Portugal and Salazar


© 1995 Stewart Lloyd-Jones. University of Glasgow and Instituto Superior de Ciências do Trabalho e das Empresas

Any investigation into the legitimation processes leading to the establishment of the Portuguese Estado Novo must take cognisance of the fact Salazar's regime both emerged from and succeeded the military dictatorship that had overthrown the parliamentary republic in May 1926, and which had 'temporarily' suspended the 1911 constitution. According to António Costa Pinto (1992b: 88), recognition of this fact prevents the investigator from confusing 'the political and ideological origins of the authoritarian regime and its leaders, with those of the political and ideological agents who overthrew liberalism in 1926.' However, it is important to note Salazar was, as finance minister between 1928 and 1932, one of the most important members of the military dictatorship's cabinet and that the ditadura itself was not replaced until March 1933, following the approval of Salazar's proposed constitution through a national plebiscite. Salazar himself only assumed the portfolio of president of the council of ministers (prime minister) in the previous July, taking over from the military administration of General Domingos de Oliveira (Payne 1973: 666).

The reason Pinto feels it pertinent to issue a word of warning regarding this matter is ultimately bound up in the general and persistent controversy, even confusion, over the ideological and socio-economic nature of the authoritarian regimes that appeared in many European states during the inter-war period (see Payne 1980: 3–21). One of the major problems for students of the six-year interregnum before the establishment of the Estado Novo is the difficulty in making sense of the heterogeneous coalition that united under the umbrella of the Movimento de 28 de Maio.

Salazar's diagnosis, 1928-30: The need for a new vision

Although led by senior military officers, the movimento was supported by individuals and organisations representing almost the entire spectrum of Portuguese political opinion – from representatives of the weak and fragmented left, through opposition republicans (those who were outside the hegemonic Democrat faction), to monarchists, conservatives, integralists and fascists (Payne 1973: 572). While many of the coup's military supporters undoubtedly admired the earlier example set by their Spanish comrade in arms, Primo de Rivera, and believed that they were fulfilling their historic mission as true guardians of the nation's will in embarking on such an undertaking, there is very little evidence they had any plans or ideas for the future organisation of Portuguese society. Instead, the leaders of the coup defined their behaviour and justified their actions in purely pragmatic and immediate terms. For example, they claimed that they were intervening to prevent a civil war between the republicans and the monarchists and to restore governmental authority. Beyond this there was nothing, so that effectively they were 'a regime in search of a formula' (Wiarda 1979: 94). It was this lack of ideas, and the fundamental failure of the military leaders to develop a coherent ideology or strategy, which left them susceptible to the influence of the competing factions which coalesced under the movimento's wide shadow (Pinto 1986).

Much of the available literature illustrates the contradictory nature of the ditadura's support, demonstrating how it could never represent more than a transitory step on the path to something which was somehow less ephemeral and more stable (Payne 1973; Wiarda 1979; Pinto 1986, Derrick 1938: 44–51; Egerton 1943:100–1). This implicitly suggests that the ditadura, due to its failure to elaborate a coherent and consistent policy, was unable to engineer a situation in which it would be possible for it to present itself as a legitimate alternative to the system that it had successfully overthrown. As it transpired, Portuguese society did not have to wait too long before divisions within the new regime were revealed and the competing factions slugged it out with each other over the spoils of victory. According to Pinto, 'the May 28 movement was itself marked at the beginning by a rapid succession of coups which immediately led to the alienation of the liberal republican wing and soon after to the "leader" himself' (1986).

While much of the blame for the ditadura's instability can be placed at the door of the authoritarian right and its efforts to influence policy, one should also note that prior to 1928, the ditadura had failed absolutely in its efforts to bring the nation's budgetary deficits under control. Cotta's economic investigation into Salazar's new state shows that in the financial year immediately following the coup, Portugal's annual deficit had swollen to 641,616 contos, representing an increase of 425 per cent over the First Republic's final year deficit. Moreover, while it is true the annual deficit was reduced to 181,377 contos in the succeeding financial year, this figure was still almost 60 per cent higher than the parliamentary republic's average annual deficit between 1910 and 1926 (Cotta 1937: 2).

It was the failure of the ditadura to deal adequately with any of Portugal's many problems, its essentially ad hoc nature, which ultimately created the circumstances through which Salazar was able to manoeuvre himself and his supporters into positions of dominance within the military regime. Salazar believed that he, and he alone, had the ability to pull the nation out of the mess which was the legacy of 18 years of misgovernment. When in 1928 President Carmona called on Salazar to rescue the military regime, he accepted the challenge. However, it was to be an acceptance hedged with important qualifications:

Please do not offer me your thanks. To me it means such a great sacrifice ... It is a sacrifice I am willing to make for my country, in serene and calm discharge of a conscientious duty ... I know quite well what I want and where I am going, but let it not be insisted that I shall reach the goal in a few months. For the rest, let the country study, let it suggest, let it object and let it discuss, but when the time comes for me to give orders I shall expect it to obey. (Salazar 1939: 43–5).

In addition, as a condition of his acceptance of the portfolio, he made four demands that effectively placed the government under the tutelage of his department making him the effective power in Portugal. That the ditadura felt obliged to accede to Salazar's demands says much about the predicament its leaders perceived themselves to be in.

Salazar's vision and tenacity successfully infused into the ditadura a sense of direction and a strategy for the future. He managed, through a combination of creative accounting and deflationary policies, to balance the budget by the end of 1928, his first year in control. By 1937, Marcello Caetano, one time Integralista and author of Salazar's 1933 constitution, was able to claim that since 1928 the balanced budget, 'which for a century had been an impossibility,...[had become] an inflexible rule of our financial life and a solid basis of the whole political structure' (Cotta 1937: ix). Salazar used his influence astutely and almost immediately began to outline his vision for the future. In October 1929, he was to make an important speech to the country's municipal leaders in which he outlined his own plan, one which was intended to initiate 'into Portuguese political life the use of the official language of truth, in place of the former language of official "truths"' (Salazar 1939: 48).

In this speech, Salazar was emphatic in asserting rights cannot exist without corresponding duties. The government, he claimed, had a duty towards the nation, a duty to be honest, open and free from intrigue or falsehood, while the nation's corresponding duty towards the government was to be truthful and 'not to exaggerate or to misrepresent'. Salazar went on to state that if the nation failed in its duty of honesty, then the government itself would fail, and that failure would be the sole responsibility of the nation for its lack of co-operation. In an attack, not merely on political parties, but also on the tendency for cliques to emerge and attempt to control government for their own ends, he goes on to define the nation in organic as opposed to legalistic terms;: it is a 'historical and social reality, embracing individuals, families, private and public bodies'. Thus, the concept, 'nation', is imbued with a highly ethical value comprising cultural and historical traditions and the government is charged with the political task of enhancing this harmony and defending it from parties, cliques and class divisions. 'Our motto then shall be: "All for the nation, nothing against the nation"' (Salazar 1939: 59). Salazar is clearly elaborating a vision of Portugal's future that seeks to place distance between his ideals and those that were, according to him, prevalent during the First Republic. In so doing, he makes his first clear attack on the legitimacy of the parliamentary republic:

When we see how certain doctrines, seemingly sincere but harmful in reality, are being disseminated all over the world, we feel that the rebirth of our national consciousness, supported by a truly national policy, is absolutely necessary — in order to prevent the destruction of interests vital to our prosperity (1939: 61).

The guiding principle of the First Republic's leaders was the sanctity of the individual, a notion Salazar denounced as 'morally and materially destructive'. Morally because it diminished social life to such an extent it became little more than a series of economic relationships in which 'the worker had been degraded to the level of a machine' (Cotta 1937: 11), and materially because it encouraged mortgaging the future for the comforts of the present (Salazar 1939: 55).

In May 1930, at a meeting celebrating the fourth anniversary of the ditadura, Salazar delivered another discourse in which he dealt with both the examples set by the politicians of the parliamentary republic and, significantly, the record of the ditadura itself. Although still only minister of finance, Salazar was by this time the real power in Portugal, and his words were keenly followed and eagerly reported by a largely supportive press. While he may have enjoyed some popular support for his policies, it is nonetheless apparent he felt it necessary to move beyond merely attacking the record of the First Republic. In this speech, Salazar begins the attempt to distance himself from the ditadura in the mind of the nation. While denouncing the parliamentary republic he also had, somehow, to delegitimise the military dictatorship in such a manner as would not compromise his attempt to imbue his own project with legitimacy.

In this speech, Salazar was to drive home his belief the ditadura could be nothing more than a merely temporary step on the road towards Portugal's reconstruction. He chastises those who blindly criticise the regime for its failures, and asks them to cast their minds back to the situation that existed in 1926 and which demanded some form of 'cleansing' 'in order that we may render justice to the present'. He describes the First Republic's constitution as the herald for an era of disorders, liberally sprinkling his speech with such nouns as 'confusion', 'disruption', 'failure', 'disharmony' and 'indifference'. It was a time when there was no political prestige, a time of financial ineptitude, of economic decline and social insecurity. He takes pains to remind his audience that the parliamentary republic was incapable of establishing order, unable to secure peace and one that presided over a society steadily descending into anarchy:

for, when the weakness of governments cannot efficiently guarantee the rights of each person, the people take upon themselves individually to defend their lives, their interests and their property as best they can, or else they are vanquished, downtrodden and held in terror by audacious minorities who violate justice without fear of reprisals (Salazar 1939: 73).

Those who attended the meeting at which it was delivered were army and navy officers largely sympathetic towards, if not in fact active participants in, the ditadura. The wider audience, moreover, was the newspaper-buying public who, in a nation in which more than half the population were illiterate, was largely restricted to a small educated, property owning elite — the very people who would have most to lose were there to be a return to the liberal system. The dictatorship saved Portugal from these disorders, and retrieved the nation's honour by restoring the rule of law. However, the restoration of order required the temporary suspension of rights without any concomitant suspension of duties and obligations. In fact, the suspension of these rights was intended to be a measure that would ensure the restoration of the idea the relationship between the government and those who are governed is, fundamentally, symmetrical — 'By suspending rights which the nation did not possess ... the dictatorship provided the government with the necessary conditions to undertake a vast and productive programme' (1939: 75).

While Salazar was prepared to congratulate the dictatorship for rescuing the nation from the anarchic depths into which it had descended, he was emphatic in his belief that its intrinsic value was purely instrumental. To Salazar, the ditadura could never be anything more than a vehicle for change. According to Salazar, it is in the nature of military dictatorships to be creations of societal conflict: they are brought into existence on such occasions with the sole purpose of restoring authority. They will adopt measures intended to achieve ends conducive to this goal. Once order has been restored, military regimes cease to have a function other than to restore the reins of government to responsible men who can be trusted to maintain order through the proper use of their authority. Because military dictatorships have narrow aims, their rule must necessarily 'be essentially of a transitory nature ... A dictatorship is ... a government almost without supervision ... [and] a delicate instrument which is quickly exhausted and which one can easily abuse. For this reason it is as well that it should not aspire to eternity' (1939: 83–4).

It is manifest that through this speech Salazar managed to achieve two of his three goals. His use of negative terms when describing the situation during the First Republic was clearly intended to reinforce in his audience's mind unfavourable memories of that particular era. His determination to denounce the parliamentary republic was in large part inspired by his belief there was a growing tendency within Portuguese society for a return to some form of parliamentarism. As was so often the case with Salazar, his fears were not without foundation in fact. By 1930 it appeared as if authority and order had been restored and that the work of the ditadura was complete. The anarchy of the First Republic seemed but a distant memory and Portugal appeared to be a different nation: one with renewed pride and ready to resume its place with a restored parliament. Salazar's success at the helm of the dictatorship seemed to be responsible for the recovery of faith in the institutions of democracy, and if this feeling was to be allowed to gain strength, Salazar's own plans would be jeopardised.

It should be noted that, lacking any positive ideology of their own, the leaders of the Movimento 28 de Maio were, in 1926, happy to accept comparisons with the Spanish dictator, Primo de Rivera, after all Primo had come to power in similar circumstances and with the intention of ridding his nation of a parliamentary regime comparable to that which they had overthrown. Their readiness to assent to being compared with Primo in 1926 should come as no surprise when one considers that following the defeat of Abd el-Krim in 1925 (a victory that had eluded the civilian government for a number of years) Primo was regarded by large sections of Spanish society as a hero and a saviour. By 1926, he was arguably at the height of his popularity. However, by 1930 the situation had altered dramatically. At the time Salazar was giving his speech celebrating the ditadura's fourth anniversary, not only had Primo been forced to resign, but he had died a bitter man in exile in Paris. Salazar was fully aware of the direction events in Portugal's vizinha were taking, and must have feared a return to some form of parliamentary democracy there was almost certain. Salazar's fear was that the Portuguese may again wish to emulate their neighbour's example.

If Salazar's project was to have any chance of success, he had to undermine the ditadura in a very subtle manner — he had to condemn them with praise. As we have seen, he encourages his audience to congratulate the military for acting when they did, for saving the nation from the politicians, but his praise is strictly limited for he also stresses his opinion its work is done. While not actually saying the military should step down, he states without any ambiguity whatsoever he believes they should begin making preparations for handing over power to the only civilian who has proved capable of donning the mantle of responsibility.

The clarity of his desires notwithstanding, Salazar's economic abilities and political astuteness were more than matched by his ambition for power: indeed they were attributes that had seen him rise from obscurity to one of the highest and most powerful positions in Portuguese society. Evidence of these traits is apparent in his two early speeches mentioned above. Not only did he successfully bring into question the ability of the ditadura to hold on to power, but he also raised the issue of the questionability of the morality, let alone the legality, of it attempting to do so. More than this, however, he expressly distinguished the dictatorship from the government. He explicitly claimed the dictatorship's purpose was to serve the government by ensuring tat the necessary conditions for the latter's programme existed. With this claim, Salazar is clearly attempting to reclaim for himself the praise he appears to be placing at the feet of the military regime. While he appears to be crediting the ditadura with the real advances made in the four years since the coup, what he is actually doing is thanking them for overthrowing the liberal regime and creating the necessary circumstances for a return to order. However, it is the government, and not the ditadura that is being praised here, and power within the government resided with the minister of finance. This interpretation is reinforced when one examines the opening words of this speech:

In our eagerness for improvements and for more rapid progress, we forget all we have suffered and we do not appreciate the benefits we enjoy. Let us, then, carry our memories back into the past in order that we may render justice to the present; let us also keep in mind that before we began our work of reorganisation, 'disorder' was the only word which could suitably describe conditions existing in Portugal (Salazar 1939: 69).

In his speech accepting appointment as minister of finance, Salazar quite clearly stated that only his 'rigid code ... will ... set in order, once and for all, the economic and financial life of the nation' (Salazar 1939: 44). As far as he was concerned, the real advances could only possibly have been made after 1928. The ditadura then, cannot reasonably expect to be thanked for this, all it can expect is to be congratulated for creating the necessary conditions — the rest of the credit belongs to Salazar, for it was he who had both the programme and the skill and fortitude to see it through to its conclusion.

In having thus undermined the ditadura and reduced the credibility of any potential return to parliamentary democracy, one must contend Salazar showed extraordinary political skill. However, a task remained: Salazar understood it was not sufficient to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the alternatives. Having allowed himself to be hailed as a Sebastian figure through his apparent success in control of the nation's finances, he was aware he now had to present a plan of his own to his people, a plan capable both of capturing the nation's imagination and their minds and their souls. Portugal did not have long to wait.

Salazar's prescription, 1930–32: The vision projected

After 1930 there was a marked change in the nature of Salazar's pronouncements. Prior to this date his chief concern had been to ensure, as far as he possibly could, democracy became synonymous with disorder. In his later speeches, that is those made between 1930 and 1932, he was to show a greater concern for presenting his proposals for the future organisation of Portuguese society.

Salazar's first major speech of this period was made following the announcement by the head of government, General Domingos de Oliveira, of the creation of the União Nacional. According to a report in the Diário de Notícias of 31 July 1930, the day following the meeting, General Domingos claimed the time had come to begin a return to constitutional normality, and that the formation of the União was the first step on that path. While the fact the prime minister had made a speech was reported, the speech itself was not carried. Salazar's speech, however, was reprinted verbatim, perhaps reflecting the realpolitik of the time — what Salazar had to say was important and should have the widest possible audience.

Where the prime minister restricted himself to generalities, indicating his own belief in the policies being pursued by his finance minister, Salazar dealt in specifics. He began by mentioning the disorderly nature of the parliamentary republic, disorders he claimed were caused by the influx of alien ideologies 'more or less influenced by international tendencies' (1939: 90). He claimed the socialist and liberal influences, themselves products of a materialism corrupted by the ideas of the French Enlightenment, were responsible for the emergence of an equally alien form of nationalism: a reactionary, defensive and materialist nationalism. Neither the nationalist reaction nor its cause could be acceptable to the Portuguese state as both were essentially products of a political movement that sought to separate politics from morality. It would appear Salazar was making a veiled reference to the Italian regime which was — despite its 'admirable' attributes (e.g. the restoration of order, the corporate policies, etc.) — ultimately a product of liberalism.

The ditadura was praised once more, but in the same conditional manner as before. Moreover, he used this praise of the ditadura as a means of further attacking the republican regime it succeeded, mentioning its failures and the lawlessness which prevailed. As if to encourage his audience to the belief his interpretation was self-evidently true, he concluded his point with the simple statement of 'fact' that 'We all know what we have been through' (1939: 92). Effectively, Salazar was telling his listeners and readers to think back, but not to allow the passage of time to diminish the harsh reality that was the truth: yes, all of Portugal knew what the Republican regime was like and it would be absurd to wish for its return. To emphasise the point he offered his audience a contrast between the anarchy of the parliamentary republic and the peace, security and order that typified the then government. No reasonable person, not even the 'responsible' politicians, harboured any desire for a return to 'a regime of partisanship' in which all the gains that had been made would be lost to a system that, owing to its extended exclusion from power, would be even more destructive and more indisciplined than before.

As a means of emphasising his point Salazar could use the example of the degeneration of the Spanish Republic following its return to liberal democracy following the overthrow of Alfonso XIII and the consequent implicit rejection of traditional forms of rule. Throughout the early part of 1932 the Portuguese press was keen to publish articles, usually prominently, denouncing the anarchy and lawlessness afflicting the Spanish Republic. It would seem no effort was spared in the drive to create a bad impression of Portugal's vizinha: there are tales of demonstrations, strikes, battles between anarcho-syndicalists and the police, unemployment, murders and robberies from cathedrals, all under such overtly sensationalist headlines as 'Banditry in Spain', 'Worker robbed in broad daylight', 'Woman robbed and killed in her own home'. It was not uncommon for such articles to be accompanied by photographs of shadowy men holding guns, further enhancing the notion of lawlessness by creating the impression that these criminals, men who could pose for press photographs, were operating without any fear of being challenged and that law and order had completely broken down.

Salazar presents himself as a visionary, a charismatic prophet, and this is his revelation: to wish for a return to democracy would be to wish to return to disorder such as has occurred in Spain, and only the 'thoughtless, unworthy, illogical,' and irresponsible could have wanted that. With this, Salazar dismisses both the past and the present in favour of his future.

In Salazar's future, the unity and indivisibility of the Portuguese nation was regarded as a fundamental principle. The interests of each person and group of people were to be subordinated to those of the nation; moreover, subordinated to a nation devoid of political parties. Portugal's history is returned to time and again as an inspirational example to guide thoughts and actions. Much is made of Portugal's achievements: the longevity of its independent existence, its establishment as a result of reconquest by holy crusade against the Moors, the homogeneity and industriousness of its people, its success in obtaining and maintaining overseas territories, and in exporting Christianity and civilisation to the distant corners of the world. These achievements, according to Salazar, were made without thought of material reward and without causing damage to the interests of any other European power, reflecting Portugal's traditionally pure and moral character and the traditional willingness of the Portuguese people to sacrifice their material comforts for higher ideals.

To rediscover its lost morality he proposed the Portuguese nation reassert its independence from those 'internationalistic doctrines' that have been both the cause and consequence of so many of the disorders that had afflicted it (Salazar 1939: 114). While this reaffirmation of national autonomy must inevitably consist of a renunciation of foreign ideology, Salazar recognised this also required a corresponding forswearing of foreign economic permeation in the belief an important and inescapable function of the latter is the promotion of the former.

To achieve this restoration of moral and material autarchy, Salazar believed the state's integrity had to be asserted against the inevitable attacks from those who remained wedded to the fundamentally materialistic and 'amoral' ideologies of liberalism, socialism and the party system. Salazar's state was to be the defender of the unity and indivisibility of the nation, two concepts which, for two overarching reasons, he regarded as essential prerequisites towards achieving his goal of national renewal.

The first of these reasons is related to Salazar's interpretation of the nation as a moral entity symbolising the highest representation of the will of the people. Portugal's moral and ethical unity was, for Salazar, a precept born of the nation's Catholic traditions which, although submerged for a period, nonetheless survived more or less intact. It was a tradition that extolled the virtues of co-operation, a belief in humanity, in humility, in Christianity and in respect for God's pre-ordained natural order. This moral nation was to be guided by the state (1939: 122) that would have the sole right of controlling the nation's activities in such a manner as would encourage and enhance national unity (1939: 98). Salazar claimed this unity was essential for progress and stability, and that:

there will be no definite progress unless it is accompanied by a revolution in the mental and moral outlook of the Portuguese people of the present day, and by a careful education of our future generations (1939: 108).

This 'mental and moral' revolution, however, was concerned more with a return to those traditional values that had been so long submerged beneath the tide of individualistic and materialistic liberalism. By continuing to deny the nation's essential unity one would be encouraging divisions, creating openings that would unavoidably lead to dissent, decay and the return of political factions.

The second idea being conveyed by Salazar's claim for unity derives from the idea of the nation as a material entity. The sub-division of Portugal's territory into small self-governing districts could not, in Salazar's view, be permitted, even if these districts were to enjoy very limited autonomy. To create such a system would only be to encourage dissent and discontent as competition between districts for a share of the national patrimony would inevitably follow, effectively creating new and essentially artificial differences between Portuguese. The inevitable result of such a policy would be the return of democracy, political parties and political strife, leading to moral degeneration and the dissolution of the nation into myriad competing factions. The state, which was intended to be the nation's guide, would be reduced ineluctably to an instrument for dispensing favours and rewards to the most powerful factions, solely to sustain the government of politicians' grip on power. If the nation was not to assert its unity, said Salazar, it would experience both a rapid moral and material breakdown that would see the nation reduced once again to chaos and disorder. Thus, according to Salazar's vision, unity and indivisibility were to be regarded as indispensable for both moral and material reasons.

To promote this unity, Salazar's project envisaged granting the state administration strong powers and removing its reliance on the legislative branch, which he disdainfully regarded to be the refuge for those who 'are under the influence of liberal individualism, of socialism, of parties and [those who] suffer from the excesses and disorders of the parliamentary system' (1939: 98). The executive should enjoy the same independence of action and autonomy of deliberation afforded the legislature, the prime minister should be assisted by ministers of his own choosing and, echoing his statement in assuming the ministry of finance in 1928, he should be allowed to command in the knowledge he will be obeyed. However, as we have seen above, Salazar was at pains to distinguish his proposed system from that in any other country, and most especially from the Fascist system pioneered by Mussolini: a system he believed was 'inspired by certain foreign models' (Payne 1973: 668).

According to some eulogists of Salazar's vision, his project differed from Italian and German 'totalitarianism' in that his was based on the recognition of the rights of the individual as inseparable from the nation: 'The Portuguese conception is based on a full recognition of man's spiritual nature ... [which is in itself] a reversion to the Christian view, and a reaction against that depersonalising tendency of modern social life' (Egerton 1943: 199). While Salazar undoubtedly owed a debt to Mussolini, and whilst it is also not in question he openly admired certain aspects of Il Duce's experiment, it is nonetheless beyond doubt his project owed more to the papal encyclicals, Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno and Divini Redemptoris, of popes Leo XIII and Pius XI (Derrick 1938: 63, 104).

Throughout Salazar's pronouncements he emphasises the need for moral renewal. It is not enough for the institutions to reconstruct themselves along new patterns, for if the individual fails to take his task seriously then the nation as the highest representation of the collectivity of individuals will ultimately fail in its renovation. The most urgent responsibility of the state, therefore, must be the revival of the moral spirit within all individuals who constitute the Portuguese nation, wherever they may be. This function was to be fulfilled by the complete reorganisation of social and economic life and a total redefinition of each person's relation with each other, and this was to be achieved by the creation of a corporate state that would recognise man's associations as the primary structure of civil society.

Corporatism, according to Salazar and the social-Catholics with whom he has been associated, was the most natural form of political association, a form of association that recognised and harmonised both the social and economic interests of the individual. While Salazar believed man is a social animal he firmly rejected the liberal conception that this sociability is designed primarily for the satisfaction of the material necessities of life. What is most important to men, he contended, is not the comfort that comes of possessions — these are of secondary importance. Rather, he insisted man's primary needs are spiritual and more closely bound up in his innate desire for companionship. While this is still a concept containing a materialist element, it is more a materialism of the spirit than of the body. It is only once man's spiritual needs have been satisfied that he can, with any sense of justice (or, as Salazar might say, 'truth'), proceed to provide for his physical material requirements. The great flaw of liberalism, he believed, was its failure to understand this fundamental truth of natural law and in its elevation of the physical over the spiritual. Once materialist conceptions had gained primacy and morality had been relegated, men very quickly began to feel alienated, isolated and alone: prey to demagoguery and corrupted by greed. In Salazar's view, both the politicians and the Portuguese people, through their inability — or worse, their unwillingness — to prevent the loss of social morality were to blame for the inevitable material corruption that followed:

We have distorted the idea of wealth [said Salazar], we have put it into a separate category, apart from the interests of the community and apart from moral concepts ... We have distorted the idea of labour ... and have forgotten that [the labourer] is a member of a family ... We detached the worker from the natural surroundings of his profession ... Next we allowed him to ally himself with others ... in opposition to the state ... in opposition to his employers ... even in opposition to other workers ... No spirit of co-operation — nothing but hate, destructive hate (Derrick 1939: 80–1)

The corporate state would remedy these ills by reintroducing morality into political life. Salazar was to stress his vision would not be realised overnight; however, he believed raising expectations through the promotion of false and ultimately unrealisable promises was the domain of demagogues and liberals. The promise his government was to be a government of truth relieved it of any 'duty' 'to give the people rhetoric'. If Portugal's renewal was to be complete: that is, if there was to be a total moral renovation, then according to Salazar, 'our first task is to renew the individual himself, to transform him, to bring him into harmony with his own environment, his own country' (Egerton 1943: 169). The emphasis on the moral renewal of the individual allowed Salazar the luxury of time, time in which he could build the stable foundations essential for a stable system: 'Our revolution, if it is to be lasting, cannot destroy that upon which it is based — the fundamental principles ... the great realities of social life' (Derrick 1939: 93). While he proclaimed the inevitability of the future corporate state, he was not perturbed by its slow emergence, for ultimately the corporations had to come from the people who could, in turn, only create them once they had been morally 'reborn':

Although not a single corporative organisation has yet been completed in its entirety, national economy is being influenced by the corporative spirit that is essential for the success of the new regime. Therefore, in order to avoid endangering the system on the part of its administrators, or to unfavourable social conditions, we experimented with 'pre-corporative organisations' before deciding upon typical ones (Salazar 1939: 21).

Typical corporations that would only emerge, presumably, with the development of the 'corporate spirit' his system would engender and promote. It was this assumption that allowed Salazar to proclaim Portuguese corporatism was to emerge from below, unlike in Italy where it was imposed by state fiat.

Salazar's medication: The side effects

By insisting on the fundamentally social nature of his corporatism and stressing its relationship to the writings of the Church and to Portuguese tradition, Salazar was clearly attempting to do two things. While he was determined to place some distance between his indigenous corporatism and the Fascist corporatism of Mussolini, what was more important to him was the need to distinguish his vision from that of Portuguese Integralismo, a movement that was increasingly divided between moderates and radicals.

Portuguese integralism was a movement with an ideology that was, at least superficially, not dissimilar from that of Salazar and his followers. Initially created as a discussion group for intellectuals in 1914, Integralismo Lusitano modelled itself on Charles Maurras's Action Française and declared itself against everything the liberal republic represented. While the integralists expressed their support for the creation of a corporate state, called for a programme of moral renewal, demanded protection of the church and, like Salazar, denounced the imposition of the 'English political system' in Portugal, Salazar nonetheless mistrusted their willingness to engage in physical, even violent, acts in furtherance of their aims. When given an opportunity to praise the Maurrasian system, Salazar proved remarkably reluctant to do so:

[Maurras's] slogan 'Politics first!' is perfectly comprehensible and admirably sums up the dynamic of his closest disciples, but in this expression there is a historical and sociological fallacy which is by no means without its dangers so far as the formation of the younger generation is concerned. Certainly politics have a place ... [b]ut the life of a country is broader and more complex; it is less accessible to the organs and actions of government than many people seem to imagine (Egerton 1943: 168).

Government, as an institution representing the authority of the state, must inevitably share the natural limitations restricting the state's lawful area of action. For Salazar, at least publicly, the politics of government should be restricted to those functions that enhance the moral well-being of each individual as an integral part of the nation. Overstepping these pre-ordained constraints would, perforce, result in any government, even one consisting solely of honest men acting with the purest of intentions, creeping into ever more spheres of action that should be reserved for private individuals. In effect, Salazar was denouncing Maurrasianism, and through it its Integralista adherents, for promoting an ideology containing an error so fundamental that it would destroy the very system it was designed to create and maintain, an error he believed to be, ultimately, a product of the idealism of youth:

Most of these young people [said Salazar], under the spell of abstract ideas which seem to them of a higher order, are too ready to expect a miracle from them and their omnipotence to bother about their own individual education and their usefulness to society. In this way they put the problem in the wrong way' (Egerton 1943: 174).

By supporting a system of beliefs in which the primacy of politics is pivotal, Salazar implies the Integralistas have committed an error every bit as morally damaging as anything liberalism ever produced. This lack of a moral perspective to their solution allows Salazar to suggest that if followed to its natural conclusion Integralismo would lead, as surely as night follows day, to the establishment of a totalitarian state.

Salazar therefore wished to drive a wedge between those integralistas who declared themselves to be largely in accord with the movement's principles, but who also felt some unease at the secular tactics it employed, and those who adhered strictly to the Maurrasian doctrines. By recommending the corporatisation of the Portuguese state along traditionalist and religious lines, Salazar was able to reach out to those moderate Integralist intellectuals who had also recognised the fundamental flaw in the movement's official ideology, and attract them away from their erstwhile colleagues who were moving in an ever more radical direction, and who were increasingly falling under the secular influence of Italian Fascism. By the early 1930s, Salazar's tactic appeared to have achieved success with the defection of leading integralista intellectuals, such as the young Marcello Caetano and Teotonio Pereira, to his cause.

Many of the more radical Integralists, by contrast, became increasingly attracted to the ideas of Georges Sorel and were at the forefront of the creation of an active, secular and openly violent organisation known as the Movimento Nacional-Sindicalismo. The National Syndicalists openly proclaimed their support for the Italian Fascist belief that all 'life [is] a struggle, considering that man should conquer for himself a truly worthy position, creating first of all in himself the instrument ... to build it' (Black 1979: 7). Between 1930 and 1932, this group moved further from what Payne (1980) termed the 'radical right', believing this ground had been compromised by the willingness of many leading Integralistas to participate in the creation and organisation of the Salazarist União Nacional.

According to Rosas (1994: 176–7), National Syndicalism grew out of the Integralist inspired Liga Nacional 28 de Maio, an organisation which was itself created as an instrument through which the radical right hoped to influence the policies of the ditadura. The National Syndicalists, led by Rolão Preto, reorganised themselves and defined their ideological position as one of outright opposition to the União. In contrast to the essentially conservative and demobilisational União, the National Syndicalists were revolutionaries searching for a political terceira via that was neither capitalism nor socialism. Preto wanted "'to reform radically' the political organisation of the old liberal-capitalist state, opposing it with [the vision of] a state that is nationalist, totalitarian, organic (hierarchical, anti-individualist, anti-bourgeois, anti-masonic, anti-communist) and syndical (i.e. the product of the grouping together of capital and labour in corporations under the directing authority of the state)" (Rosas 1994: 177).

While Salazar claimed it was only by basing Portugal's new political order on the twin pillars of tradition and religion that the nation would be released from the grip of individualist liberalism, Preto and the National Syndicalists argued what Salazar desired was a compliant nation, set only to do his bidding. Believing man must be free from any superstitions that might detract from the ultimate superiority of the nation, the National Syndicalists were to rail against Salazar's chosen pillars as deliberately morally restrictive. In a speech in Lisbon in February 1935, Preto was to make his position, and that of the movement he led, explicitly clear: 'Nationalism can never signify "tradition", rather, it represents "destruction" — smashing the old ideological handcuffs and allowing the spirit to soar, raising itself to ever greater heights' (Rosas 1994: 177). Salazar, they believed, wished to do no more than enslave the minds of the people and keep them subjected to his domination within a capitalist order, and as such they remained implacably opposed to him.

In 1936, the National Syndicalists were to express their opposition to both the Estado Novo and Salazar by participating, alongside anarchists and other elements of the extreme left, in an ill-prepared uprising in Lisbon that was put down with some bloodshed by government forces. This was to prove to be the last attempt at armed opposition to the Salazarist regime on mainland Portugal until the Caldas da Rainha uprising in March 1974.

With the destruction of its organisation and the imprisonment and eventual exile of its leaders, National Syndicalism effectively ceased to function as an independent political force. The remnants of the movement either stopped playing an active role in political life or accepted the inevitable and entered the União and the new political mainstream.

The opposition of the National Syndicalists was not Salazar's only problem, however: there were important figures within the ditadura itself who were implacably opposed to his project — men who, for one reason or another, wished to see the creation of a very different type of state. While some of these oppositionists may have preferred to see the creation of a secular corporate state, others desired no more than a return to a semblance of democratic normality, perhaps with the exclusion of certain parties, such as communists, socialists or radical republicans. However their conceptions of the proper form of any successor state to the ditadura may have differed, they were united on one point: the belief the successful implantation of Salazar's proposals would sound the death knell for theirs, and perhaps even result in their own personal consignment to the political wilderness, or worse, exile. This both enabled and encouraged them to seek a united front against Salazar.

According to Rosas, during 1934 there were increasingly strong rumours circulating Lisbon's political society of a conspiracy headed by elements of the military close to the National Syndicalists and liberal government officials, including the minister of war — himself a serving commissioned officer. Rosas goes on to claim President Carmona's failure to take any action against the conspirators, despite almost certainly being aware of the plot's existence, means he must be implicated through his 'passivity' (1994: 173). Rosas gives a clue as to why he has reached this conclusion of a man who went on to serve as president of the republic with Salazar as his prime minister until the former's death in 1951. He suggests there had been for some time a degree of friction between Carmona and his prime minister, predicated on the president's feeling of marginalisation under Salazar's Estado Novo, and that this ill-feeling may have been responsible for Carmona's willingness to 'look the other way' when others may have been willing to agree to an increase in the president's powers (1994: 173).

The willingness of Carmona to continue in office, continually re-appointing Salazar to the prime minister's post, suggests his doubts were fuelled by circumstances that were professional rather than personal. In contrast to Rosas's interpretation, one could suggest that rather than seeking an increase in the president's power — something that could have been accomplished through the simple expedient of replacing Salazar — Carmona was instead seeking to minimise the extent to which Salazar was able to reduce the military's active role in the government. Salazar's statements during the period leading up to the establishment of the Estado Novo had suggested the military were to be praised for their swift action in overthrowing the liberal republic, but that their work was now done and that they could return to undertaking those tasks to which they were infinitely better suited. As we have seen above, however, many within the army's officer corps were reluctant to accept a mere thanks before returning to barracks, they wanted to participate in and help shape the nation's reconstruction. As a senior serving officer, and one of the leaders of the May 28 coup, Carmona must have been under some pressure from those of his colleagues who were seeking to protect what, for them, had come to represent a principal corporate interest for the officer corps. However, what is clear is Carmona's belief that Portugal's reconstruction would be placed in jeopardy without Salazar's hand on the tiller. As a consequence, the president was reluctant to come out openly against him. We must assume Carmona was largely successful in negotiating some form of compromise between his officer corps and his prime minister, one that guaranteed the continuing loyalty of the army to the new civilian regime.

Phillipe C. Schmitter illustrates the success of the eventual compromise between the head of state and the head of government in retaining the support of the officer corps for the Estado Novo. His analysis shows military officers constituted the second-largest group in the first session of the Assembleia Legislativa, accounting for 16.7 per cent of the total, and that they secured almost 10 per cent of the positions to the first session of the Câmara Corporativa. He goes on to note that 58 per cent of these officers went on to serve more than one term of office, a rate only bettered by professors and educators (84 per cent), and physicians and veterinary surgeons (80 per cent). What is more remarkable, perhaps, is that 12 per cent of officers elected to both the Assembleia and the Câmara in 1934 were to remain in office for more than five terms (1979c: 10–12). In assessing their commitment to the regime, Schmitter contends the military — or at least those who served the regime in some form of official political capacity — represented one of its most loyal supports, constituting 22.9 per cent of what he terms the 'hard core' (1979c: 19).

In his brief analysis of the changing composition of Salazar's cabinet, Lewis (1978) repeats Nolte's claim that 'at bottom the Estado Novo is simply a military dictatorship which was lucky enough to find itself an outstanding civilian who simultaneously strengthened and transformed it' (628). However, Lewis only agrees with this assertion insofar as Salazar's state come into being out of the ditadura. He acknowledges that within the New State, the Assembleia and the Câmara did not have much say in the governing of the state, and that real power rested within the council of ministers — Salazar's hand-picked cabinet that was responsible to no-one but him. If we are to understand the real distribution of power in Salazar's Portugal, he implies, we must investigate the composition of this council. In doing so, he discovers that five out of the nine members of Salazar's first cabinet of July 1932 were survivors from the ditadura and that it was not until 1936 Salazar felt secure enough in his own position to replace his inheritance with men of his own choosing. From that day onwards, Lewis contends, 'military men never dominated [Salazar's] cabinet' (639).

From this evidence, it would appear the corporate pressures being exerted on President Carmona were appeased through the continued presence of military officers in the largely symbolic legislative and corporate chambers, while Salazar's mission could continue free from any problematic praetorian interference.

It would appear there was also a degree of reticence within Portugal's small and geographically particular industrial bourgeoisie towards Salazar's project. While they were prepared to accept his authority, there is some evidence that — at least during the initial period of Salazar's project — their support for him was strictly conditional. Schmitter shows that between 1934 and 1942, industrialists only accounted for 2.1 per cent of the regime's hard core support (1979c: 19), and that there was none represented at the initial session of the Assembleia Legislativa.

Explaining this reluctance of the industrialists to express enthusiastic support for the New State is undoubtedly problematic, particularly when one considers Salazar's promise to strengthen executive power as a means of restoring both social and economic order within a system that recognised the value of 'private enterprise [as] the most prolific instrument of progress and of the economy of the Nation' (Cotta 1937: 13). Salazar promised that as soon as the nation could afford it, his government would embark on a programme of public works designed to improve the nation's infrastructure. This programme was to include the construction of new roads, ports, dams and bridges, works that would surely benefit Portuguese industry. Similarly, Salazar was to reject any proposals that would result in the state directly undertaking works of a commercial or industrial nature, although he was to retain the government's right to intervene in such activities — albeit only in an advisory capacity. The only circumstances under which the state could directly intervene in the management of a private enterprise were limited to those in which these enterprises, or their activities, were financed in order to attain socially 'superior benefits'. In Salazar's state, industrialists and merchants were to be left largely to their own devices.

However, there were to be important restrictions to their activities, mainly concerning their social and national responsibilities. Like all Portuguese, the industrialists were expected to act in such a manner as reflected the 'common good'. While their own organisation into corporations was to be voluntary, they were nonetheless forced to accept the official sindicatos that had, albeit implicity, been organised by the state to represent labour within the factories. These official unions were granted official status and were empowered to reach legally-binding agreements with the employers over matters pertaining to working conditions. In the context of employer antipathy towards Salazar's regime, it can be stated that while these official unions eventually revealed themselves to be little more than institutions designed to maintain the subordination of the workers to the employers, the employers must have feared that their creation and their attainment of legal status would seriously have restricted their freedom to manage, despite Salazar's claims to the contrary.

It is easy to see why the employers took this cautious approach, especially when one looks at the comments made by Salazar in 1930 that he wished:

The State [to] ... undertake to unify and to co-ordinate all the activities that make up the life of the nation: the government services, the local authorities, private and public enterprises ... Side by side with this idea there is another one, which is that the rights and the moral and material interests of the labouring classes should also be assured. To recognise labour as a co-operating factor in enterprises, and therefore to associate it morally and economically with the objects of production (Salazar 1939: 98, 105).

The fact these remarks were qualified by Salazar's belief in the sanctity of property and profit does not seem to have constituted sufficient cause for industrialists' whole-hearted co-operation — the captains of industry still felt that, whether beneficially or not, the state was intervening directly in a sphere of activity they believed should be left to them. It is therefore reasonable to claim they feared this initially limited intervention could gradually develop into something more insidious, as the state used the instruments created to support this minimalist approach to dominate industry through the creation of holding companies (such as had happened in Italy with the creation by the Fascist authorities of the IRI.). Constant public assertions that the Portuguese Labour Law was modelled on the Italian Labour Charter could only have raised further suspicions within the business community of the ideological proximity of the Salazarist vision to the Italian example.


In this section we have examined the pronouncements made by Salazar, his supporters and his eulogists in their attempts to create an atmosphere in which Salazar's programme would be assured of success and widespread acceptance. Salazar's task in delegitimising the First Republic was, superficially at least, relatively simple. All he had to do was appeal to the innate 'common sense' of the Portuguese people: after all, the politicians of that regime had succeeded in reducing Portugal to bankruptcy through their economic and fiscal ineptitude, not to mention their corruption. At a time when movements that made direct appeals to both the traditional conservative and the radical right by espousing nationalistic and autarkic ideologies were becoming the governmental norm across much of Europe, this task of Salazar's was relatively simple — even if only because of the bandwagon effect.

His second task was more problematic, for this entailed delegitimising a governing regime in which he himself was involved. Further, the ditadura could claim it represented the Portuguese traditionalist and authoritarian right in the same way that Primo, Mussolini and Hitler claimed to represent the Spanish, Italian and German right. That Salazar did manage to succeed in pushing through his scheme is beyond doubt; however, we must claim his programme did not emerge unscathed, and, as the final section has shown, he was forced to recognise the existence of opposition to his project from elements of Portuguese society that he could not afford to alienate. This forced him into accommodations and compromises.

The fact he was forced into accepting modifications to his scheme means we can reject Salazar's claims he was some form of Sebastian figure as rhetoric designed to place him above the various competitors and give his proposal added legitimacy. By invoking the myth of Sebastian, Salazar was able not only to present himself as a messiah come to rescue the Portuguese people with a heavenly-ordained plan, he was also able to cut through the traditional Portuguese fatalism, or saudadismo, and invoke the underlying feeling of superiority that is responsible for their fatalism. His legitimising mission was, essentially, designed to make the Portuguese people believe in him, and through him, themselves.

This, combined with his position as de facto, if not de jure, leader of the Portuguese government between 1928 and 1936, placed Salazar at some advantage over his ideological competitors. Not being a military man, he could with some impunity reject the notion of the continuation of the ditadura by claiming its successes, with the exception of the overthrow of the First Republic's politicians, could be dated from his own assumption of office in 1928. This allowed him to accept responsibility for Portugal's renovation and denounce, albeit in very diplomatic language, those within the military who wanted to continue with some revised form of military dictatorship, just as he was able to delegitimise those whose ambition was for a return to some form of democratic system, whether guided and exclusionist or not.

The fact Salazar failed initially to obtain the complete legitimisation his pronouncements lead us to suspect he desired should not blind us to the fact a regime was established over which he was to remain the unquestioned master until his incapacitation in 1968. That his regime only managed to survive for a further four years following his death in 1970, long after the West's post-war declaration of support for liberal democratic governmental forms, allows us to reach the conclusion that, in the end, Salazar achieved a personal legitimacy for his regime that was without equal in the 20th-century.

Tags: Action Française Benito Mussolini Charles Maurras corporate state corporatism ditadura Domingos de Oliveira Estado Novo First Republic Integralismo Lusitano Italian Fascism liberalism Liga Nacional 28 de Maio Marcello Caetano Miguel Primo de Rivera military dictatorship minister of finance National Syndicalist Movement New State Óscar Carmona Policy of truth revolution Rolão Preto António de Oliveira Salazar União Nacional