Marcello Caetano, the deposed former prime minister of Portugal, and the exiled stalwarts of the old regime gathered recently in Rio de Janeiro with some satisfaction. Their nemesis António de Spínola was being shuttled from Spain to Brazil to Argentina to Brazil again, while his modest home in Lisbon was ransacked and his famous book, Portugal and the Future, burned by a vengeful mob. The events of a single year had in their view justified fifty. The Portuguese people had once more demonstrated their incapacity for self-rule, their need for firm authoritarian direction. The shrill falsetto of the old master Salazar echoed in their ears as ever, vindicated by history as he always believed he would be.
In Lisbon the jails held more political prisoners than before the April revolution. The Portuguese Communist party held the center of the stage with its discipline, its dour puritanism, and its dogmatic self-righteousness, the mirror image of Caetano’s fallen dictatorship. Each day the political, strategic, and ideological stakes increase, and Portugal moves closer to social revolution and civil war. While next door the Franco regime totters toward collapse, the Italian and French left watches events in Portugal intently. And the fragile settlement in Angola too depends on what happens in Lisbon. Before the US government, NATO, and The New York Times talk themselves into a Dominican-type intervention in Lisbon it is worth examining in some detail what happened to the “Revolution of Flowers.”
When the Caetano regime collapsed on April 25 last year there was much bewilderment, and the world press turned for explanations to the unlikely but familiar figure of General Spínola, whose book, it was thought, both explained and had incited the revolution. Scant attention was paid to the “Armed Forces Movement,” the phrase itself often taken as if it were a descriptive epithet rather than the specific title of the compact group of revolutionary officers who had made the coup. While correspondents waded patiently through the baroque syntax of Spínola’s Portugal and the Future the movement’s own “program” was little discussed, despite the fact that it was soon promulgated into the transitional constitution of the Portuguese Republic. This was a serious misjudgment. The curious truth was that in a land of much rhetoric and little content a document had appeared that meant exactly what it said. And in particular what it said about a policy in favor of “the least advantaged sectors of the population” and “the defense of the interests of the working classes.”
Moreover, the MFA’s ambiguous phrases about colonial policy and the “need for a political not military solution” were if anything a gross understatement. The MFA program and Spínola’s book were in fact the two key documents of the Portuguese revolution and they set out positions so diametrically opposed that they contained seeds for a conflict that could only be resolved by the victory of one over the other. The nature of the revolution disguised for a time the seriousness of …
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.