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Journal of Interdisciplinary History 33.1 (2002) 126-127

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The Blue Shirts, Portuguese Fascists and the New State

The Blue Shirts, Portuguese Fascists and the New State. By António Costa Pinto (New York, Columbia University Press, 2001) 320 pp. $34.50

This book seeks to examine an interwar fascist movement less well-known than the Italian and German variants (xiii). Pinto also asks why a fascist party did not defeat liberalism in Portugal, as it did in Italy and Germany (46). He uses three kinds of primary sources: records of the political police of António de Oliveira Salazar, whose New State (Estado Novo) destroyed Portuguese fascist National Syndicalism (Nacional Sindicalismo [ns]) in the 1930s; Ministry of Interior records; and personal papers of Francisco Rolão Preto and other ns leaders.

Pinto shows that political and social conditions in early twentieth-century Portugal offered little space for effective fascist action. Portugal had neither national nor ethnic minorities and did not wish to alter its frontier, despite an occasional hint of interest in Spain's Galicia. Britain protected the Portuguese overseas empire. A revolution in 1910 had replaced the monarchy with a republic, the anticlerical policies of which had driven much of the Catholic establishment into political opposition. A weak economy at the beginning of the century deteriorated further under the republic, which faced insurrections from both the right and the left. Such conditions might have been ripe for fascism. Instead, a military coup overthrew the government in 1926, and General Óscar Carmona became President. Salazar, the new finance minister, balanced the budget. He became premier in 1932, promulgated a corporatist constitution in 1933, and gradually established his own dictatorship, which lasted until overthrown by another military coup in 1974.

Church and military elites allowed little space for a fascist alternative to liberalism in Portugal (51). The 1926 coup offered political space for a fascist movement and allowed it to approach power, but in the early 1930s, Salazar consolidated his political power and eliminated the influence of local fascism in Portugal. Nonetheless, Portugal produced a [End Page 126] fascist movement, National Syndicalism, which was organized under Preto's leadership in 1932, growing out of post-World War I Lusitanian Integralism (Integralismo Lusitano [il]), itself influenced by Charles Maurras' Action Française. Although il was an elitist urban university student organization, Pinto defines National Syndicalism as fascist because of its charismatic leadership in the person of Preto, its top-down structure, its paramilitary organizations, and its "para-statal organs in preparation for power" (104-105). He contrasts ns's populism with Salazar's National Union (União Nacional), which generated legitimacy and was more a network of clientelism. Salazar, who saw the ns as a troublemaker stirring up the workers to make demands that could not possibly be met, attracted some of its members away from Preto, who grew more radical and "social" the more removed he became from power.

Salazar formally dissolved the ns after its involvement in a failed coup in 1934, although the movement continued clandestine action, conspiring in another coup in 1935. By 1939, with the consolidation of Salazar's victory over the military—at a time when Adolf Hitler was achieving the same result in Germany—Salazar had reduced Portuguese fascism to Preto and a few of his friends. German military victories in the West in 1940 did little to help Portuguese fascism. Hitler failed to realize the potential of a systematic Mediterranean strategy, and Salazar, fearful that Spain might invade Portugal, worked to prevent Spain from joining the Axis war effort (217). With the defeat of Germany in 1945, Preto wrote that Nazism had deceived the revolutionary hopes that had given birth to it (223). His view, sometimes called "left fascism," contributed to the postwar discourse of the extreme right in Europe.

Pinto holds that Portuguese fascism "does not challenge the sociological imagination or require any particular creativity in the field of topologies of early twentieth century right wing ideologies" (76). It was born on the margins of the "radical right...


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