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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

A "beacon of hope and a testament to the power of the people": WFTU & FIR celebrate 50th Anniversary of Carnation Revolution

April 25, 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. That revolution showed the true power of the people when the people of Portugal rose up to overthrow decades of fascist rule.

The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and the International Federation of Resistance Fighters – Association of Anti-Fascists (FIR) have both issued statements in honour of this momentous event.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary, the Carnation Revolution is commemorated, as a beacon of hope and a testament to the power of the people. This day is a landmark in history where ordinary people rose against oppression, to build a regime of freedom and democracy for the social and political emancipation of the workers and the people and to affirm national sovereignty and independence, embodying the spirit of solidarity, unity, resilience and militancy.

The Carnation Revolution, which took place on April 25, 1974 led to the fall of the dictatorship regime, the end of Portuguese colonialism in Africa, and the transition of Portugal from an authoritarian regime to a democratic state.

The World Federation of Trade Unions intensified its principled struggles for social justice, workers’ rights, and equality that were at the heart of this revolution. We commemorated the courage of those who stood up for their rights and changed the course of history.

This anniversary inspires us to continue the struggle for a human-centered world where social justice will prevail, and the worker will enjoy the fruits of their labor. We stand together, united, and committed to the principles of internationalism and class solidarity until the emancipation of the working class and the abolition of all kinds of exploitation and oppression.

Today, as the achievements and demands of the carnation revolution are being questioned and under attack, we salute the Portuguese working class and the class-oriented trade union movement. We express our solidarity with their struggles to complete and achieve their goals and visions.

While anti-fascists in many European countries celebrate May 8 as the day of liberation from fascism and war or May 9 as Victory Day, in Italy, for example, April 25 is celebrated as Liberation Day on a national level. Portugal commemorates this year April 25 as the 50th anniversary of the “Carnation Revolution”. On this occasion, we are remembering this important anniversary in this newsletter.

On April 25, 1974, the clerical-fascist regime of Antonio Salazar was overthrown by the joint action of resistance fighters and left-wing military officers. In the early morning of that day, the song “Grândola, Vila Morena” was played on Catholic radio. This was the signal for the uprising. The Movimento das Forças Armadas (MFA) moved into Lisbon with military vehicles to occupy ministries, radio and television stations and the airport. This action was spread throughout the country. The MFA uprising was supported by the population and was largely unopposed. The revolution owes its name to the red carnations that people put in the barrels of the rebel soldiers’ guns. Since then, “Grândola, Vila Morena” has been the anthem of the Portuguese anti-fascists.

After the end of Mussolini’s rule in Italy in 1945, the Salazar regime was the oldest fascist dictatorship in Europe. Appointed prime minister in 1932, he created a new clerical-fascist state (“O Estado Novo”) with the banning of free trade unions and left-wing parties, the arrest of their leaders and the establishment of an extremely repressive system. The Tarrafal concentration camp and the prisons in Peniche, Aljube and Caxias became symbols of persecution, the tools of which were the political police, the Portuguese Legion, a fascist militia, and military units of the Republican National Grades.

Despite the repression, the communist party PCP built up illegal structures and resistance groups. It created aid organizations for political prisoners and their families. Visible signs of the resistance were a revolutionary strike on January 18, 1934 and the seamen’s strike on September 8, 1936. As a result, the regime set up the Tarrafal concentration camp on Cape Verde on October 29, 1936, which was used as a concentration camp until 1954 and later as an internment camp for anti-colonial liberation fighters. The prison conditions were catastrophic. The internees died in the “camp of slow death” from malnutrition, spoiled food, and contaminated drinking water, lack of medical care, forced labor and torture. Among those imprisoned were anarcho-syndicalist strike activists, trade union leaders, republicans, anti-fascist oppositionists and the entire secretariat of the PCP.

Despite such persecution, the resistance continued. Strikes were organized in June 1943 and on May 8 and 9, 1944 in the Lisbon region and the Baixo Ribatejo province, and underground leaflets and newspapers were distributed, especially anti-war manifestos written by the PCP. A symbol of the resistance was the Peniche Fortress, which the Salazar regime converted into a high-security prison. Popular leaders of the resistance were imprisoned here under inhumane conditions. In addition to reports of torture and other ordeals, memories of two spectacular escapes shape the narrative of this historic site. The communist Jaime Serra made the first escape in December 1950. On January 3, 1960, ten communist prisoners, including Álvaro Cunhal, escaped. They climbed down the outer walls using a rope made from bed sheets.

After his escape, Cunhal went into exile. From there, he worked for an anti-fascist Portugal, which achieved liberation from the Salazar regime with the “Carnation Revolution” in April 1974.

Not only for anti-fascists in Portugal, but also for the FIR and its member federations was the "Carnation Revolution" a confirmation of their support for the resistance forces in Portugal itself. A few months earlier, Athenian students had shown that the Greek obrist’s regime would not last much longer either. In this way, the “Carnation Revolution” in April 1974 became a symbol of the ability to overcome fascist regimes, such as the Franco dictatorship in Spain and the Pinochet regime in Chile, through the power of the people and international solidarity.

Today, a struggle for history is also taking place in Portugal. Since its foundation in 1976, URAP (União de Resistentes Antifascistas Portugueses) has been fighting for an appropriate public commemoration of April 25, 1974 and for a memorial in the Peniche fortress. On this anniversary, a central memorial place to the anti-fascist struggle is finally to be inaugurated there – in conjunction with a conference on the anti-fascist struggle in Portugal.


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