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Revista Brasileira de História

On-line version ISSN 1806-9347

Rev. Bras. Hist. vol.32 no.63 São Paulo  2012 



"One, two, three MFA": the rise and fall of Portugal's Armed Forces Movement (MFA)



Raquel Varela

Instituto de História Contemporânea, Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Av. de Berna, 26-C. 1069-061 Lisboa – Portugal.




On 25 April 1974 a coup d'état by the Armed Forces Movement (MFA) put an end to 48 years of the Estado Novo dictatorship in Portugal, starting what would become known as the Carnation Revolution. The MFA immediately attracted public support and later political prestige which allowed it have a prominent place in the stabilization of the state and the consolidation of democracy. Nevertheless, the MFA would eventually succumb to the crisis of governance imposed by social unrest during the second half of 1975. In this article we analyze the rise and fall of this movement of Army officers, how it won popular support and the reasons that explain its collapse, a case study of global relevance due to the prominent role it played in overthrowing the oldest military dictatorship in twentieth-century Western Europe.

Keywords: Military; Armed Forces Movement; Carnation Revolution.


A 25 de abril de 1974 um golpe de Estado levado a cabo pelo Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) põe fim a 48 anos de ditadura do Estado Novo e inicia o período que ficaria conhecido como Revolução dos Cravos. O MFA granjeia de imediato apoio popular e mais tarde um crescente prestígio político que o levará a ocupar um lugar de destaque na estabilização do Estado e na consolidação do regime democrático. Porém, sucumbirá na crise de governação imposta pela tensão social da segunda metade de 1975. Neste artigo analisamos a ascensão e queda desse movimento de oficiais, a forma como ganhou apoio popular e as razões explicativas do seu desmoronamento, um caso de estudo a nível mundial pela participação destacada que teve no derrube da mais longa ditadura militar da Europa Ocidental do século XX.

Palavras-chave: militares; Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA); Revolução dos Cravos.



For example, let us look at our case: unconditional supporters of the MFA (and not rarely insulted for this), over time we came to realize that this MFA had entered into a type of reproduction by scissiparity, in such a way that where once there had been one, we began to see two, three, if not four …

José Saramago
Member of PCP, Oct. 1975



On 25 April 1974 a coup d'état led by the Movimento de Capitães (Captains' Movement), re-baptized as the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA – Movement of the Armed Forces), brought an end to 48 years of the Estado Novo dictatorship. The MFA immediately received the enthusiastic support of the population of Lisbon, who in less than a week destroyed the symbols of the old regime. The government was besieged in Carmo Barracks in Lisbon; the doors of Caxias and Peniche prisons were opened, with all political prisoners being released; Pide, the feared political police, was dismantled; the offices of the regime newspaper A Época were attacked; and censorship was abolished.

However, no one expected such a dizzying end of the oldest colonial empire. The most organized party in Portugal at that time, which probably had between two and three thousand members,1 the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português – PCP), advocated the overthrow of the dictatorship with an alliance between the "masses allied to the progressive military sectors," to overcome the country's 'backwardness.' However, the regime fell at neither the hands of the 'masses' nor of the soldiers, but at those of a group of middle-ranking officers in the Movimento dos Capitães, who no longer wanted to fight in a war they considered to be lost.2 The dragging on of the war over 13 years without any glimpse of a political solution from within Marcelo Caetano's regime and the imminence of defeat opened a crisis in the Armed Forces.3 The revolution was determined by the combination of the anti-colonial struggle with the eruption of conflicts in the metropole e vice-versa, the situation in the metropole reinforced the legitimacy of liberation movements in the colonies and precipitated the independence of these in a short space of time (in 19 months all the former colonies had become independent).

More than a corporate question, the Captains' Movement emerged out of the divisions within the ruling classes of the Estado Novo, the prolonging of the war, the scenario of an economic crisis the depth of which had brought an end to the Bretton Woods system and the 1973 oil crisis.4 A combination of factors which led on 25 April the MFA, the majority of whose members came from the intermediate layers of society, were not very politicized, and limited to the objective of bringing about an end to the war, carried out a coup d'état and formally handing leadership of the country, through the Junta for National Salvation (Junta de Salvação Nacional – JSN), to a sector of the Portuguese elite represented by António de Spínola, the general who had previously published the famous Portugal e o futuro (Arcádia, 1974) in which he advocated a political solution to the war.

Since the beginning António de Spínola had been associated with a federalist type solution for the colonies.5 After trying during the preparation for the coup to impose changes on the MFA program – and having been obliged to back down –, he stated in the first communiqué to the country from the Junta de Salvação Nacional, shortly after the coup, that the first political task of the JSN was to "guarantee the survival of the nation as a sovereign Patria in its multi-continental entirety."6 The following day the MFA Program was published stating that the "overseas policy of the Provisional Government commences by recognizing that the solution to overseas wars is political and not military."7

In less than 24 hours the country had become aware that had been divergences about the question at the origin of the coup: the way in which to bring the war to an end and the solution for the colonies (Ferreira, 1993, p.21-33). However, the MFA, irrespective of the weak political experience of its members, was de facto against the war – this was what had motivated the middle-ranking officers to carry out the coup.



The First Provisional Government, which took power on 16 May 1974, included members of the PCP, the social-democrats from the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista – PS) and the liberals of the Democratic Popular Party (Partido Popular Democrático – PPD) in an unstable and fragile coalition which did not withstand for more than two months the intensification of social conflict in Lisbon and the colonies. Its fall has been interpreted by various researchers, above all, as the result of divisions within the government and the  MFA and the Junta de Salvação Nacional about the solution to the colonial war, in which General António de Spínola represented a delayed solution to the colonies in an attempt to prolong Portuguese dominion in Africa, while the MFA, PCP and PS wanted their independence. Kenneth Maxwell (1999), whose studies highlight the relationship between the advance of the anti-colonial struggle and the Portuguese revolution, defends the perspective that the dismissal of the prime minister close to Spínola, Palma Carlos, on 9 July 1974, and of António de Spínola himself on 30 September 1974, were the result on a close relationship between politics in the two geographically distant places, but ones that were part of the same historical and political process:

The crises which pushed Portugal decisively to the left also pushed Portuguese Africa decisively to independence. These emerged as a series of often prolonged conflicts in which the political tensions in Portugal, events in Africa and external pressures combined to provoke serious confrontations. The majority of politicized Portuguese were well aware of the underlying causes of these crises, although the Portuguese press did not publicize them, or when it did, it was done in vague form. Only when the crises had ended and when their consequences were visible – the dismissal of prime minister Palma Carlos on 9 July and the appointment of Coronel Vasco Gonçalves in his place; the dismissal of General Spínola on 30 September and his replacement with General Costa Gomes – were they publically discussed. No one involved in these crises, however, ever doubted that the form and content of the future politics of Portugal and the conquest of independence of the African colonies were intimately linked. The result of the struggle in one sphere would help to consolidate the victory or bring about the defeat of the other. (Maxwell, 1999, p.99)

The war had resulted in the fall of the regime at the hands of the army. Prolonging the war – which would face determined opposition in the colonies and in Portugal – could result in the triggering of a dynamic resulting in a deepening of social instability in Portugal.

International factors also contributed to the independence of the colonies: the Soviet Union, the United States and, albeit with less influence, China, wanted the independence of the colonies.8 The liberation movements and the leaders of African countries fought for independence; in Portugal the escalation in social conflict also favored their independence. On 28 July, a day after the publication of the law granting independence to the colonies, a joint communiqué from the PS, PCP and PPD9 called for a demonstration of support for the president of the Republic, the government and the MFA, to celebrate and support the independence of the colonies.

Until February/March of 1975, a period when the carnation revolution was carving out a previously unseen path in Western Europe – involving the occupation of latifúndios, the creation and generalization of resident committees, the growth of worker committees, the expropriation of large fortunes in the country and the nationalization of the national bank and insurance companies – the MFA remained one of the legitimating structures of the leadership of the state, which enlisted support from the people. It was the MFA that people asked for help to occupy houses or land and also the MFA from which worker and popular organizations accepted in certain conditions (such as the case of the post office strike in 1974 and the 1974 TAP strike, or the anti-NATO demonstration in February 1975) a level of repression which it no longer accepted from police forces such as the PSP or GNR10 or from the Quadro Permanente das Forças Armadas (the Permanent Armed Forces). It grew in terms of prestige and also gained institutional power with the signing of the MFA/Parties Pact and later with the creation of the Conselho da Revolução (Revolutionary Council) which formally gave the military a leading role in governing the country.11 Intimately linked with the Communist and Socialist parties, the MFA played a role in the consolidation of democratic liberties in opposition to the sectors most associated with support for the Estado Novo regime, but also, when called on to do this, was involved in the restraint and repression of the most radicalized labor conflicts, especially through COPCON, associated with the most leftwing sectors of the regime, whose leader was the person most responsible for the operational aspects of 25 April, Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho. According to Philip Schmitter, the unity of the MFA with the people was "the cornerstone of its legitimacy."12



How was this unity, which Schmitter considered the cornerstone of the Movimento das Forças Armadas, formed?

The MFA kept for itself the immense prestige of having overthrow the hated 48 year old Salazar dictatorship. However, its strength would be expanded by the policy of the PCP, which would cause impacts within the actual MFA, progressively reinforcing its role within the leadership of the regime, a role to which it was called by other parties within the coalition, notably in the stabilization of the state and the repressive apparatus, which had fallen into disgrace after the coup.

From May 1974 onwards the PCP, at that time the best organized Portuguese political party, and the one which would be determinant in the leadership of the workers' movement organized in Intersindical, adopted as a strategy the 'People-MFA Alliance,' trying to support itself on the military to carry out its political program. Shortly after 25 April the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) praised the officers who had carried out the coup. On 30 April the charismatic leader of the PCP, Álvaro Cunhal, returned from exile and gave a press conference where he stated before hundreds of supporters that "our people in alliance with the soldiers of 25 April will lead our country on the road to liberty, democracy and peace."13 On 4 May the Central Committee of the PCP stated that: "The continuation of the Movement, at least until the elections for the Constituent Assembly, is one of the essential conditions to consolidate and expand the results achieved and to successfully confront counterrevolutionary plots and conspiracies … On the reinforcement and irreversibility of this alliance depends the final victory of democracy in Portugal."14 In the speech celebrating 1 May 1974, Álvaro Cunhal reaffirmed that the conditions of the victory of democracy were the unity of the masses and the alliance of the people with the Armed Forces.15 In the first legal Avante! this alliance was seen as a "question of life or death for the democratic revolution."16

With the approximation of elections for the Constituent Assembly, set for 25 April 1975, the PCP would reinforce the MFA in the leadership of the state. In addition to the MFA program being a democratic program that coincided with the PCP one of 'national democratic revolution,' Álvaro Cunhal had already predicted at this moment that the elections would leave his party in a weaker position in terms of political representativeness. In the MFA the PCP sought a ruling partner, a form of reconstructing a popular front leadership, since everything indicated – and the leadership of the PCP was aware of this – that the PS would win the elections with a sufficient margin to leave in question the coalition in the same form as it had functioned until then, accelerating the dispute for key sectors in the state apparatus (the ministries of Finance, Communication, Labor and Agriculture).

At the beginning of April 1975 the PCP let it be known that in order to prevent conflicts after the electoral result, and since the MFA had no representation in the Constituent Assembly, negotiations were underway between the political parties and the MFA to "to reach an agreement about the basis of Portuguese democracy after the elections."17 As Maria Inácia Rezola mentions, since the beginning the PS, PPD and CDS had contested the presence of the MFA in the Constituent Assembly (Rezola, 2006, p.159).

The speed at which strikes and occupations spread between February and March 1975 led all the parties to prudently support the reinforcement of the military in the running of the state, although the PS argued that this reinforcement should be more nuanced. At the beginning of March 1975, the Socialist Party declared through Mário Soares that it defended the institutionalization of the MFA, and the "superiority of elections."18

On 11 April 1975 a ceremony was held to sign the pact between the MFA and the PS, PPD, PCP, MDP, FSP and CDS.19 With the exception of AOC, who adhered to the accords later, the extreme left did not sign the pact.20 The terms of the agreed platform respected the MFA Program and defended that the future Constituent Assembly should take the same form as the platform; it restated that that the Constituent Assembly had no power to make any alteration in the Provisional Government (c-5); prevented the institutionalization of the MFA from being questioned, as well as obliging its inclusion in the new Constitution (c-6):

In addition to the provisions which formed the basis of this agreement, the Constitution was also to enshrine the principles of the program of the Movimento das Forças Armadas, the victories legitimately won during the process, as well as the developments of the program imposed by the revolutionary dynamic which openly and irreversibly pushed the country along an original path to a Portuguese socialism.21

Comrades, a few days ago an agreement was established between the MFA and various political parties. What does this agreement signify? Essentially it signifies the following: these parties commit themselves in the Constituent Assembly to prepare a Constitution which will reinforce the alliance of the People with the Armed Forces … We believe that the existence and continuity of the MFA is a guarantee for the liberty and democracy of our country.22



A failed rightwing coup led by General Spínola provoked a general mobilization of workers and the middle levels of society to prevent the coup on 11 March 1975. One of the military aims of the coup was the subduing of the 1st Light Artillery Regiment (Regimento de Artilharia Ligeira 1 – RAL 1) from Lisbon by paratroopers. However, the latter, after some hours of what came to  be considered a misunderstanding – they did not know why they had left their quarters with orders to surround RAL 1 – ended up embraced by their comrades from the Lisbon artillery unit, some even crying (they were not going to participate in a 'fratricidal' fight).23

Thousands of people spilled onto the streets and COPCON called for barricades to be erected. Unions, most propelled by the PCP, mobilized almost the entire country against the coup. The front page of Avante! published on the afternoon of 11 March proclaimed "The Reaction Shall Not Pass; Unity of the PEOPLE-MFA", "Portuguese People. Everyone Take to the Streets."24 On the same day the occupations of factories and strikes continued. TAP, the Portuguese airline, whose workers had confronted the government and the MFA before 28 September 1974, entered into a general strike, not only of TAP but of all air traffic. Bank workers refused to leave their premises until the nationalizations of their banks were decreed.

The coup was defeated and those responsible arrested. Among these were various officers and some of the richest men in the country, such as Jorge de Mello, José Roquette, Jorge Espírito Santo. A new phases of occupations of houses, companies and factories began and popular mobilization increased again. In a study carried out by Durán Muñoz, March 1975 was the month with the most labor conflicts and the most labor conflicts with radical actions.25

One of the political solutions of the parties in the government coalition for this crisis was the immediate institutionalization of a leadership which could counter the social advance of which the Spinola coup had been both a product and an engine. The argument given by those in favor of the Revolutionary Council – "protect the popular movement of the parties of the elite, in the words of Costa Gomes" (Maxwell, 1995, p.158) – did not hide the fact that the Council, which had absorbed the functions of the Junta de Salvação Nacional, the Council of State and the Conselho dos Vinte (Council of Twenty), aimed to create a center of state authority (ibidem), a transformation which was supported by all the parties of the coalition, from the PCP to the PPD.

On 12 March the Conselho dos Vinte transformed itself into the Conselho da Revolução (Revolutionary Council), and to this there was added an MFA Assembly, in the words of Maxwell "a confusing amalgam of executive and legislative functions which usurped a large part of the authority intended for the Constituent Assembly" (Maxwell, 1995, p.158). The Revolutionary Council thereby emerged as the creation of an institution which had both popular legitimacy and military strength to carry out the revolution and the duplicity of powers, while at the same time isolating the sectors linked to the dictatorship. In this way it was an essential institution in the consolidation of the democratic regime.

However, its creation did not prevent the worsening of the crisis within the MFA, which sprung from the rupture between the PCP and the PS after 11 March and the elections of April 1975, and which would lead to the breakup of the MFA during the so-called 'hot summer' of 1975.

The MFA was one of the leaders of the revolution, together with the political parties, especially the PCP and the PS – the other parties, to the left and the right, never managed to present an alternative leadership of the process. It had various advantages which placed it in a privileged position to stabilize the state during the revolutionary process: it had the prestige of overthrowing the regime; the support of the PCP, the greatest defender of the People-MFA Alliance, and it controlled the weapons. However, it had many weaknesses, the first of which was a military leadership – it had military support and the strength to take action within the ranks of the army, but had little influence on the social movement which characterized the country at this time. This social strength, which involved Intersindical, the residents and workers committees, resided above all in the parties – the PCP and PS, and sectors of the extreme left, especially Maoists –, as well as in the Church, notably in the center and north of the country. The MFA was also socially a peculiar military organization, with some degree of social homogenization arising from the middle classes:

A statistical survey showed that the members of the Captains' Movement were generally speaking, from the sociological point of view, from the petit bourgeoisie and the middle classes (some were working class). Born in the 1940s (they were thus young people in their thirties) and with more than two commissions of service in Africa (in the case of the majors). A relative majority (39.4%) came from families of public employees, while another significant group belonged to the most disadvantaged layers: rural proletariat, workers, employees in the tertiary sector, artisans, etc. (20.5%). At the beginning of 1974 there were 4165 officers in the permanent staff of the army; of these 703 participated in the coup (16.9%). Of the participants, 73.82% belonged to the infantry and the artillery, and 80.8% were captains and majors.26

Finally, it was a leadership that had been in permanent crisis since 25 April, when the divergences with the Spinola sector had begun and which developed in such a manner that in September 1974 the MFA ended up remove ing the general to whom it had handed over power five months earlier. This instability within itself would be reinforced during the revolutionary period – the reinforcement of the MFA in control of the state took place in light of the reinforcement of the internal divisions within the MFA, which would succumb to the social conflict between the PS and PCP.



In effect until March and April of 1975, despite the substantial differences that emerged between the PCP and the PS in January 1975 in relation to the institutionalization of single trade union confederation, called Intersindical – which the PCP defended, arguing that this would ensure worker unity, and which the PS opposed, defending trade union pluralism as a condition of the democratic consolidation of the country –, the government coalition, with the growing participation of the MFA managed to assure the governability of the country. However, from the second half of 1975 onwards the coalition would fall apart as the result of various factors.

The already mentioned failed coup of 11 March 1975, led by General Spínola – whose leaders found political and financial support in Francoist Spain –, reflects a process of the radicalization of the revolution. Between May and June 1975 there were strikes, threats of strikes, and other labor conflicts in the metallurgical, chemical, hotel and textile sectors, in municipal councils, in civil construction, and from the miners, electricians, bakers, printers and TAP.27 Occupations stretched from Ribatejo to Alentejo. Dozens of large companies were nationalized. Then there emerged the occupations of houses which at the national level achieved an extraordinary rhythm from the middle of February 1975, especially in Lisbon, Porto and Setúbal. Houses were occupied and the residents met, making decisions as surprising as demanding the nationalization of a bank or that the empty house become a neighborhood crèche.28 Residents committees came to be in many cases the organizational base of the urban social movement and were transformed, in the analysis of Chip Dows, into a "real dual power at the level of the city."29

In response to the social tension, the government was obliged to increase the minimum wage and to approve measures to restrict price increases for food. This was after demonstrations had been held throughout March against the "high cost of living."30 In many companies production and employment were maintained, while in many others pay rises were granted, while collective contracts, holiday pay and a Christmas bonus became very common. Also implemented were generalized improvements in pensions, and maternity, sickness and invalidity benefits. It was also during this period that workers were granted unemployment benefit.

These facts, combined with the defeat of the 11 March 1975 coup, would provoke the transformation of a regime crisis into a general crisis of the state, translated into the greatest crisis of governability of the revolution following the departure of the PS and later the PPD (liberals) from the IV government, which led to its collapse in July 1975 and the creation of the fragile V government on 8 August 1975. The PS moved from an alliance with the PCP towards a broad social block which included sectors of the right and the Church – and the PCP was left alone, with its only allies being sectors which the party did not trust or control, such as part of the military left and part of the extreme left. Along with the political crisis there emerged divisions within the MFA itself, which would be shown to be irremediable.

In an attempt to make the PS change direction and to recreate the former coalition, the PCP would use various tactical resources, including creating military control over the workers' movement. This attempt to militarize labor was stated in Documento Guia Povo-MFA (People-MFA Guide Document),31 which allowed for a super-party organization in which the MFA and other bodies from the state apparatus would 'support' the popular assemblies and where the Revolutionary Council was the "supreme body of national sovereignty."32 It was an attempt at the militarization of the labor force which attempted to put workers and all the bodies of popular power under the control of the MFA, and in particular the Revolutionary Council. However, it was never more than a project, because within the framework of the Portuguese revolution after the crisis within the army it was to start with a less ambitious sketch – probably based on a certain flirtation of the MFA with theories called at that time 'third worldism.'

Another of the attempts at social stabilization was the production battalion policy,33 which sought to prevent all obstacles to the maintenance of production, whether they came from sectors of the bourgeoisie (economic sabotage, the decapitalization of companies), or from workers (strikes and demands, especially related to wages). However, despite these efforts the 'production battalion' policy neither managed to mollify labor struggles nor invert the de-investment process in Portugal. Between April 1974 and November 1975 the number of unemployed rose from 40,000 to 320,000, to a large extent because of the impact of the 1973 oil crisis.34 In Portugal the Gross Domestic Product growth rate fell from 11.2% in 1973 to 1.1% in 1974 and to -4.3% in 1975. The deterioration of economic conditions was one of the objective factors that worsened the crisis of state. In June 1975 in confidential document English diplomats described the political situation in Portugal as follows:

The situation in Portugal for investors continues to deteriorate … The principal difficulties continue to be successive increases in wages, drastic labor problems and a sharp fall in productivity. In many cases managers and businessmen have suffered physical intimidation from worker committees – they have been locked into their premises or received telephone threats. The attitude of the Portuguese authorities has frequently been vague and very inefficient. In fact, there was even a case where confidential discussions between British companies and the Portuguese authorities were reported to a worker committee.35

On 10 July 1975, the PS decided to formally abandon the IV Provisional Government.36 Officially the reason presented was the dispute over the República case which would oppose the extreme left, the PCP and the PS, who would accuse the PCP of wanting to have a dictatorial control of the means of communication. The growing weight of the PCP in numerous state structures and the direct control of or political influence in the majority of daily newspapers at this time was evident. However, the case of República was not obviously a case of communist domination of mass communications. Melo Antunes, in a conversation with the British prime minister, stated that "The communists were actually surpassed by workers who were more to the left," according to the Melo Antunes because although the Maoists came from the "bourgeoisie and had university educations, they had managed to penetrate deeply among workers."37

However, the pretext was based on a real situation – avoiding a revolutionary upswing, with the PS believing that the strategy of supporting a popular front government with the communists needed to be reconsidered. The PCP would be accused by the socialist leadership of wanting to create a communist dictatorship in Portugal, and the PS proclaimed itself as being capable of rescuing liberty from collectivization, trade union control, anti-Catholicism, and the dictatorship over mass communications,38 seeking in this way to consolidate the support of the intermediate sectors of Portuguese society. The anti-communist campaign was structured during this hot summer,39 supported not by the willingness of the PCP to lead the transition to socialism in Portugal, but by the dispute between the PCP and PS over the key positions in the state and military apparatus and by the increasing lack of control over the popular, worker and student movements.

The Political Commission of the PCP considered the PS decision to leave the government as 'very serious;' holding the PS and its anti-communist campaign responsible, it refused to allow the formation of a rightwing government without the communists; and appealed to the PS to reconsider and refuted "energetically the calumnies in which it was accused of grabbing power," stressing the democratic trajectory of the party.40



On 25 1975, the MFA Assembly met and came up with a proposal of creating a triumvirate, consisting of Costa Gomes, Vasco Gonçalves and Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, to try and bring an end to the crisis. The PCP supported this decision and said that the "principal enemy" continued to be that of "reactionaries," and that precise solutions were needed to make "the democratic order be respected."41

In the negotiations for the formation of the V Government, Vasco Gonçalves sought to form a plural government within the orbit of the left, but without success. On 29 July 1975, Melo Antunes abandoned the position of Foreign Affairs; the next day he was followed by Jorge Sampaio and João Cravinho from MES (Movimento de Esquerda Socialista – Socialist Left Movement). On 4 August 1975 it was the turn of Otelo Saraiva de Carvalho, close to the extreme-left, to refuse the support of Copcon for a 'strong' government led by Vasco Gonçalves.42 On 8 August the V Government took office. The same day a group of officers close to the PS – Melo Antunes, Vasco Lourenço, Sousa e Castro, Vítor Alves, Pezarat Correia, Franco Charais, Canto e Castro, Costa Neves and Vítor Crespo – made public a document which they said refused to accept "the Eastern European model of socialism" and rejected the model of the "social democratic society in force in Western Europe," published the previous afternoon in a special edition of Jornal Novo (Rezola, 2006, p.352-353). It became known as the Documento dos Nove (Document of the Nine). On the same day this newspaper published a note from Mário Soares demanding the resignation of Vasco Gonçalves (ibidem).

When the V Government finally took office, on 8 August 1975, it no longer had the social conditions to govern.

The V Government, headed by Vasco Gonçalves, was composed of soldiers, independents and members of MDP/CDE, but politically it only had the formal support of the PCP and MDP/CDE. The relationship of the PCP with the officers linked to the V Government is unclear, since the only source available for now are interviews, whose veracity cannot be testified by other types of sources, and because often the political relationships of the officers with the Communist Party were not translated into an organic relationship. We know that the V Government would fall without much resistance from its members – including Vasco Gonçalves, who supported the PCP policy –, and we also know that the fall of the V Government provoked a worsening of the tension between the military left and the PCP.

When he took office Vasco Gonçalves made an appeal for reconciliation and for the unity of the Armed Forces,43 but Costa Gomes explicitly spoke of a 'transitory' solution (Rezola, 2006, p.347). It was a government supported more than anything by the military left and by an important part of the extreme-left. From the day it took office the support of the PCP was elusive, and the Party would start during this period a process of increasing rupture with the military left, which it did not fully control and whom it distrusted.44

The communiqué45 from the political commission of the central committee of the PCP about the formation of the V Government, issued on 8 August 1975, stressed the urgency of filling the political vacuum as the principal reason behind the formation of the V Government ("not to leave the state machine paralyzed"); held the PS responsible for having abandoned the governmental coalition; left open the recomposition of the government to "widen the social and political support of power," defended the rapid resolution of divisions in the MFA and the complementarity between MFA and the government, and stated that the PCP was ready to fight 'for socialism' and 'liberties.' In contrast with the communiqués from the beginning of July,46 in which the possible marginalization of the PS was threatened, the communiqué ended by stating that the PCP was ready to review the composition of the government without any discriminations:

Faced with the dangers which surround the revolution, it is time for vigorous and decisive action and also for the joint search for solutions to the serious problems faced. For its part the PCP is ready to proceed to such examination with all the forces interested in the revolutionary process, without any discriminations or exclusions.47

Avante!, the PCP's official newspaper, never published a cover explicitly supporting the V Government or Vasco Gonçalves, but a special Avante! was  actually published questioning the same government. The weekly newspaper, published on 7 August 1975, was aimed at defending the PCP from the attacks its offices was being subjected to;48 it would be published a week later focusing on the same subject.49

In the meantime, on 11 August a special issue of the party's newspaper was published50 with part of the report of Álvaro Cunhal to the extraordinary central committee meeting of 10 August, in which the communist leader questioned the viability of the V Government. In this report Cunhal explained, in a passage only later published in full, that "we are thinking at the moment [before the formation of the government] to allow a field of political maneuver for our party which will not necessarily tie us to a predictable fall of the government of Vasco Gonçalves."51

In Álvaro Cunhal's report to the Central Committee it can be seen that the party considered that the actual crisis was in risk of ending in armed confrontation in a civil war, which the PCP did not want. Cunhal stated that the crisis was reaching all levels of society: it was a political, economic, military and social crisis and in the middle of the decolonization process (this referred to the civil war in Angola). The leader of the PCP defined as priorities the creation of a political solution which essentially put back together the previous governmental coalition and its close coordination with the MFA. He asked activists to put an end to "sectarianism" and to "distinguish the principal enemy," the "fascist and fascistic forces," the "hesitant forces around the revolutionary process and the road to socialism." The condition for a new government should be above all the willingness to "cooperate with the communists," in other words the maintenance of the PCP in the coalition government and the end of violence against the PCP.

The report asserted that there could not be a democratic regime without the PCP, but admitted that the PCP, "confident in its strength, does not overestimate it." It demanded the purification of the state apparatus (in relation to the courts, diplomats, etc.) and the formation of a government that would be efficient and operative (these are defined as "the priority and urgent tasks"). The "other urgent tasks" included a policy of austerity, control of the deficit, the resolution of the problems of the industrial sectors in crisis, development of the production battalion, restriction of imports and the increase of exports; also defended was the process of nationalization and agrarian reform; in the international field the maintenance of good relations with the Common Market countries and Spain was proposed, and respect for the international treaties of which Portugal was a signatory, as well as good relations with the "third world countries;" in relation to decolonization, the PCP defended a government which could contribute to resolve the situation in Angola, supporting the MPLA. Finally, in the social areas Cunhal defended that within a policy of "acceptable demands," what was most urgent was assisting the labor sectors where the crisis was greatest.

Although without being publically hostile in the part of the report published in the Avante! it obviously contains messages for the military left not to try to take power through a coup, on the one hand, and the desire to put the governmental coalition with the socialists back together, on the other:

Under the pretext of respecting the will of the masses, basismo (the grassroots) and democratism, the submission of the decision of the vanguard to manipulated votes seeks to weaken, disorganize and finally liquidate the vanguard. This also involves a general situation, valid both for the working class and popular vanguard and for the military vanguard … All revolutions have an irregular and accidental process. Malleability, the capacity to reexamine and rectify, self-critical courage … are essential conditions in a truly revolutionary process.

For its part, the PCP was ready to examine the situation and forms of cooperation with all those part of the revolutionary process and willing to cooperate with the communists. Under these basic conditions, "we will not make any discrimination."52

In the report the communist leader admitted that although the military question was still unresolved, the V Government was a failed government from the beginning and would weaken the PCP:

The aim of the conservative and reactionary forces was to show this government to be the government of the communists, without military support and to let it fall afterwards. The failure of this government was to be the failure of the Communist Party, which was to be dragged down with this defeat and all its consequences.53

As we have mentioned above, this report, which would later be published in its entirety, omitted the passages where Álvaro Cunhal stated that he expected the government to fall (ibidem, p.127-166) and recognized the weakness of the MFA: "The make-up of the Directorate signifies at this moment that the MFA is decapitating itself and that it does not have a homogenous leadership …" (ibidem).

Cunhal made great efforts to convince the party that the Grupo dos Nove was a force that "could be recovered for the revolutionary process" (ibidem, p.162), that it should not support the military left and that there was a risk that this sector could turn against the party:

The military left was very excited (in our view without reason) with the decision taken by the Directorate that the signatories of the Melo Antunes Document be removed from the Revolutionary Council … While the problems were already serious at the political level, due to the position of the Socialist Party and PPD against the revolutionary process, while it was already serious for this reason, its gravity is now even greater due to the internal situation of the MFA in which the military left and the Grupo dos Nove are in conflict and where there exists an ultra-left and anarchistic faction which hinders the unity of the progressive forces. This signifies the hypothesis, whose necessity may not be confirmed, but it is a hypothesis that bridges may be built with forces or elements which are presently in a sector against the process. This is at the civil and military level. The same happens when a certain military group, which we see as progressive, turns against the party and leaves the party isolated. (ibidem, p.127-166)

Prime Minister Vasco Gonçalves believed that he headed a weak government, stating when the ministers of V Government were being sworn it that was not "clinging to power" and that, "not even if this government were for just one minute, not even for this would its members not form it," (Gonçalves, 1977, p.377). However, his posterior overview clashes with the official history of the PCP. Vasco Gonçalves is not a man grown bitter with the PCP, or someone who feels abandoned by the Communist Party, but rather someone who believed in the a project a la Nasser which was feasible for Portugal and that the correlation of forces did not allow this in that Summer of 1975. A soldier who believed that he had done his duty of leading a government so that the country would not be paralyzed.54

Nor would the PCP confront the military left without trying to attenuate the damage of rupturing with this sector. Although it could not to continue draw support from the military left, or at least part of it, for its policies, the PCP wanted to maintain a margin of maneuver in the negotiations for the formation of the VI Government and, as far as possible, in the institutional and political drafting of the future regime. In public rallies during the two weeks following the creation of the V Government, the PCP, stating that it was determined to recompose the government, also stating that it "supported and continue to support the V Government" (Lisboa, 14 ago. 1975) and that "the government would continue to govern" (Évora, 24 ago. 1975).55 The party participated in demonstrations of support for the V Government and for Vasco Gonçalves, though the greatest enthusiasts were some of the sectors of the extreme left.

However, on 10 August the outcome was determined. Cunhal asked the central committee to give the executive organs space to decide and "preserve a margin of initiative, including negotiations" in a possible military coup coming from moderate sectors of the MFA and the PS or in a situation in which this sector gained the political initiative.56

On 20 August Cunhal declared in a press conference that a coalition government of MFA and the principal political parties was considered the system of alliance most adapted to the correlation and arrangement of class forces.57 He would go even further, stating that the documents for various military fractions could be combined. In the press conference at 11pm on 29 August, Álvaro Cunhal said that he was willing to meet with the PS, the Grupo dos Nove and Copcon, to find a governmental solution.



On 5 September 1975, the Grupo dos Nove succeeded in removing Vasco Gonçalves and isolating the military left in the MFA Assembly – which would become known as the Assembly of Tancos – and in the Revolutionary Council, inverting in these structures – but not in the barracks – the correlation of forces in favor of the Grupo dos Nove. The Assembly restructured the Revolutionary Council: Gonçalves' supporters and the military left, which until then had been in the majority, had three members, while the Grupo dos Nove had seven. Also part of it were Pinheiro de Azevedo and Morais da Silva, increasingly on the side of the Grupo dos Nove (Rezola, 2006, p.399), and Otelo and Costa Gomes, the former in a tottering position, while the latter was the arbitrator of various fractions which also politically ended up on the side of the Nove. It was the beginning of a process of the re-composition of the hierarchy of the Armed Forces.

In August 1975 the pillar which had supported the state during the revolution, the MFA, collapsed, bringing down with it the stability – which it had maintained despite the crises – of the Armed Forces, opening space for the intensification of military indiscipline. The revolution definitely exploded in the barracks with the progressive organization of soldiers in committees by Soldados Unidos Vencerão (SUV – Soldiers United Will Triumph), and the Military Police, popular assemblies, and demonstrations against the purges being carried out by the Grupo dos Nove.

Saramago would write in October 1975 about the rupture of this policy:

Let us look, for example, at our case: unconditional supporters of MFA (and not rarely insulted for this), over time we came to realize that this MFA had entered into a type of reproduction by scissiparity, in such a way that where once there had been one, we began to see two, three, if not four …58

Effectively the political removal of the military left would result in a rearrangement of forces throughout the MFA, which would split into three groups.

One, which emerged from an alliance of the PS, the Grupo dos Nove and the entire right which sought to create a solid leadership (the Revolutionary Council after Tancos) which would carry out hundreds of purges and transfers/replacements in the army to eliminate indiscipline in the barracks, a leadership which would organize and prepare a military coup, which would take place on 25 November 1975, initiating the consolidation of the liberal democratic regime in Portugal; a second group which emerged from the military left who had stayed with the PCP until the V Government, a group of officers clearly enamored of third world theories and who preached a path to 'reach socialism' via a putsch and who supported themselves with a more or less spontaneous formula of the duality of powers in the Armed Forces, which resulted from the crisis of the MFA and the movement of the military left towards the PCP; and finally a third group, which resulted from officers sympathetic to the leadership policy of the PCP who sought to reconstruct the MFA with the pre-Tancos division of forces. The following three months, between Tancos and 25 November, were marked by the struggle between these military and political forces.

It is a consensus in Portuguese historiography that during the VI Government the country experienced a politico-military crisis and that the outcome of the revolution was approaching (Ferreira, 1993; Maxwell, 1999; Rezola, 2006). Reserved about the structuring of the explanatory theoretical models, many works focus on the empirical data of the process, which all considered unquestionable: the crisis in the MFA, military indiscipline, VI Government with strong social opposition, the multiplication of events which predicted a rapid outcome of the revolution (soldiers' demonstrations, generalization of land occupations, an assassination attempt on the prime minister, occupation of radio and television broadcasters by the government, siege of the Assembly of the Republic, paralyzation of government), events which were delimited by what is conventionally 'the psychosis of coups,' in other words the existence of permanent rumor and threats about a coup d'état, which would take place in November.

On 12 November 1975 a large demonstration of construction workers, many thousands strong, surrounded Palácio de São Bento in Lisbon where the Constituent Assembly was meeting. The siege lasted two days. The demonstration which began with the labor demands of construction workers was radicalized by the refusal of the Ministry of Labor to meet the workers and rapidly became a demonstration against the VI Government. It was a demonstration of the strength of workers who questioned the Constituent Assembly itself, by besieging the place it was meeting and holding prisoner the deputies meeting there.

In response the government decided to suspend its functions on 20 November 1975. Admiral Pinheiro de Azevedo, the prime-minister, in his blatant and indiscrete style answered a journalist who had asked about the military situation: "The situation as far as I know is the same: first the meetings are held, then the orders are obeyed!"59

Five days later a coup, at the civilian level, led by the PS, the Grupo dos Nove and by the military right, with the support of the Church, and the acceptance of non-resistance to the coup on the part of the PCP (Varela, 2011), would put an end to military indiscipline in the barracks. Thy aimed to bring an end of the revolutionary process underway, and in the words of Manuela Cruzeiro, to replace it with a "ongoing constitutional process."60



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