The Portuguese Republic began in 1910, but parliamentary chaos caused the military to seize power in 1926. University economics professor António Salazar was briefly minister of finance, charged with restoring financial order. Salazar returned to that same post in 1928 with the full powers he demanded and, for the next forty years, completely dominated Portugal. In 1932 he became premier of an authoritarian regime in which the Catholic Church had considerable influence. Salazar's National Union party was the political voice of the so-called Estado Novo (New State). Salazar's system, which combined eighteenth-century despotism with both fascist and democratic trappings, came to be known as clerical fascism and served as a model for the Nationalists in Spain. Portugal was a police state, although Salazar, an austere bachelor who remained largely unknown to his people, endeavored to preserve a democratic façade. Elections occurred on a regular basis, but the opposition was tightly controlled.
Portugal remained officially neutral during World War II. In 1943, however, it leased bases in the Azores to Britain and the United States. After the war, Portugal was readily admitted to the United Nations (UN) and was invited to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) upon its founding in 1949.
Although some families enjoyed great wealth, Portugal as a whole had the lowest standard of living in Western Europe. It also had the highest illiteracy and infant mortality rates. As a result, many Portuguese emigrated, chiefly to Brazil. The government never could deal with pressing financial problems because it routinely spent half of the annual budget trying to retain Portugal's overseas colonies. Fighting began in Angola in 1961, in Guinea in 1963, and in Mozambique in 1964. Ultimately, the Portuguese committed 140,000 troops to the struggle.
In 1968 a disabling stroke forced Salazar to yield power. His successor, Marcelo Caetano, relaxed press censorship, gave women the vote, and liberalized other aspects of Portuguese life. The colonial wars continued, however, and on the morning of 25 April 1974 in Lisbon, a group of young army officers with no clear political program overthrew the conservative-authoritarian regime. It was called the Revolução dos Cravos (Carnation Revolution) because of the prevalence of red carnations worn by the populace, who convinced the forces of order not to resist. The revolution marked the end of the longest-lived authoritarian regime in Western Europe.
Those responsible for the revolution had fought in the colonies. Poorly compensated, they had also been forced to fight with inferior equipment against guerrillas often armed with modern Soviet weapons. Such factors led the disgruntled officers to form the Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA, Armed Forces Movement).
The MFA's political views were shaped by contact with disgruntled Portuguese university students forced to serve in the army and by captured African guerrilla leaders. The MFA came to believe in the need for a thorough change in Portuguese society and leadership. Surprisingly, this was a revolution against the colonial wars, for the MFA was convinced that the army could not win and indeed would be blamed for the defeats.
The Carnation Revolution brought to power General António de Spinola, the recently dismissed deputy chief of staff who had openly proposed a political democratization of Portugal and an end to the costly colonial wars. His book, Portugal and the Future (1974)—published without military authorization—provided the theoretical justification for the revolution, although he did not participate in it. The revolution was also unusual in that only five people died in it, two of them accidentally. Certainly, the revolutionaries enjoyed overwhelming national support.
The new Portuguese leaders immediately moved to divest the nation of its overseas empire. By the end of 1975, Portugal had granted independence to its two giant African colonies of Angola and Mozambique as well as to Portuguese Timor in the Indonesian Archipelago. Timor declared its independence on 28 November 1975 but was occupied by Indonesian troops nine days later. Brutal Indonesian repression and human rights violations followed. Of its former colonies, Portugal retained only the Azores in the Atlantic, Madeira southwest of Portugal, and the tiny outpost of Macau (Macao) near Hong Kong. (India had seized Goa and some other smaller enclaves in 1961.)
On 13 April 1987, the People's Republic of China (PRC) and Portugal concluded an agreement under which Macau became the Macau Special Administrative Region of China on 20 December 1999. The PRC guaranteed Macau a free enterprise system and a high degree of autonomy for fifty years. Portugal, the first European power to establish a presence on the Asian mainland, was thus the last to leave it.
Decolonization had reduced the total land area administered by Portugal by 95 percent and its global population by 65 percent. The country was also deluged by a half million retornados, refugees of Portuguese or colonial origin who fled the former possessions. With the economy under severe strain, this was a difficult time for Portugal. U.S. aid and loans totaling $1 billion helped considerably, and in the end the enterprising retornados added much to the Portuguese economy.
Postrevolution Portuguese politics were marked by uncertainty and confusion. The Spinola administration of conservative, older officers was to the political Right of those who had carried out the coup. Spinola opposed any communist role in the government, which the MFA favored. When the MFA and the communists forced Spinola to cancel a rally by his supporters in September 1974, believing it to be a possible coup attempt, Spinola resigned. He apparently hoped to return to power when the Right gained strength. At the end of 1975, after communist-leaning General Vasco Gonçalves was removed from power under Western pressure, military units sympathetic to the communists attempted a coup, and the now-moderate Council of the Revolution, the executive authority of the state led by General Francisco Costa de Gomes, retaliated by removing leftist officers from the armed forces.
Military authority declined, the result of ideological differences among its leaders and parliamentary election victories of the Socialist Party, led by Mario Soares, and the bourgeois parties. The political situation was chaotic. In the first six years, the country had a dozen different governments. Going into the 1975 elections, the first since the revolution, there was real concern that the Portuguese would vote the communists into power. Economic assistance from the United States and Britain helped prevent this. As in Italy, communist strength could be largely explained in economic terms, with high Portuguese inflation, unemployment, and illiteracy rates.
Premier Mario Soares, a moderate socialist, became the dominant figure and was twice premier in the period to 1979. His Socialist Party was supported by the communists and some Social Democrats. With centrist parties demanding new elections, in late 1979 President António Eanes dissolved parliament. The elections brought a shift to the Right, and Maria Pintasilgo, a social activist and devout Catholic, became the first woman premier in Portuguese history. Her government soon fell, and new elections were held in 1980. A center-rightist coalition gained a majority (132 of 250 seats) in the National Assembly, a sign of how far Portugal had moved to the Right since the revolution.
In 1983, Soares and the socialists returned to power in a coalition government, which made it difficult for him to implement his programs. By the mid-1980s there were two major political parties in Portugal: the Social Democrats, led by the charismatic economist Aníbal Cavaco Silva, and the Socialist Party, now led by Vitor Constâncio. In November 1985, Cavaco Silva became premier in a minority government, and in the July 1987 national elections he was reelected with the first single-party parliamentary majority government since the 1974 revolution. A great boost to the establishment of democracy in Portugal was the nation's admission, along with Spain, to the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1986. Improving economic conditions helped build a solid basis for democracy in both Iberian states. Spencer C. Tucker
Mattoso, José, ed. Histório de Portugal. 8 vols. Lisbon: Editorial Estampa, 1993–1994.; Maxwell, Kenneth. The Making of Portuguese Democracy. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.; Robinson, Richard A. H. Contemporary Portugal: A History. London: Allen and Unwin, 1979.
Spencer C. Tucker