Carnations in times of austerity

carnation revolution

It was 00:20 April the 25th of 1974, when a bunch of rebellious young captains, armed with a bunch of antiquated weapons, driving some outfitted, broken-down armored vehicles and unorganized novice recruits, announced through the beautiful hymn of Portuguese resistance Grandola Villa Morena the end of the longest dictatorship on European soil.

This past Friday marked the 40th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, and yet, in many ways, while 40 years might have past, the events of April 1974 and the revolutionary agitation that continued until November of 1975 are more relevant today than any time since. The memory of these past events longs for new revolutionaries to continue planting the carnations of the past in the bleak austere Portugal of today.

And if this article of mine today has any objective, it is to debunk the myths revolving around this revolution of April that grow like bad weeds threatening the very livelihood of the carnations that we have so carefully gardened since. In many ways the carnations of that red April, the ideals and principals of April 74, are on a lifeline in Portugal. Some would say that everything is on a lifeline in Portugal and they would be right, but some things more than others.

portugal protest 2014
Student protest in Portugal April 2, 2014 (image: newstimes.com)

The outburst of popular joy, the scenes of immense happiness, relief that better days were to come, relief that no young Portuguese would have to fight in the wars of colonial aggression were implanted in the Portuguese common psyche in 74-75. It is very significant that this year those images were mirrored in a very different way during the commemorations of the 40th anniversary. In many ways, scenes of happiness and joy became promises of renewed resistance, a heartfelt commitment to bring the ideals of 1974, the movement of thousands of unionists, of anti-fascist militants, communists and socialists, back to the forefront of the political struggle in a political arena that has be dormant for too long.

Every revolution breeds a counter-revolution, thus the tumultuous period that followed created the conditions for the reaction of the 25th of November that put an end once and for all to the revolutionary process that was put in motion on the 25th of April. And this is the first myth that must be dismantled: the 25th of April was not the culminating point of the Carnation Revolution, much to the contrary it was the opening of the flood gates, not the be-all end-all.

But this is a very potent myth indeed. Center-right and right-wing Portuguese political formations have used it to paint the Portuguese uprising of April 74 as yet another liberal, pro-democracy, pro-western revolution. Thus the Carnation Revolution became tied up in the various “velvet revolutions” and the underlying radical ideals and movements that were its true motors were buried, in practice and in memory.

The Portuguese revolution was far from being one of those liberal revolutions that were the by-products of capitalism and whose primary purpose was the liberation of the markets and not the liberation of the people. The Portuguese revolution was in many ways very radical and as its centerpiece was economic justice and economic liberation of the people above all things.

The recurrent myth that the Iberian revolutions against fascism of the 1970s were velvet revolutions is a hoax. The notion of velvet revolutions is a hoax itself, a pretty lie to murder any memory of the struggles of land reform, the occupation of factories, or the setting-up of workers cooperatives and usher in a new story of April 74 that fits within the neoliberal rhetoric of freedom = austerity.

Another myth, menace, a threat that might if enabled to grow freely forever ruin the gardens of April 74, is the notion that the Carnation revolution was exclusively a Portuguese matter. In many ways the Carnation revolution was propelled and invigorated by the revolutions of national liberation that were ablaze in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau.

carnations portugal
Carnations held at the 40th anniversary commemoration of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution (image: newstimes.com)

The right wing, fascistic elements in Portugal love to remind us subtly, in not so many words, that not so long ago Portuguese and Angolans were mortal enemies and base their nationalistic populism on a combination of historical hatred and contemporary xenophobia against immigrants. Something that became self-evident to many Portuguese soldiers in the wars of national liberation was that their struggle, the struggle of the Portuguese working class (which obviously made-up the majority of the ranks of Portuguese soldiers in Africa) and that of the Angolans and Mozambicans was the same. The liberation of Portugal went hand in hand with the liberation of all peoples of the Portuguese empire and beyond.

Last but not least is the myth that somehow Portuguese democracy was saved from the most radical fringes of the Carnation Revolution, from the communists and the more left-wing “true” socialists. The mistake made here is a simple one, a misunderstanding of the terms revolution and counter-revolution.

The Carnation revolution is in many ways an unfinished one, because in appearance, on the surface, many things might have seemed to change in Portuguese society in the past 40 years, but in reality the fundamental structure of oppression, of the concentration of wealth and land within the hands of a few continues unchanged. The same that benefited from the structure of the dictatorship are benefiting now from the dictatorship of the Troika.

If Portugal has been in and out of “economic crises” during these past 40 years it’s because of one simple dynamic: the struggle between those that through austerity and neo-liberalism try to re-create the same paradigm that existed under Salazar and the old regime with a democratic façade and those that fight to continue the revolution of April 74. It’s the struggle between the Carnations and the bad-weeds that are trying to strangle the last radicalism of April 74 to death.

From the scenes I noticed yesterday, the faces of people that marched passed-on one significant message to the economic elites, the carnations of April 74 still grow in us! As Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said this experience of “Socialism à la Portugaise” lives on! The antidote to austerity is to keep gardening the Carnations of April 74.

Abril de novo, Abril para sempre!

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