The struggle in Portugal during the past year has been over ends and means. No one doubted the necessity for action when the old regime fell but there was very little agreement over what that action should be. With the establishment of the supreme military revolutionary council in March 1975, the nationalization of the banks and basic industry, and the forthcoming expropriation of landed estates of over 500 hectares, the question of ends has been settled. Barring a successful counterrevolution, Portugal is clearly set on the road to becoming a socialist state.
The question that remains concerns the means by which this will come about. And how it is answered will determine the future shape of Portuguese politics and society. The Portuguese themselves have given their own unequivocal answer. On April 25, just one year to the day after the nearly bloodless revolution overthrew Europe’s oldest dictatorship, they overwhelmingly rejected authoritarianism—both by those nostalgic for the past and by those impatient to impose their vision of the future.
But they also categorically voted for change, and they did so in one of the highest turnouts ever recorded in a national election. The Portuguese Socialist party, led by Mário Soares, took 38 percent of the vote; the centrist Popular Democrats 25 percent, and Álvaro Cunhal’s Portuguese Communist party 12.5 percent. The PCP’s sister party, the Portuguese Democratic Movement (MDP/CDE) received a mere 5 percent; the right-wing CDS only 7.5 percent.
In retrospect it is remarkable that the Portuguese people got the chance of a free ballot at all. For it was a first year filled with alarms and excursions. Many feared what the people might say when for the first time in Portuguese history they were given the chance to vote freely. Spínola and his allies in the Popular Democratic party had first attempted to abort the process by substituting early presidential elections that would confirm the general in office and stave off the threat of a communist electoral victory. When this failed and it became clear that the communists would gain only a small percentage of the vote, Cunhal and the PCP voiced concern over the lack of “preparation” of the voters, their subjection to obscurantism, and their general inability to make a responsible choice.
Behind the scenes other forces were at work too. This was hardly surprising, for much was at stake. When Caetano fell large interests were threatened, both in Europe and in Africa. For revolutions that begin with euphoria cannot remain mere words and noisy celebration. Where there are winners there must be losers too. And Iberia seems forever doomed to brilliant moments when suddenly, after decades of obscurity, it becomes a microcosm of the hopes, the terrors, and the fantasies of others; a crystal ball where some would see the future. Image and object rarely coincide, though both have the power to precipitate events. The mystery lies mainly in the eye of the beholder. And more often than not it is the past that haunts…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.