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The Political History of Twentieth-Century Portugal1

Manuel Baiôa
CIDEHUS-University of Évora
aulo Jorge Fernandes
Autónoma University of Lisbon

Filipe Ribeiro de Meneses
National University of Ireland


The political history of twentieth-century Portugal has recently become the focus of intense research by historians of that country. This article attempts both to summarise the political developments of the period and to provide an English-language readership with an introduction to the on-going debate. This debate is driven to a great extent by the attempt to explain the reasons for the longevity of Salazar's New State and by the attempt to place it within a broader European context. As a result, the regime immediately preceding the New State, the First Republic, has been somewhat neglected by Portuguese historians.


Twentieth-Century Portugal, Historiography, Political History, First Republic (1910-1926), New State (1933-1974)

Contemporary history sells in Portugal, and is a regular presence on the country’s television screens and in its museums. A handful of historians has become well known through their regular media presence. While it must be acknowledged that historical research covering contemporary topics might seem, to the uninitiated, more accessible than medieval or early modern studies, which require a number of technical skills, notably palaeography, the reasons for this sudden awakening of interest in twentieth-century events both among producers and consumers of history lies elsewhere, and is intimately related to the political events which shaped Portugal’s recent past. Towering over other issues lies Salazar’s New State: its origins, its nature, its ability to survive for so long, its place in a wider European context, its demise and its consequences. All of these are topics that the Portuguese, whether or not part of the academic community, want to understand, having been unable to discuss them fully while events were underway, either because of direct censorship or as a result of a more subtle tactic: the encouragement of historical activity dedicated to earlier, and less politically troubling, periods, such as the mediaeval monarchy or the 'Discoveries'.

As was mentioned in an earlier article,2 Salazar’s New State rested on the belief that Portugal’s decadence, which it had halted and reversed, had been inextricably linked to the untimely adoption, and subsequent degeneration, of liberal politics. Detailed and critical evaluations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which might challenge this belief, were discouraged. And when, in April 1974, Salazar’s successor, Marcello Caetano, was overthrown, the balance was excessively tipped in the other direction, with a refusal to acknowledge the inherent difficulties faced by Salazar’s republican predecessors and the mistakes they committed while in power, which so alienated a considerable part of the politicised population. What has emerged since the revolutionary period of the mid-1970s, however, as the political passions of the period have died down, is a fresher and more objective approach to twnetieth-century events, an approach guided not by remembered or inherited beliefs about events and protagonists but by a return to the fundamental activity of the historian: the attempt to reconstitute the past on the basis of the available evidence.

A second reason for the recent rise in popularity of contemporary history in Portugal is that the very questions historians are asking of the past have changed. As was mentioned in the already alluded-to article, political history is making a comeback, and this is the type of history that most appeals to a public eager for answers about Portugal’s recent past. This new history, while not discarding the conclusions reached by successive generations of social and economic historians, concerns itself above all with the political realm, from the local to the global sphere, identifying those in positions of influence and seeking to understand the motivation for their actions. Its necessity and appeal after decades of intense political strife is obvious.

The objective of this article is to cast an eye over these recent historiographical developments in Portugal, making their conclusions available to both English speakers and those who, about to embark on a research project dedicated to contemporary Portugal, need a quick guide to existing secondary material. As a result, mention is also made of recent historical work published in English by Portuguese and non-Portuguese historians.

General Works

The large number of competing multi-volume histories of Portugal is one of the defining characteristics of the Portuguese historiographical scene. In virtue of the names associated with these works, they are an obligatory point of departure for aspiring researchers on Portuguese topics. We begin, therefore, by examining the most important of these histories in relation to the twentieth century. The final three volumes of Damião Peres’ História de Portugal are an obvious starting point, although there was an inescapable political agenda permeating the work.3 It remains essential reading, however, especially in relation to the First Republic (1910-1926), which is examined in considerable detail. A similar criticism can be made of Joaquim Veríssimo Serrão’s História de Portugal,4 whose volumes XI-XIV cover the First Republic and the New State, and which often (especially in the case of Volume XII) becomes too detailed and list-like to accomplish its narrative goal.

More significant are Volumes XI and XII of the Nova História de Portugal, directed by Joel Serrão and A. H. de Oliveira Marques. Volume XI, co-ordinated by A. H. de Oliveira Marques himself, is dedicated to the First Republic and Volume XII, entrusted to Fernando Rosas, covers the New State until 1960. Heavily influenced by the Annales school, they pay special attention to social and economic factors, relegating a narrative of the period to a final chapter. The seventh volume of José Mattoso’s História de Portugal, almost exclusively written by Fernando Rosas, marks an important step in the historiography of the New State. The final volume, entrusted to José Medeiros Ferreira, is completely dedicated to the post-1974 period. The twentieth century takes up three of the fifteen published volumes of João Medina’s História de Portugal dos tempos pre-históricos aos nossos dias. Some other general works should be included in this survey. João Medina’s História contemporânea de Portugal (1990), in seven volumes, is remarkable for its (not always successful) mix of primary and secondary sources of the most varied background. Portugal contemporâneo (1989-1990), directed by António Reis and made up, in its first edition, of six volumes, is another useful starting point for research covering the twentieth century despite being clearly aimed at a general public.

Other useful sources of information are historical dictionaries. The publication of Joel Serrão’s Dicionário de história de Portugal was recently restarted (1999-2000), with three volumes dedicated exclusively to the New State, coordinated by António Barreto and Maria Filomena Mónica. Some of the entries in these later volumes are remarkable for their essay-like style. The Dicionário de história do Estado Novo (1996), in two volumes, coordinated by Fernando Rosas and José Maria Brandão de Brito, is another work whose pioneering nature should be emphasized. Important in the identification of a national political elite is the Dicionário biográfico parlamentar. A. H de Oliveira Marques (2000) has edited a volume covering the First Republic and António Costa Pinto is currently doing the same for the period 1926-1974.

For the English-language reader an obvious starting point is Douglas Wheeler’s Historical dictionary of Portugal (1993), while an important collection of introductory essays is to be found in Modern Portugal, edited by António Costa Pinto (1998). In the wake of the 1974 revolution a number of English-language histories of contemporary Portugal appeared (Robinson, 1979; Gallagher, 1983), although their usefulness is growing increasingly limited as a result of new research taking place in Portugal.


Narratives of the Twentieth Century: from 5 October 1910 to 25 April 1974

The First Republic (1910-1926)

The First Republic has, over the course of a recent past, lost many historians to the New State. As a result, it will be difficult to attempt a global synthesis of the republican period in view of the important gaps that still persist in our knowledge of its political history. As far as the October 1910 Revolution is concerned, a number of valuable studies have been made (Wheeler, 1972), first among which ranks Vasco Pulido Valente’s polemical thesis. This historian posited the Jacobin and urban nature of the revolution carried out by the Portuguese Republican Party (PRP) and claimed that the PRP had turned the republican regime into a de facto dictatorship (Pulido Valente, 1982). This vision clashes with an older interpretation of the First Republic as a progressive and increasingly democratic regime which presented a clear contrast to Salazar’s ensuing dictatorship (Oliveira Marques, 1991).

A republican Constitution was approved in 1911, inaugurating a parliamentary regime with reduced presidential powers and two chambers of parliament (Miranda, 2001). The Republic provoked important fractures within Portuguese society, notably among the essentially monarchist rural population, in the trade unions, and in the Church. Even the PRP had to endure the secession of its more moderate elements, who formed conservative republican parties like the Evolutionist party and the Republican Union. In spite of these splits the PRP, led by Afonso Costa, preserved its dominance, largely due to a brand of clientelist politics inherited from the monarchy (Lopes, 1994). In view of these tactics, a number of opposition forces were forced to resort to violence in order to enjoy the fruits of power. There are few recent studies of this period of the Republic’s existence, known as the ‘old’ Republic. Nevertheless, an essay by Vasco Pulido Valente should be consulted (1997a), as should the attempt to establish the political, social, and economic context made by M. Villaverde Cabral (1988).

The PRP viewed the outbreak of the First World War as a unique opportunity to achieve a number of goals: putting an end to the twin threats of a Spanish invasion of Portugal and of foreign occupation of the colonies and, at the internal level, creating a national consensus around the regime and even around the party (Teixeira, 1996a). These domestic objectives were not met, since participation in the conflict was not the subject of a national consensus and since it did not therefore serve to mobilise the population. Quite the opposite occurred: existing lines of political and ideological fracture were deepened by Portugal’s intervention in the First World War (Ribeiro de Meneses, 2000). The lack of consensus around Portugal’s intervention in turn made possible the appearance of two dictatorships, led by General Pimenta de Castro (January-May 1915) and Sidónio Pais (December 1917-December 1918).

Sidonismo, also known as Dezembrismo, has aroused a strong interest among historians, largely as a result of the elements of modernity that it contains (José Brandão, 1990; Ramalho, 1998; Ribeiro de Meneses, 1998, Armando Silva, 1999; Samara, 2003 and Santos, 2003). António José Telo has made clear the way in which this regime predated some of the political solutions invented by the totalitarian and fascist dictatorships of the 1920s and 1930s (Teixeira, 2000, pp. 11-24). Sidónio Pais undertook the rescue of traditional values, notably the Pátria, and attempted to rule in a charismatic fashion. A move was made to abolish traditional political parties and to alter the existing mode of national representation in parliament (which, it was claimed, exacerbated divisions within the Pátria) through the creation of a corporative Senate, the founding of a single party (the Partido Nacional Republicano), and the attribution of a mobilising function to the Leader. The State carved out an economically interventionist role for itself while, at the same time, repressing working-class movements and leftist republicans. Sidónio Pais also attempted to restore public order and to overcome, finally, some of the rifts of the recent past, making the Republic more acceptable to monarchists and Catholics.

The vacuum of power created by Sidónio Pais’ murder (Medina, 1994) on 14 December 1918 led the country to a brief civil war. The monarchy’s restoration was proclaimed in the north of Portugal on 19 January 1919 and, four days later, a monarchist insurrection broke out in Lisbon. A republican coalition government, led by José Relvas, coordinated the struggle against the monarchists by loyal army units and armed civilians. After a series of clashes the monarchists were definitively chased from Oporto on 13 February 1919. This military victory allowed the PRP to return to government and to emerge triumphant from the elections held later that year, having won the usual absolute majority.

It was during this restoration of the ‘old’ Republic that an attempted reform was carried out in order to provide the regime with greater stability. In August 1919 a conservative President was elected – António José de Almeida (whose Evolutionist party had come together in wartime with the PRP to form a flawed, because incomplete, Sacred Union) – and his office was given the power to dissolve Parliament. Relations with the Holy See, restored by Sidónio Pais, were preserved. The President used his new power to resolve a crisis of government in May 1921, naming a Liberal government (the Liberal party being the result of the postwar fusion of Evolutionists and Unionists) to prepare the forthcoming elections. These were held on 10 July 1921 with victory going, as was usually the case, to the party in power. However, Liberal government did not last long. On 19 October a military pronunciamento was carried out during which – and apparently against the wishes of the coup’s leaders – a number of prominent conservative figures, including Prime Minister António Granjo, were assassinated. This event, known as the ‘night of blood’ (Brandão, 1991) left a deep wound among political elites and public opinion. There could be no greater demonstration of the essential fragility of the Republic’s institutions and proof that the regime was democratic in name only, since it did not even admit the possibility of the rotation in power characteristic of the elitist regimes of the nineteenth century.

A new round of elections on 29 January 1922 inaugurated a fresh period of stability, since the PRP once again emerged from the contest with an absolute majority. Discontent with this situation had not, however, disappeared. Numerous accusations of corruption, and the manifest failure to resolve pressing social concerns wore down the more visible PRP leaders while making the opposition’s attacks more deadly. At the same time, moreover, all political parties suffered from growing internal faction-fighting, especially the PRP itself. The party system was fractured and discredited (Lopes, 1994; João Silva, 1997). This is clearly shown by the fact that regular PRP victories at the ballot box did not lead to stable government. Between 1910 and 1926 there were forty-five governments. The opposition of presidents to single-part governments, internal dissent within the PRP, the party’s almost non-existent internal discipline, and its constant and irrational desire to group together and lead all republican forces made any government’s task practically impossible. Many different formulas were attempted, including single-party governments, coalitions, and presidential executives, but none succeeded. Force was clearly the sole means open to the opposition if it wanted to enjoy the fruits of power (Schwartzman, 1989; Pinto, 2000).

By the mid-1920s the domestic and international scenes began to favour another authoritarian solution, wherein a strengthened executive might restore political and social order. Since the opposition’s constitutional route to power was blocked by the various means deployed by the PRP to protect itself, it turned to the army for support. The armed forces, whose political awareness had grown during the war, and many of whose leaders had not forgiven the PRP for sending it to a war it did not want to fight, seemed to represent, to conservative forces, the last bastion of ‘order’ against the ‘chaos’ that was taking over the country. Links were established between conservative figures and military officers, who added their own political and corporative demands to the already complex equation. The pronunciamento of 28 May 1926 enjoyed the support of most army units and even of most political parties. As had been the case in December 1917, the population of Lisbon did not rise to defend the Republic, leaving it at the mercy of the army (Ferreira, 1992a). There are few global and up-to-date studies of this turbulent third phase of the Republic’s existence (Marques, 1973; Telo, 1980 & 1984). Nevertheless, much has been written about the crisis and fall of the regime and the 28 May movement (Cruz, 1986; Cabral, 1993; Rosas, 1997; Martins, 1998; Pinto, 2000; Afonso, 2001). The First Republic continues to be the subject of an intense debate which is impossible to summarise in these pages. A recent historiographical balance sheet elaborated by Armando Malheiro da Silva (2000) is a good introduction into this debate. Nevertheless, one can distinguish three main interpretations. For some historians, the First Republic was a progressive and increasingly democratic regime.5 For others, it was essentially a prolongation of the liberal and elitist regimes of the nineteenth century.6 A third group, finally, chooses to highlight the regime’s revolutionary, Jacobin, and dictatorial nature.7

English-language interest in the First Republic was for a long time restricted to American historian Douglas Wheeler, whose pioneering political history of the period remains even today a useful summary (1978). Portugal’s participation in the First World War, and its alliance with Britain, generated some interest, and a steady number of theses and articles. Of special notice are the works of John Vincent-Smith covering Portuguese-British diplomatic relations from 1910 to 1916 (Vincent-Smith, 1974 & 1975). Few of these, however, became books, and Portugal’s role in the Great War remains, to a large extent, shrouded in mystery (see, nevertheless, Ribeiro de Meneses 1998a and 2000a). An interesting analysis of the religious question during the period has been made by R.A.H. Robinson (1977 & 1994).

The Military Dictatorship (1926-1933) and the New State (1933-1974)

The military dictatorship of 1926 to 1933 was a period of intense struggle for political power, whether it be among those within the army or between the army and its opponents. It is also a period marked by the ascent of Salazar and his inner circle: of the men who, together, would build the New State (1933-1974). It is for this reason that the period, along with the first years of the New State, has received so much historiographical attention.8

The successful pronunciamento of 1926 was carried out by an extremely varied group which included monarchists, fascists, conservatives, liberals, and even those to the left of the PRP. Its first objective was precisely to remove the PRP from power. Once this was achieved, a struggle for power and for the ideological direction of the dictatorship broke out almost immediately. On 9 July the most visible figures of the coup, General Gomes da Costa and Commander Mendes Cabeçadas, were driven from power in order for another general, Óscar Carmona, to take up the position of Prime Minister. After direct and uncontested presidential elections Carmona rose to the presidency on 25 March 1928. The financial instability of the first years of the dictatorship forced Carmona to appoint António Oliveira Salazar as his Minister of Finance on 18 April 1928. This Coimbra academic entered the cabinet thanks to his reputation as a specialist in financial matters and was able to satisfy, in his first year, the needs of employers and of the country’s middle class, delivering a balanced budget, financial and monetary stabilisation, and the promise of an economic relaunch of the country thanks to direct State intervention. With the financial crisis thus resolved, the question of the political course of the dictatorship became more acute: what would be the army’s alternative to the First Republic? Three groups can be identified in the struggle to provide the generals with a working alternative: Conservative republicans, right-wing radicals, and Salazar’s own faction, the Catholic Centre (Rosas, 1994).

Generals Vicente de Freitas and Ivens Ferraz attempted, through their action while in government (until 1930), to regenerate the Republic through a simultaneous strengthening of the executive branch, of public order, and of the State’s authority, taking care not to destroy the basic features of a democratic regime. However, the prestige acquired by Salazar through his financial policies allowed him to gather up the support of the more conservative elements within the army, notably President Carmona, in order to deprive the reforming republicans of power and so create an authoritarian regime in Portugal. On January 1930 General Domingos Oliveira was entrusted with the formation of a government which marked a new departure. Still limited, officially, to the Finance portfolio, Salazar had become the de facto ideological and political leader of the dictatorship. He was asked to form a government in 1932. Already in 1930 a civilian structure capable of harnessing the support of all conservative forces that approved of the nascent regime was created. This União Nacional (UN) was conceived initially as a civic association, although it carried out the typical functions of a political party. Despite this, it was destined never to control either the government or the State (Cruz, 1988).

The institutionalisation of the New State depended on the elaboration of a new Constitution. In 1933 a balance was finally found among all the forces which supported Salazar’s project. The resulting Constitution reinforced the power of the government and combined democratic principles and measures (limited, in practice, by the government’s power to legislate) with authoritarian elements (Rosas, 1992). The radical and fascist Right considered the new Constitution to be too centrist and the UN to be too static to mobilise public opinion. It refused to join the UN and in 1932 a National-Syndicalist movement was formed under the leadership of Rolão Preto. Salazar, who had used this group to defeat the conservative republicans in 1929-30, now turned against them, launching a systematic campaign which would culminate in Rolão Preto’s exile in 1934. After this, many national-syndicalists would adhere to the UN, wherein they would continue to push for fascist solutions to the regime’s problems (Pinto, 1999).

Salazar was able to create consensus among the country’s elite, resisting both the liberal-democratic and the fascist threats. But as the New State rooted itself more firmly, it also had to face threats from outside the original 1926 coalition. From 1926 to 1934 there were a number of military and civilian revolts against the new authoritarian institutions (Farinha, 1998). The workers’ movement, the Socialist and Communist parties, and the old republicans were never able, however, to come together within and outside Portugal in order to take the fight to the dictatorship in a concerted fashion. By 1934 all political and syndicalist leaders opposed to the New State and to corporativism (Lucena, 1976; Wiarda, 1977; Patriarca, 1995 & 2000) were either in exile or behind bars. The State’s repressive system was improved through the creation of a new political police (Gallagher, 1979; Wheeler, 1983; Ribeiro 1995) and with the perfecting of censorship, which allowed for the regime to legitimise itself through the 1934 elections to the new National Assembly (Rosas, 1985). The threat of the Spanish Second Republic (Oliveira, 1986) and the subsequent Civil War (Oliveira, 1987; Rosas, 1998) forced the regime to move further towards the authoritarian Right and the fascist model through the creation of organisations such as the National Foundation for Joy in the Workplace (Valente, 1999), the Portuguese Youth, and a party militia, the Portuguese Legion (Rodrigues, 1996), as well as by stepping up the personality cult of Salazar.

These steps are behind an intense debate over the question of whether or not Salazar can be classified as Fascist (Pinto, 1995; Torgal, 1992; Nunes, 1993a). Two broad currents have emerged, classified by Fernando Rosas as the ‘taxidermists’ and the ‘historicists’ (VA, 1989a, pp. 21-29). Different theoretical presuppositions and analytical models are behind this debate, producing, obviously, distinct results. For the former, the New State was an authoritarian regime, close to fascism but alien to it both because of its origins and because of its evolution.9 For the latter, this was a fascist regime, endowed, of course, with a set of distinct national features.10 Salazar’s was ‘a fascism devoid of a fascist movement’ (Lucena, 1976, Vol. I, p. 27).

Portugal adopted, during the Second World War, a 'policy of neutrality' which, after 1943, became a 'neutral collaboration' with the Allies (Telo, 1987, 1990 & 1991b; VA, 1989c; Peter, 1996; Wylie, 2001). Of late there has been a certain amount of polemical discussion over the economic links with Nazi Germany, especially around the questions of wolfram exports (Wheeler, 1986) and the so-called ‘Nazi gold’ (Telo, 1999, 2000; Louçã, 1998, 2000). Internally, the Second World War led to an increase in social agitation and to the reorganisation of the opposition – now clearly under the control of the clandestine Portuguese Communist Party (PCP). It also fed the hopes for a democratisation of the regime. Both tactics for the removal of Salazar from power – legal or armed – were to fail, however. A common opposition front, the Movimento para a Unidade Democrática (MUD), attempted to take part in the 1945 elections, but withdrew from them once it realised that there were no guarantees that, as Salazar had originally promised, these would be free and fair. Its leadership was subsequently arrested.

In the wake of war, Salazar was able to split the opposition, neutralising its more radical elements and including moderates in the regime. It was only in the run-up to legislative and presidential elections that the political and social order was threatened through the appearance of opposition candidacies. The greatest threat of all occurred in 1958 when general Humberto Delgado, who had reached a position of prominence within the New State, mounted a bid for the presidency in opposition to the UN’s candidate, admiral Américo Tomás. Delgado was able to mobilise all opposition forces behind his bid and famously threatened to remove Salazar from the government once he had won the election. As was widely predicted, however, Tomás emerged victorious from the poll thanks to widespread electoral rigging. Nevertheless, the threat posed by the direct election of the President to the New State was realised by Salazar, who altered the Constitution in order to prevent future destabilising bids (Raby, 1988; Delgado, 1998).

Delgado’s bid for the presidency led to the emergence of serious fractures within the New State, giving rise to a long period of unrest. That this was not manifested more clearly was the result of the outbreak of the colonial wars (Pinto, 2001), which also prevented any attempt to modernise the regime as Salazar sought the backing of a more conservative and loyal cabinet. Only after Salazar’s health was permanently impaired, in 1968, could an attempted modernisation take place, thanks to the selection of a new premier, Marcelo Caetano. The new government generated great hopes of significant liberal reforms through a softening of censorship laws, the permitted return of political exiles, and greater syndical freedom. In 1969, Caetano sponsored the entry of a reformist current – a ‘liberal wing’ made up of relatively young modernisers who pushed both for economic growth in a European setting and political modernisation – into the National Assembly (Castilho, 2000). This overall timid push for change met with strong resistance from a conservative wing led by President Américo Tomás, a strong supporter of the existing order and of the colonial war. Marcelo Caetano was forced to give in to this group, calling a halt to the reformist programme. It was too late, however, to quiet the opposition of students (Proença, 1999), among other social players, as well as to restrain the growth of opposition parties, who would again bear the full weight of the regime’s repressive nature (Brito, 1999).

The colonial wars played a vital role in the resolution of the problem. They divided the regime’s supporters, including the Catholic Church (Cruz, 1998) and the armed forces (Ferreira, 1992a). Some of the highest-ranking officers in the army, including generals Spínola and Costa Gomes, criticised publicly the government’s colonial policy, for which they were forced to resign from their posts. The political immobility to which Marcelismo was condemned; the inability to generate a political solution to the colonial conflict; and the defence of corporative rights by career officers, who viewed the expansion of the army as a threat to their livelihood: all contributed to a rising of the increasingly politicised mid-ranking officers, designed to end the war and carry out a change of regime. A coup was carried out on 25 April 1974 with the support of a majority within both the armed forces and the population of Lisbon (Graham, 1979; Sánchez Cervelhó, 1993; Ferreira, 1994).

The New State, as can be imagined, proved to be a richer pasture for English-language historians than previous periods. Much of this interest arose the moment the regime fell. There was a sudden rush to explain what had just happened in Portugal, and how a dictatorship begun in the 1930s, before that of Hitler, had survived well into the 1970s. Douglas Porch concentrated his attention on the Portuguese army in a hurried and very partial work (Porch, 1977). More thoughtful and comprehensive attempts were made by R.A.H. Robinson (1979) and Tom Gallagher (1983). The nature and working arrangements of Portuguese corporativism have been explored in some detail (Schmitter, 1975, 1978 & 1980; Wiarda, 1977; Wiarda & Mott, 2001), as have been aspects of Portugal’s involvement in the Second World War (Wheeler, 1983; Stone, 1994; Peter, 1996). Malyn Newitt has long been charting the history of the Portuguese colonial empire (1981), a subject recently summarised by David Birmingham (1999), while D.L. Raby attempted to chronicle the experiences and internal rivalries of the opposition to Salazar (1988). A number of extremely useful works has also been published in English relating to the fall of the New State and its international consequences, notably in Africa. Maxwell’s already mentioned The making of Portuguese democracy is one (1995); another is Norrie MacQueen’s The decolonization of Portuguese Africa (1997).

Thematic Studies on Twentieth-Century Politics

After this brief sketch of the political evolution of twentieth-century Portuguese politics, we must now address in greater detail some specific issues of this evolution, as was done above in relation to the nineteenth century. Elections and electoral systems have not been the subject of any great attention by Portuguese historiography. As regards the First Republic, the standard reference work continues to be the História da Primeira República Portuguesa, edited by A. H. de Oliveira Marques in the 1970s (Marques, n.d.) In it can be found an analysis of electoral legislation as well as results, expressed in a series of tables and maps. Little advance was subsequently made in the study and analysis of Portuguese voting patterns. There is a basic and fundamental lack of individual studies about individual elections (Menezes, 1992). There is no overall study of local elections. The new regime looked like a democracy: but no movement was made, despite repeated promises, towards universal suffrage. Patronage networks and the caciquismo typical of the constitutional monarchy remained in place, and in fact acts of political violence became common and widespread, carried out by the PRP’s supporters against all opposition forces (Lopes, 1994). Little interest has also been manifested in the elections held during the New State, whose outcome was of course known well in advance. However, the few studies so far carried out show how both regime and opposition attributed considerable importance to these elections (Schmitter, 1978; Rosas, 1985; Cruz, 1986 & 1988; Delgado, 1998).

There have been some attempts to examine the internal and external propaganda effort of the New State, directed by the Secretariado de Propaganda Nacional (Paulo, 1994; Ramos do Ó, 1999; Medina, 2000).

Political elites, meanwhile, have been traditionally ignored (Lewis, 1978; Schmitter, 1980). The situation is changing as a result of the arrival of a new generation of historians. Political elites, notably at a parliamentary and government level, have become the subject of great interest (VA, 2001a; Carvalho, 2002; Pinto, 2003). Attempts have been made, as was earlier pointed out, to collect the biographies of all Portuguese parliamentarians (Marques, 2000), as well as comparing the biographies of Portuguese ministers with those of their southern European counterparts.11 Beyond these collective efforts, local elites are being fleshed out by individual researchers (Almeida, 1997; Baiôa, 2000). Biography is also increasingly important, and numerous masters’ and doctoral thesis have been dedicated to selected Portuguese personalities. However, there is still a good way to go in order to reach the level of coverage to be found in other countries. There are, for example, no modern biographies dedicated to the two politicians who left the greatest mark on the First Republic and the New State, Afonso Costa (Oliveira Marques, 1975) and Salazar12. Most biographical details are to be found in encyclopaedias and historical dictionaries, but some progress has been made in recent years (Ventura, 1994; Leal, 1994; VA, 2001; Vieira, (2001-2003); Valente, 2002; Pinto 2002a). There have been works on Norton de Matos (Norton, 2002), Sidónio Pais (Ramalho, 1998; Armando Silva, 1999), New State minister and diplomat Armindo Monteiro (Oliveira, 2000), Raul Proença, a leading intellectual figure of the first half of the century (Reis, 2000), and Álvaro Cunhal, leader of the PCP during the second half of the century (José Pacheco Pereira, 1999 & 2001), as well as all who have so far served as President (Pinto, 2001a).

The First Republic has been described as a dominant-party parliamentary regime (Sousa, 1982). For Portuguese historiography in general, the political supremacy of the PRP, the parliamentary drive of the 1911 Constitution, the electoral mechanisms which made difficult the access of opposition parties to political institutions and, above all, the practices inherited from the constitutional monarchy all help to explain the instability, the violence, and the lack of legitimacy of the republican regime (Lopes, 1994). There is, however, a great deal of speculation taking place, since there are still no systematic examinations of either the parties themselves or of the party system. Little progress has been made in the study of the largest parties of the period (João Silva, 1997). Portuguese historiography has been attracted by smaller and more marginal movements and parties, especially those which enjoyed some continuity with the parties on the political scene after 1974. Studies were thus made of the Socialist and Communist parties (Maria Filomena Mónica, 1985; Cunha, 1992) and of those which inspired the builders of the New State. We thus know more about the Portuguese Catholic Centre (Cruz, 1980; Seabra, 1993; Alves, 1996), the Lusitanian Integralists (Cruz, 1986; Leal, 1999; Pinto, 1999) and other fascist groupings than we know about the main party of the period, the PRP.

Solid research has been carried out into the UN, whose limitations as a movement have already been noted. One historian, in view of these limitations, described the New State as a ‘State with a single party’, rather than a single-party State (Braga da Cruz, 1988, p. 62). Similar research has also been conducted in the field of the radical right-wing movements which, close to fascism, appeared in Portugal in the 1920s and 1930s (Pinto, 1999). Despite these general works, there is still a need for studies about more specific subject matter and periods which might allow for a more critical reading of the pioneering studies which have become standard readings in Portuguese historiography. Opposition forces have been paid less attention, largely as a result of their dispersed nature, their lack of internal cohesion and, of course, the lack of materials. Nevertheless, historians have focused on republican movements attempting to overthrow the military dictatorship and the nascent New State (Cruz, 1986; Farinha, 1998) and on the extremely durable PCP (José Pacheco Pereira, 1993; Raby, 1990; Cunha, 1992; Madeira, 1996).

The nineteenth-century origins of Republican, socialist and anarchist ideologies have received more historiographical attention than their later twentieth-century developments. (Homem, 1990; Freire, 1992; Ramos, 2001; Catroga, 2000). More conservative ideologies have been studied primarily in regards of their contribution to the New State. The ideological basis of this regime can be found at a crossroads between Catholic politics, Integralism, Fascism, and the earlier liberal traditions (Cruz, 1980, 1986 & 1988; Nunes, 1993b; Leal, 1999; Pinto, 1999; Medina, 2000).

Portuguese international relations in the twentieth century have been marked by a hesitation over whether to embrace Europe or to find comfort in the colonies (Ferreira, 1993; Telo, 1993; Teixeira, 1996b; Alexandre, 2000; Martínez, 2001; Martins, 2001). They were, of course, governed for a long time by the all-important British alliance (Rosas, 1988; Stone, 1994) and the Spanish threat (Torre Gómez, 1980, 1985; Oliveira, 1986, 1987 & 1995; Ferreira, 1989; Loff, 1996; Telo, 2000a). An effort was nevertheless made to diversify Portugal’s diplomatic options and to participate in the great decision-making centres such as the Peace Conference of 1919 (Ferreira, 1992b), the League of Nations, the United Nations, the European Organisation for Economic Cooperation (Rollo, 1994) and NATO (Telo, 1996). Membership of the EEC became possible only through the process of democratisation begun in 1974 (Pinto, 2002). Although great strides have been made into the Portuguese-Spanish relationship, there remains a great dearth of material covering Portugal’s relationship with individual countries, despite some inroads made in relation to the United States of America (Antunes, 1986, 1992 &1993; Rodrigues, 2002), Italy (Schirò, 1997; Salvadorini, 2000), France (Derou, 1986, Janeiro, 1988), Germany (VA, 1996; Louçã, 1998, 2000; Telo, 1999, 2000; Medina Guevara, 1997), and Ireland (Ribeiro de Meneses, 2002).

Military interference in politics has been a constant feature of contemporary Portugal, and it has been the subject of much historical writing (Carrilho, 1985; Ferreira, 1992a; Caeiro, 1997; Martelo, 1999; Faria, 2001). Less attention has been paid to the army’s performance on the battlefield, (Pélissier, 1997; Teixeira, 1998), although the first studies of the colonial campaigns are now emerging (Guerra, 1994; Cann, 1998; VA, 2000; Afonso, 2000; Pinto, 2001; Teixeira, 2001 & 2002). Classic works on national and local administration (VA, 1998; Oliveira, 1996; Silveira, 1997b) and modern studies on public opinion (Vaz, 1997) and the media (Cádima, 1996) have also aroused much interest among the academic community, although much remains to be done.



The overthrow of the New State in 1974 did not bring in its wake, as might have been expected, academic recognition of the political history of twentieth-century Portugal as a valid field of research. Marxism, structuralism and the Annales school all combined to stifle this discipline through the 1970s and 1980s. Few dared, from either within or outside university circles, to write a biography, or to analyse an election. The 1990s witnessed the inversion of this trend, with political history acquiring both a set of dedicated practitioners and a considerable mediatic presence. Some experienced researchers and a new generation of historians, trained in the 1990s, have been able to restore the discipline of political history to its rightful place in academic life, thus providing a new boost – in terms of quality and quantity – to Portugal’s historiographical output. Nevertheless, there remain important gaps in the political history of the twentieth century, as even this short and imperfect overview was able to demonstrate. The lack of biographical studies of even the most important figures of the period (beginning with Salazar himself) remains acute; the workings of most political formations are still largely ignored, and the whole of the First Republic remains insufficiently studied, overshadowed as it is in terms of both popular and academic interest by the New State.


1 A version of this article was published in Historia y Política: Ideas, procesos y movimientos sociales, no. 7, Madrid, Universidad Complutense de Madrid e Editorial Biblioteca Nueva, 2002, pp. 11-54.

2 See “The Political History of Nineteenth-Century Portugal”, e-Journal of Portuguese History, Volume 1, number 1, Summer 2003, by the same authors, for a wider discussion of political history´s place in Portuguese historiography.

3 This is especially true of the final volume, written not by Damião Peres himself but rather by one of Salazar´s ex-ministers, Franco Nogueira, and published in 1981.

4 Veríssimo Serrão writes, in the preface to the first edition of the work, 'May the História de Portugal accomplish its goal: helping the Portuguese to feel a renewed pride in the past of a nation which rendered the greatest of services to the progress of Humanity (…)'

5 At the head of these historians stands A. H. de Oliveira Marques.

6 Among these the names of António Costa Pinto, António José Telo, Fernando Farelo Lopes, and João B. Serra stand out.

7 See, for example, the works of Vasco Pulido Valente and Rui Ramos.

8 For the period of military dictatorship, see Wheeler’s general account (1988) and Baiôa's bibliographical survey (1994). The best narrative accounts of the period of the New State are to be found in the above-cited general works. See also the following conference proceedings and detailed studies: Various Authors (VA), 1987, 1989a & 1989b.

9 See studies by Manuel Braga da Cruz and António Costa Pinto.

10 See works published on the subject by Fernando Rosas and Manuel Lucena.

11 Pedro Tavares de Almeida and António Costa Pinto, ‘The Portuguese Ministers, 1851-1999’, in Pedro Tavares de Almeida and António Costa Pinto (eds), Regime change and ministerial recruitment in Southern Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (to be published).

12 The most extensive biography of the dictator was written by one of his former ministers, Franco Nogueira (Nogueira, 1977-1985).


General Works

Various authors (VA) (1985), Dicionário enciclopédico da história de Portugal, 2 vols, Lisbon, Publicações Alfa.

VA (1994), História de Portugal em datas, Lisbon, Círculo de Leitores.

Anderson, John M. (2000), The history of Portugal, Westport, Greenwood.

Bethencourt, Francisco and K. N. Chaudhuri (1998-1999), História da expansão portuguesa, 5 vols, Lisbon, Círculo de Leitores.

Birmingham, David (1993), Portugal: A concise history, Cambridge University Press.

Gallagher, Tom (1983), Portugal: A twentieth-century interpretation, Manchester University Press.

Marques, A. H. de Oliveira (1972), History of Portugal, 2 vols, New York, Columbia University Press.

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Mattoso, José (ed.) (1993-1995), História de Portugal, 8 vols, Lisbon, Círculo de Leitores.

Medina, João (1990), História contemporânea de Portugal, 7 vols, Camarate, Multilar.

- (1993), História de Portugal dos tempos pré-históricos aos nossos dias, 15 vols, Amadora, Ediclube.

Payne, Stanley (1973) A history of Spain and Portugal, 2 vols, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press.

Peres, Damião (ed.) (1928-1981), História de Portugal, 10 vols, Barcelos/Oporto, Portucalense Editora.

Reis, António (ed.) (1996), Portugal contemporâneo, 3 vols, Lisbon, Selecções do Reader’s Digest.

Robinson, R.A.H., (1979), Contemporary Portugal: A history, London, George Allen and Unwin.

Rosas, Fernando and José Maria Brandão de Brito (1996), Dicionário de história do Estado Novo, 2 vols, Lisbon, Círculo dos Leitores.

Serrão, Joaquim Veríssimo (1977-2001), História de Portugal, 14 vols, Lisbon, Editorial Verbo.

Serrão, Joel and A.H. de Oliveira Marques (ed.) (1986-1997), Nova história de Portugal, 12 vols, Lisbon, Editorial Presença [currently under publication].

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Serrão, Joel, António Barreto and Maria Filomena Mónica, (eds), (1999-2000), Dicionário de história de Portugal, 9 vols, Oporto, Livraria Figueirinhas.

Torgal, Luís Reis, José Maria Amado Mendes and Fernando Catroga (1996), História da história em Portugal, sécs. XIX-XX, Lisbon, Círculo de Leitores.

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VA (1989c), Portugal na Segunda Guerra Mundial, Lisbon Edições Dom Quixote.

VA (1996), Portugal, Alemanha, África: Do imperialismo colonial ao imperialismo político. Actas do IV Encontro Luso-Alemão, A. H. de Oliveira Marques, Alfred Opitz, and Fernando Clara (eds), Lisbon, Colibri.

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