The Carnation Revolution at 50: An interview with the Portuguese Communist Party
Carnation Revolution: 50 years ago, the people of Portugal rose up and overthrew the fascist regime which had ruled their country for decades. A revolution that started with resistance owes its name to Celeste Caeiro, who distributed carnations to soldiers in the streets. On Thursday, during celebrations of the revolution's 50th anniversary, she re-enacted the scene that every Portuguese person knows. | Inset: via PCP / Main photo: AP

The colonial empire in Portugal was the oldest in the world, while at the same time, the country itself was colonized by imperialism. However, 50 years ago, a revolution began that brought about momentous change to both the peoples of Portugal and its colonial empire.

ALBANO NUNES, a member of the Central Control Commission of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) and a direct participant in the events of April 25, 1974, talks to JAMSHID AHMADI, editor of the Liberation Journal, where this article originally appeared, about the triumphant overthrow of fascism in Portugal and the enduring impact and legacy of the Carnation Revolution.

Jamshid Ahmadi: On the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, what is your assessment of the journey since? Have the main objectives of the Revolution been realized? 

Albano Nunes: The PCP’s assessment of the 50 years since April 25, 1974, is, of course, positive. A revolution that, like the Portuguese one, was a profound social revolution, is irreducible to a single date and represents a process of very acute class struggle that cannot be limited to a short period of time.

Three fundamental periods mark the Portuguese Revolution:

  • The period that preceded and prepared for April 25, in which the resistance and struggle of the working class and PCP played a decisive role;
  • The period of revolutionary ascent of 1974-76, in which a powerful popular uprising transformed the military uprising into a revolution that achieved great triumphs, such as nationalization, workers’ control, and the Agrarian Reform, placing Portugal on the path to socialism; and
  • The counter-revolutionary period with decades of policies of capitalist recovery and the restoration of the great economic groups, is the period in which we find ourselves today.

Yes, we believe that the main objectives outlined by the PCP for the Democratic and National Revolution were in essence realized, starting with the conquest of fundamental freedoms and rights, the end of colonialism and colonial wars, and the liquidation of monopolies and state monopoly capitalism. The great and main limitation of the Revolution was that the creative initiative of the masses, in alliance with the progressive military, had the strength to impose great achievements from below, but was not strong enough to build the corresponding revolutionary power. This allowed the development of a process, based on the state apparatus itself, that had already destroyed or diminished many of the conquests achieved, thereby making the April Revolution an unfinished revolution.

What was the interplay between events in the Portuguese Revolution and the 1961 to 1974 Liberation War in the country’s colonies in Africa, i.e. Angola, Mozambique, and Portuguese Guinea? To what degree did the overthrow of the dictatorship and the Revolution in Portugal aid anti-colonial forces in Africa?

Álvaro Cunhal, right holding a white flower, led Portugal’s Communist Party for half a century and became a national hero after the overthrow of the country’s dictatorship. Here, he is embraced by supporters during a rally amidst Portugal’s 1974 ‘Carnation Revolution.’ | Acacio Franco / AP

The Portuguese Revolution and the independence gained by the peoples of the Portuguese colonies are closely linked. Portugal was the oldest colonial empire in the world and was simultaneously a country colonized by imperialism (as the great beneficiary of Portuguese colonial exploitation). Achieving its own sovereignty required the liquidation of colonialism.

The Portuguese people and the peoples of the Portuguese colonies were allies in the common struggle against fascism and colonialism. This was always the framework of the PCP and the national liberation movements of the colonies. Notably, many African revolutionaries who became leaders of their independent countries participated alongside the communists in the democratic opposition movement in Portugal, and bonds of fraternal friendship and solidarity were forged between the PCP and the MPLA of Angola, the PAIGC of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, the FRELIMO of Mozambique, and the MLSTP of São Tomé and Príncipe, bonds that resisted the erosion of time.

Until the last years of the fascist dictatorship, the PCP was the only political force with a clearly anti-colonialist position. With the development of the armed liberation struggle in 1961 in Angola and later in Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique, the struggle against the colonial war became a large-scale front of struggle that—along with the rise of the struggle of the working class, the popular masses, and the democratic movement—contributed decisively to the isolation of fascism, the formation of the Armed Forces Movement (MFA), and the creation of the revolutionary situation that produced April 25 and afterwards defeated the attempts, led by Marshal Spinola, to impose a neo-colonialist “solution” to the colonial question.

Tell us about your involvement/experiences during the Carnation Revolution. What aspects of the Revolution can you say still touch the lives of the ordinary people of the country today?

Street scene from the 25th of April Revolution in Portugal. | Alfred Cunha / Public Record

On April 25, I was underground. In 1964, I was expelled from the university due to my activity as a student leader, and, faced with the large wave of arrests of communist students, I went underground in 1965 as a PCP functionary, always fighting in the interior of the country. On April 25, I was a member of the Board of the Lisbon Regional Organization of the PCP.

As I mentioned, the Revolution meant a profound transformation of society and the living conditions of the Portuguese. [It was] a transformation so profound that the counter-revolution that became institutionalized after 1976 and is already responsible for several decades of right-wing politics—at the hand of the Socialist Party and the openly right-wing parties—has been unable (and we are convinced will remain unable) to bring its destructive project to a successful conclusion.

Thanks to the strength of the workers’ movement and the popular struggle, there are democratic rights and social advances—such as labor laws, the National Health Service, Public Schools, and many others—that continue to mark the Portuguese reality, and the Constitution continues to present a barrier to reactionary forces and their designs.

It is true that the April Revolution is an unfinished revolution. However, this does not cancel out its liberating historical value nor erase the deep impact it has left of achievements, experiences, and values that continue to distinguish Portuguese society. Elements that the PCP incorporates into its program of struggle for an advanced democracy, the current stage of the struggle for socialism in Portugal.

Can you say something about the lasting impact of the 1976 Constitution of the Portuguese Republic?

The Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, approved by the Constituent Assembly on April 2, 1976, is like a mirror of the April Revolution. It is a particularly significant reflection of the real strength of the popular movement that the Revolutionary Constitution was approved by practically all political parties, even though voting took place after the counter-revolutionary coup of Nov. 25, 1975, which led to the dissolution of the MFA, the defeat of the military left, particularly Vasco Gonçalves, and opened the way to the counter-revolution.

PCP leader Álvaro Cunhal said that anyone who wanted to know what the Portuguese Revolution was about and what it represented should read the April Constitution.

An expression of what was the first and only social revolution in Western Europe after World War II, the April Constitution was, and still is, one of the most advanced constitutions in the world.

Its original version underwent a first revision in 1982 to make way for the reversal of anti-monopoly and anti-latifundium socio-economic transformations. Six more crippling revisions followed, namely to subject Portugal to the process of European capitalist integration with entry into the EEC, then the European Union, and the Euro.

Despite this, the Portuguese Constitution retains many of its original characteristics and remains one of the most advanced in the world, even maintaining in its preamble the objective of building a socialist society. And while the reactionary forces continue to consider it an obstacle to their project of complete destruction of April’s achievements, the PCP fights for its fulfillment and considers it a fundamental basis for convergence and unity in the struggle for the patriotic and left alternative that the PCP proposes to the Portuguese people.

Who were the key figures in the revolutionary period who had the most impact and involvement in anti-colonial struggles?

Naturally, there were those who, at one time or another, stood out for their individual contribution. But the struggle to dismantle the colonial empire, end the colonial war, and recognize the independence of the colonized peoples was an uneven process of struggle where the great protagonists were the peoples with their struggle and the revolutionary forces: the PCP in Portugal; and MPLA, PAIGC, and FRELIMO in the colonies.

If I had to name someone—and without undermining other important contributions, such as those by Prime Minister Vasco Gonçalves or Admiral Rosa Coutinho regarding Angola—it would be fair to highlight the PCP’s Secretary General, Álvaro Cunhal, for the party’s clear anti-colonial orientation; for the role of the communists in the great popular mobilizations to end the war and against neo-colonialist maneuvers and conspiracies; for his firm personal intervention in the Provisional Government itself, where tempestuous battles were fought over the decolonization process; and for the close relations of internationalist friendship he wove with the leaders of the liberation movements of the Portuguese colonies.

How did the U.S., Britain, and other European powers react to the Revolution and its impact on Portugal’s colonies?

It is important to remember that the Portuguese fascist regime was a founding member of NATO and that its longevity of almost half a century and the 13 years of colonial war were made possible by imperialism’s support for the governments of Salazar and Caetano. Colonialism constituted a major cause of the country’s backwardness and the large foreign capitalist companies reaped super-profits from colonial exploitation.

Unsurprisingly, the April Revolution, in itself an affirmation of national sovereignty and independence, was confronted from the first moment by the hostility of the USA, NATO, and the great European capitalist powers.

The interference and conspiracy against the Revolution took on particularly serious contours with U.S. imperialism (and the active intervention of Henry Kissinger and Ambassador Frank Carlucci) and European social democracy, a conspiracy in which the regrettable role of Mário Soares and the Socialist Party is public and notorious.

Naval squadrons were anchored off Lisbon. That a direct military intervention by NATO did not materialize was due to the favorable correlation of forces at the international level with the authority and prestige of the USSR and socialist countries and the climate of détente at that time in Europe, as expressed at the historic Helsinki Conference. Notably, Portugal’s entry into the EEC and then into the European Union was openly designed to strap Portugal to the Europe of monopolies, a situation the PCP fought and continues to fight against, struggling for another Europe of sovereign countries and equal rights, peace, progress, and cooperation.

What are your reflections about the Revolution’s lasting significance and legacy for Europe, Africa, and the liberation struggles across the Global South?

The April Revolution had great international repercussions. As the PCP has always affirmed, it confirmed the event underlined that there are no “models” of revolution. An authentic social revolution obeys general laws, including the decisive role of the popular masses, but always has original aspects and unforeseen elements. As part of the global process of liberation of workers and peoples, which in the 1970s saw great revolutionary transformations, the Portuguese Revolution contradicted the theses of so-called “euro-communism” and contributed greatly to the advance of national liberation struggles, namely of the peoples of Southern Africa.

Why is it so important for the PCP to mark the 50th anniversary of the Revolution?

Thousands of people sing the folk song ‘Grandola, Vila Morena,’ on Thursday, April 25, 2024, at Carmo Square in Lisbon during celebrations of the Carnation Revolution’s 50th anniversary. The song by Zeca Afonso was broadcast on national radio as a signal to the troops that the revolt against fascism was starting. | Armando Franca / AP

From the outset, it is a question of memory and historical truth, of knowing where we came from, and to know where we are going. We celebrate the 50th anniversary of April 25 not by looking to the past but to the future, fighting historical revisionism that whitewashes fascism, erases the role of the heroic struggle of the workers and communists to overthrow the dictatorship, and denies the importance and emancipatory significance of the Revolution itself. And, above all, to confidently continue on the path opened by April, faithful to its values, struggling for a new society free from the exploitation and oppression of capital.

Do you think that to finish the project started with the Carnation Revolution it will be necessary to have another revolution?

The PCP’s current program, “An Advanced Democracy, the Values of April in the Future of Portugal,” has its place in the historical continuity of the April Revolution and corresponds to the current stage of the struggle for socialism in Portugal.

As stated in this program; “The advanced democracy that the PCP proposes to the Portuguese people aims to solve many of the most serious problems currently existing. But the liquidation of capitalist exploitation, the general and effective eradication of discrimination, inequality, injustice, and social scourges is a historical task that can only be accomplished with the socialist revolution.”

Albano Nunes, veteran politician and member of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) as well as a direct participant in the events of April 25, 1974. | Photo via PCP

Albano Freire Nunes was born in 1941 in Serra do Açor, near Arganil, Portugal, and very early on moved with his family to the country’s capital, Lisbon. It was through the student struggles that he became politicized and began his political activity—with the academic crisis of 1962 being the key moment. Elected to the direction of the Student Association of the Instituto Superior Técnico in 1962/63, it was in 1962 that he joined the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). Between 1963 and 1964 (first on an interim basis and then elected) he held the position of general secretary of the Inter-Association Meetings (RIA). Owing to his participation in the student movement, he was expelled from the University of Lisbon and subsequently settled in Porto. In 1965 he became an employee of the PCP. He was a founding executive member of the Union of Communist Students (UEC). He was also a member of the Board of the Regional Organization (DOR) of Lisbon between 1973 and 1975. He was a member of the Central Committee of the PCP from 1974 to 2016, during which he was responsible for its International Section from 1976 until 2004. He has been a member of the Political Commission and of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the PCP since 1988. He is also the director of the PCP’s theoretical journal, “O Militante” (“The Militant”), founded in 1932. He has been a member of the Central Control Commission of the PCP since 2016.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


Jamshid Ahmadi
Jamshid Ahmadi

Jamshid Ahmadi is the editor of Liberation in the U.K., a quarterly journal of comment and analysis on relevant matters, giving voice to progressive popular organizations in the Global South.