must have heavily influenced popular opinion in Portugal, so that after his stroke in 1968 after which he removed himself from politics and “was succeeded by Caetano who was over-whelmed by the pent-up tensions that had developed under Salazar.” (Palmowski, 1997)
The pent-up tensions that Palmowski speaks of may have been contributed by authoritarianism, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. A lot of Portuguese people in fact loved Salazar, despite the oppression he imposed on them. This was because of the issues caused by the first republic. W.C. Opello describes the first republic, which was the government that preceded Salazar’s more stable Estado Novo as “Western Europe’s most turbulent, unstable parliamentary regime.” Adding that “the persecution of Catholics in the early years of the republic attracted international attention and brought the new political system into conflict with foreign diplomats, humanitarian organizations, and journalists.” (contributors, 1999). In fact, Salazar was so loved that he was recently voted as the Greatest Portuguese who ever lived in a survey conducted by the Portuguese television station RTP.15 B. P. Hatcher also supports the Estado Novo as “benign, less heavy-handed than his counterparts, and necessary in 1926 to secure the salvation of Portugal.” (Hatcher, 2014). This therefore shows that the viewpoint that authoritarianism was the most important reason for the start of the Carnation Revolution in 1974 is not fully supported, demonstrating that the factor that did have the biggest impact in causing the Carnation Revolution in 1974 was in fact the Colonial wars.
The final alternative view to the belief that the colonial wars had the biggest impact causing the Carnation Revolution in 1974 is that Eastern and Western influences played a large role in the roots of the revolution. A historian from this time, A. Weisboard, leads this line of view. Writing in a magazine after the revolution had taken place, he describes the dreadful treatment faced by workers and gives the example of “a little beggar boy could open his shirt to show me [Weisboard] his pneumothorax operation, with the statement that every single member of his large family also had such an operation!” (Weisbord, 1974). Weisboard uses this example to justify why Portugal’s relationship with the outside world was poor, in that “the ruling class of Portugal, supported by the Vatican, was held in intellectual contempt by the entire post-war bourgeoisie of Europe.” (Weisbord, 1974). He then goes on to describe how the people of Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau organized their armed political formations, using friendly African neighbouring countries as their bases, and armed with weapons obtained from Russia, China, Cuba and Vietnam.16 He adds to the element of Eastern influence by saying that “Russia has increased her power throughout the world, especially in the Mediterranean, and even in Africa. So great is the influence of Russia that it is clear that the Portuguese generals must have made some sort of secret agreement with Russia before they moved to overthrow and exile Caetano.” (Weisbord, 1974) However, Weisboard acknowledges that it was not just the East who held influence in Portuguese politics. He also describes relationships with Britain as intimate, and due to Portugal’s admission into NATO, America had also been throwing its weight around, by providing military aide and such in return for access to Oil in Portuguese colonies.17 Further evidence of the United States involvement with Portugal and its colonies comes from a declassified memorandum from the 3rd of July 1972. In the memorandum, the Prime minister of Portugal, Marcello Caetano – who succeeded Salazar - remarked that the US seemed blind to the expanding Chinese sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean and on the Eastern coast of Africa, and the expanding Soviet sphere in the Near East and the African West coast.18 He goes on to declare that the Portuguese will not decolonise as per NATO and The U. S’s requests.19
1 Christopher Reed, How the CIA Taught the Portuguese to Torture, MAY 21, 2004, COUNTER PUNCH; https://www.counterpunch.org/2004/05/21/how-the-cia-taught-the-portuguese-to-torture/
2 Thomas C. Bruneau & Steven C. Boraz, Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness (USA: University of Texas Press, 2007). p.xi
3 Minter, W. (1972). Portuguese Africa and the West. NY: Monthly Review Press.
4 Dictionary of twentieth-century world history. (1997); Jan Palmowski; Oxford university press, page. 536
5 Davis, E. Philip (January 2003). "Comparing bear markets – 1973 and 2000". National Institute Economic Review. Page 183
6 T. Gallagher: Portugal: A twentieth century interpretation (Manchester 1983); Ch 5
7 António de Figueiredo, Portugal: Fifty Years of Dictatorship (New York, 1975). pp.116-131
8 Mary Jane Gold, Crossroads Marseilles 1940 (New York, 1980). p.399
9 CHRISTOPHER REED, How the CIA Taught the Portuguese to Torture, MAY 21, 2004, COUNTER PUNCH; https://www.counterpunch.org/2004/05/21/how-the-cia-taught-the-portuguese-to-torture/
10 Thomas C. Bruneau & Steven C. Boraz, Reforming Intelligence: Obstacles to Democratic Control and Effectiveness (USA: University of Texas Press, 2007). p.xi
11 Ronald H. Chilcote; The Portuguese revolution: State and class in the transition to democracy: (Plymouth,2010) Rowman & Littlefield; page 33
12 Dictionary of twentieth-century world history. (1997); Jan Palmowski; Oxford university press
13 T. Gallagher: Portugal: A twentieth century interpretation (Manchester 1983); Ch 3
14 My memories: things of times gone, Volume 3 - Page 13; of Cunha Leal - Published by C. Leal, 1966:
15 Mario de Queiroz, PORTUGAL: Salazar ‘Greatest Portuguese Ever’, TV Viewers Say, Inter press service, March 30 2007, Lisbon, http://www.ipsnews.net/2007/03/portugal-salazar-greatest-portuguese-ever-tv-viewers-say/
16 Albert Weisbord, Perspective for the Portuguese Revolution, La Parola del Popolo, May-June 1974.
17 Albert Weisbord, Perspective for the Portuguese Revolution, La Parola del Popolo, May-June 1974.
18 FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1969–1976, VOLUME XLI, WESTERN EUROPE; NATO, 1969–1972, Document 271 Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs
19 FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES, 1969–1976, VOLUME XLI, WESTERN EUROPE; NATO, 1969–1972, Document 271 Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs
- Quote paper
- Jack Griffiths (Author), 2019, The Portuguese Revolution of 1974. Were Colonial Wars the biggest factor?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/500518