The government of the Portuguese statesman António de Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970) once was considered to be the very model of a modern authoritarian political system.
António de Oliveira Salazar was born on April 28, 1889, in Vimieiro near Santa Comba Dão in the province of Beira Alta. His parents, owners of several small estates, as well as innkeepers, were António de Oliveira and María de Resgate Salazar, who, despite financial problems, saw to it that Salazar was well educated. He entered the seminary of Viseu in 1900, but after 8 years of religious training he decided to teach. In 1910 he began to study economics at the University of Coimbra, spending 4 years there as a student and another 7 as an economics professor. He obtained a chair of political economy in 1918. A knowledge of economics was valuable in underdeveloped Portugal, and soon Salazar was well known by the government for his monetary skills.
The emergence of Salazar as a national figure came at a difficult moment in Portuguese history. After more than a century of economic difficulties tied to imperial decline, political life had degenerated badly. The double assassination of Carlos I and the crown prince in February 1908 and the overthrow of Manuel II in October 1910 had led to creation of a republic which in the 16 years of its existence went from crisis to crisis. The University of Coimbra furnished many republican leaders in the first phase of the period, but spread of a deeper radicalism engendered a conservative reaction led by António Sardinha. He sought an "organic monarchy" that would be traditionalist and antiparliamentary, but chaos prevented any success.
In the stalemate after 1918 Salazar's star rose. His economic thought was strongly influenced by Catholic corporatism and Leo XIII's Rerum novarum. He favored joint labor-management industrial commissions, compulsory arbitration, and Catholic trade unions. In January 1921 Salazar was one of three Catholic deputies elected to the Parliament, but turmoil was still so great that he attended only a few sessions before returning to the university. However, in May 1926, when a military dictatorship overthrew the republic, Salazar was offered the Ministry of Economic Affairs. He refused the position until 1928, when he received great powers which made him the most important figure in the government.
Salazar's reforms brought some national stability by prohibiting the import of foreign goods, cutting the state budget, and developing a new tax system. Soon he turned to a revision of the structure of government itself. "In an administrative system in which lack of sincerity and clarity were evident," he said, "the first requirement is a policy of truth. In a social order in which rights were competitive and unaccompanied by equivalent duties, the crying need is for a policy of sacrifice. And in a nation divided against itself by groups and clashing interests which threatened its unity, the main need is a national policy."
Ruler of Portugal
The national policy emerged during 1929 in the wake of Portugal's newfound stability, when Salazar's reforms stood the test of the Depression. The military leaders of the dictatorship no longer had as much prestige or interest in ruling, and Salazar informally became the strongest man in the regime. He immediately began to write a new constitution which was approved by plebiscite on March 19, 1933. It created a corporative state divided by levels into sindicatos (government unions by industry), gremios (guilds of employers), and ordens (white-collar organizations). Each of these handled welfare arrangements, employment of their members, and vocational training and negotiated national wage agreements. Each was also guided by special government secretariats that dictated policy. A fourth level was made up by the armed forces, although here there was more autonomy in honor of the role played by the services in establishing the new regime. All four levels elected representatives who then chose deputies for the national Parliament, giving the franchise to the corporative institutions rather than to the national electorate—a variation of the indirect franchise. Salazar's motto was "control by stability," which was facilitated further by the provision that only his National Union party had official status. The president of the party became president of the republic with enormous executive powers, not the least being control of the newly established secret police, the PIDE.
Much of this structure had been modeled on Mussolini's Italy, and Salazar remained diplomatically close to Mussolini in the 1930s. He intrigued several times against the Spanish Republic, and when the Civil War broke out in Spain, he recognized Franco's Nationalists in December 1937. Portugal supplied funds and arms to the Burgos government until the end of the war, and on March 17, 1939, a pact of friendship and nonaggression was signed between the two countries which pledged eternal opposition to communism and created an "Iberian bloc" linking them together against outside attack. For Portugal it was the first time since 1640 that it had cooperated directly with Spain, but even so Salazar was restrained by long-standing treaties with Great Britain, which kept him from closer cooperation with either Franco or Mussolini. Portugal, as a result, remained correctly neutral during World War II until 1943, when Salazar granted the Allies bases in Portuguese territory. His anticommunism brought Portugal into NATO in 1949 and won him backing to join the United Nations at the same time.
The postwar period, despite these successes, was troubled, first because of domestic economic difficulties and then because of colonial unrest in Angola and Mozambique. Government mismanagement of both problems led to renewal of opposition to Salazar's dictatorship in 1956. Two years later, an opposition candidate, Humberto Delgado, polled a quarter million votes for the presidency, which Salazar had occupied since 1951. The PIDE became more active, but the opposition continued to grow until 1965, when Delgado was assassinated in Spain. By that time Draconian measures in the colonies diminished the drive for independence to the point where there was less unrest in metropolitan Portugal, although vestiges of opposition continued to manifest themselves spasmodically until September 1968, when Salazar was incapacitated by a massive brain hemorrhage. His 36-year rule thus came to an end on September 27, when Marcelo Caetano of the National Union replaced him in the premiership. Salazar died on July 27, 1970, in Lisbon.
Further Reading on António de Oliveira Salazar
A biography of Salazar is Christine Garnier, Salazar: An Intimate Portrait (1952; trans. 1954). See also Gowan Pinheiro, Oldest Ally: A Portrait of Salazar's Portugal (1961).