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50 Years Ago: "Democratic" Portugal

The recent seizure of the Santa Maria by an armed group led by Captain Galvao, on the instructions of the exiled General Delgado, has focused attention on Portugal.

The Portuguese monarchy was overthrown in 1911, and after 15 years of political instability Dr. Salazar came to power. Amongst those who supported him were Captain Galvao and General Delgado. The regime in Portugal— Britain's "oldest ally" —is one of dictatorship, where only one political party is permitted and opposition is suppressed. The office of Prime Minister, held by Dr. Salazar, is the top job, with that of President merely the state figure-head. (  . . .)

General Delgado's avowed aims are first to oust Salazar. He says that he wants to lessen the economic gap between Portugal's tiny minority of wealthy families and her desperately poor working population, and to democratise the colonies; to have universal suffrage both in Portugal and the colonies and vastly to improve education. Portugal is the least industrialised country in Europe, and Delgado may well have been reflecting that it is essential to have an educated working class in order to develop industrially.

The Socialist sympathises with aspirations to political democracy, but there is no guarantee that Delgado's professed aims would be achieved if he succeeded to power in Portugal, nor is there any guarantee that in a private property society, democracy, once obtained, will remain in being. He may, like many political candidates, be only dangling a bunch of carrots in front of the donkey's nose, in order to obtain personal support. It is possible that Delgado is voicing the aspirations of a new stratum of Portuguese society, a capitalist class whose needs, namely an educated working class, are directly opposed to those of the entrenched, almost feudal aristocracy administered by Salazar.

(from 'News in review’, Socialist Standard, March 1961)