Ain’t no party like a Communist Party: Portugal’s Avante! Festival
A sea of red at the closing rally of the Avante! Festival outside Lisbon this past weekend. | via Avante!

AMORA, Portugal––Close to 40,000 regular festival goers descended upon Amora, small suburb outside of Portugal’s capital Lisbon, this past weekend for the 45th Avante! Festival—a cultural, musical, and political extravaganza that is a highlight of summer here. The event is named for and sponsored by the newspaper of the Portuguese Communist Party—Avante! (or Onward! in English)—which was instrumental in overthrowing the fascist dictatorship of António Salazar in 1974.

Two years after the April Carnation Revolution of that year, the PCP organized the first festival to bring together anti-fascist and democratic forces from around the world to celebrate the victory over fascism and continue the fight for socialism. This year’s edition of the festival also marked the centennial anniversary of the PCP, founded on March 6, 1921.

The symbols of socialism and communism were everywhere to be seen on the festival grounds. | Jamal Rich / PW

The massive event typically hosts up to 300,000 people from all over the world, including many from international cultural organizations, youth groups, and members of communist and workers’ parties. COVID-19 safety measures forced this year’s festival to be scaled down to a fraction of that total.

Originally, the Avante! Festival took place at different locations around Lisbon in its early years, but with a lot of push back from reactionaries regarding regulations and rules. One year, the festival was even canceled after a venue owner blocked Avante! from renting their grounds at the last minute.

After a massive fundraising campaign in the early 1990s, the PCP was able to purchase a large piece of farmland in Amora to ensure the festival had a permanent home. The festival grounds feature many different food vendors showcasing cuisine from across Portugal, beer gardens, camping areas, theaters and stages for film screenings and concerts, exhibition halls, international booths, games, sports, bookstores, debate stages, and many more activities for people to explore.

The Avante! festival is where Communists can be Communists. The red PCP flags with the hammer and sickle flags at their center were raised high at the festival, giving the feeling of acceptance of communist ideas. Festival goers, even those who are not members of the Communist Party, wore shirts and hats resembling various left-wing movements and leaders. Murals painted by the JCP (Communist Youth League of Portugal) depicted movements such as the struggle for an independent Palestine against Israeli apartheid and histories of the struggle for socialism in Portugal.

Youth from around the world converse during a break at the Avante! Festival. | via Avante!

The PCP’s members and supporters this year showed off pride in their 100-year history and the long struggle that led to the overthrow of fascism in 1974. A history exhibition at the center of the festival with a beautiful museum-like walkthrough showed, step-by-step, the party’s history from its founding, to going underground, to the installment of the fascist dictatorship (the second European country after Italy’s Mussolini), emerging back above ground, organizing sections of the military that were against the colonial wars in Africa, then the Carnation Revolution, the struggle for a new constitution, and finally the PCP’s continued parliamentary struggle to this day.

The main stage featured top musical acts from around Portugal, demonstrating a lack of anti-communism on the culture scene and solidarity within the arts industries within Portugal as compared to the United States. The international section of the festival featured booths from different social movements around the world, including the Communist Parties of Cuba, Vietnam, Brazil, and Spain and national liberation movements from Catalunya, Palestine, Mozambique, Angola, and others.

Another notable aspect of the festival was the lack of police presence inside the gates. PCP members had their own security that monitored the festival, and there was no violence or drunken agitation like what’s seen at some mass social events in the U.S. PCP and JCP members also spent months working on the festival grounds preparing the event—painting murals, setting up food stations and booths, and preparing the stages and tenting for all the guests.

The closing night concert at the Avante! Festival. | via Avante!

On the final day of the festival, the PCP hosted a mass rally at the main stage. The gathering mobilized progressive forces from across Portugal in support of the Communist Party, including its parliamentary coalition partners. A crowd of thousands holding up banners made for a mass display of red PCP and JCP flags. Chants rang through the crowd of “PCP!” “A La Continua!” and others.

Major speeches were made by leaders of the JCP and PCP including party general secretary, Jerónimo de Sousa. In the evening, the whole crowd was moved and danced in near unison to Carvalhesa, a Communist cultural anthem that everyone in Portugal seems to love. The movement in the U.S. has some catching up to do to make communism as popular as it is in Portugal and bring working-class culture to the mainstream by building a massive festival like Avante!


Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.