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Portugal

Phil Mailer et al.

The Impossible Revolution?

After the military coup in Portugal in April, 1974, the overthrow of almost fifty years of Fascist rule, and the end of three colonial wars, there followed 18 months of intense, democratic social transformation which challenged every aspect of society.

After the military coup in Portugal on April 25th, 1974, the overthrow of almost fifty years of Fascist rule, and the end of three colonial wars, there followed eighteen months of intense, democratic social transformation which challenged every aspect of Portuguese society. What started as a military coup turned into a profound attempt at social change from the bottom up and became headlines on a daily basis in the world media. This was due to the intensity of the struggle as well as the fact that in 1974–75 the right-wing moribund Francoist regime was still in power in neighboring Spain and there was huge uncertainty as to how these struggles might affect Spain and Europe at large.

This is the story of what happened in Portugal between April 25, 1974, and November 25, 1975, as seen and felt by a deeply committed participant. It depicts the hopes, the tremendous enthusiasm, the boundless energy, the total commitment, the released power, even the revolutionary innocence of thousands of ordinary people taking a hand in the remolding of their lives. And it does so against the background of an economic and social reality which placed limits on what could be done.

“An evocative, bitterly partisan diary of the Portuguese revolution, written from a radical-utopian perspective. The enemy is any type of organization or presumption of leadership. The book affords a good view of the mood of the time, of the multiplicity of leftist factions, and of the social problems that bedeviled the revolution.” —Fritz Stern, Foreign Affairs Magazine

“Mailer portrays history with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader, the ‘home team’ in this case being libertarian communism. Official documents, position papers and the pronouncements of the protagonists of this drama are mostly relegated to the appendices. The text itself recounts the activities of a host of worker, tenant, soldier and student committees as well as the author’s personal experiences.” —Ian Wallace, Library Journal

“A thorough delight as it moves from first person accounts of street demonstrations through intricate analyses of political movements. Mailer has handled masterfully the enormous cast of politicians, officers of the military peasant and workers councils, and a myriad of splinter parties, movements and caucuses.” —Choice

“What did it all add up to? Was the ‘Lisbon Commune’ the real thing: a popular revolution arising from the masses without leaders or parties or vanguards? Phil Mailer claims that it was, or could have been. In a vigorous book that is part blow by blow account, part vivid eye-witness reporting and part unashamedly polemical analysis, he stresses what he sees as the revolution’s most important feature—ordinary people spontaneously taking power for themselves. He presents a wealth of fascinating detail about workers’ committees and peasant cooperatives which is a welcome antidote to the tiresome journalistic assumption of the time that without a tank, a bomb, or a dispossessed British businessman what happened in Portugal wasn’t worth talking about.” —Ben Pimlott, New Society

Phil Mailer was born in Dublin Ireland in 1946 and is a resident of Ireland and Portugal. After living in London where he was on the fringes of the King Mob group, he went to Portugal in 1973 and actively participated in the events following the Carnation Revolution of April, 1974. He was an editor of the newspaper Combate and managed a bookshop, Contra A Corrente, in Lisbon with other Portuguese revolutionaries. He has been a long-time translator from Portuguese and has translated the song-lyrics and poems of José Afonso (whose song “Grandola” was a signal for the revolution) into English.

Maurice Brinton was the pen name under which Chris Pallis (1923–2005) wrote and translated for the British libertarian socialist group Solidarity from 1960 until the early 1980s. He combined a distinguished medical career under his real name with revolutionary socialist writing and translation under his pen name. This work includes several eyewitness accounts of key moments in European left politics: the Belgian general strike of 1960, Paris in May 1968, and Portugal 1974–75.

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