Hundreds of thousands gathered this past weekend for a three-day extravaganza of culture and revolutionary politics in the Lisbon suburb of Amora. While the annual Avante! Festival (Festa do Avante!) has a musical lineup that could rival the profit-driven Coachella, the jamboree was embedded with the spirit of resistance and anti-fascism.
The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP)-run event comes at a time when the stakes are high not only for workers in Portugal but working people around the globe. It was a celebration of how far people of Portugal have come since the dark days of fascism in their country and a call to action for the new work to be done to keep at bay right-wing forces bent on taking power.
Named after the PCP’s newspaper, Avante! (Forward!), the festival has occurred annually since 1976, just after overthrow of the fascist dictatorship. Massive gathering feature musical performances, dance, sports, theatre, cinema, carnival rides, and foods from across the world all intertwined with a Marxist perspective highlighting everyday struggles faced by the people. Two major themes of the event were the upcoming Oct. 6 elections, and the 45th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution.
PCP General Secretary Jerónimo de Sousa opened the festival by thanking hundreds of volunteers and supporters of the party that made the festival possible, along with acknowledging uniqueness of the event. “At a time when the idea that mobilisation and political participation are not used in initiatives and rallies, whether in electoral campaigns or in daily life, here come the many thousands to attend the opening of the 43rd edition of Avante!,” he exclaimed to the cheering crowd.
Throughout the sprawling festival grounds were paintings and displays of the symbolic carnation flower. The Carnation Revolution, also known as 25 de Abril (25th of April), was a military and civil resistance action in 1974 that toppled the far-right fascist Estado Novo (New State) regime. Nearly no shots were fired, and instead, carnations were offered to soldiers when the people took to the streets in celebration of the end of the dictatorship.
Although no blood was shed on the day of the revolution itself, for years thousands of militants—many members of the PCP—had been subjected to imprisonment and torture under the authoritarian regime of Antonio Salazar. Forced underground, they continued to organise, print Avante!, and maintain the resistance. The history of this struggle was showcased at the festival with short documentaries and photo displays of the movement leading up to the revolution. Not only this, but those who lived during the time of the fascist regime were present, walking the grounds, and interacting with festival-goers.
One such heroic figure was 83-year-old Conceição Matos - a long-time member of PCP and one of the many subjected to torture by the police of Salazar’s “Second Republic.” Matos was imprisoned for a year and a half in 1965 and multiple times after, yet even in the face of torture that would leave her with health issues for the rest of her life, she kept her resolve. Matos, along with her husband Domingos Abrantes, who was also subjected to torture and imprisonment for several years, were present at the festival with words of encouragement for the younger generation about the new dangers faced today.
Political topics weren’t reserved only for historic displays, as infographics highlighting today’s political demands by PCP—such as a national wage increase for workers and affordable public transportation—lined the walls of food stands and carnival rides. Another use of getting progressive messaging out was seen through the presence of Cineavante, a film series on the grounds screening movies, particularly by Portuguese creators. Cineavante organizer and Film Studies professor Sérgio Dias Branco spoke to People’s World on the importance of film at the festival and the selection of movies. “We try to highlight films that are difficult to see in mainstream theaters due to the subjects and politics they cover. It’s grassroots cinema,” he explained.
Branco highlighted a number of films being screened that he felt helped document the lives of people both past and present. Documentary El Silencio de Otros (The Silence of Others) reveals the struggle of victims of Spain’s 40-year dictatorship under Gen Franco who continues to seek justice to this day. 15 memorias do fogo (15 Memories of Fire) deals with the aftermath for the people affected by the 7,900 Iberian wildfires of Oct. 2017 in northern Portugal and northwestern Spain. Intermixed throughout the stages and food stands were areas for panel discussions. Relevant issues such as “The European Union is not Europe,” “What can be done for April to be fulfilled in women’s lives,” and “Capitalism is not green,” were scattered throughout the festival, often gathering sizeable audiences from the broad crowd of attendees.
At the forefront of the festival at every turn were the high stakes of upcoming October 6 parliamentary elections in Portugal. These elections will determine whether the country will continue along the more progressive path been on or instead see a government come to power that rolls back recent gains and imposes more austerity.
Four years ago, PCP played a key role in prioritising the livelihood of working people by keeping the center-left Socialist Party in power and blocking the conservative Social Democratic Party (a misnomer) from being able to form a government. Since then, several gains have been made, but the country has seen introduction of new anti-labor laws supported by Socialists who threaten progress. The Communist Party is now fighting to keep their parliamentary seats and influence in order to keep the pressure on the Socialist Party for the rights of workers.
“Today, we need to fight and win a new battle, creating the conditions to keep moving forward and prevent them from going backwards,” General Secretary de Sousa declared to a crowd tens of thousands strong at the festival’s closing rally. “The way forward is to build the largest vote possible for the PCP. No one is fooled, what has been advanced is not guaranteed, and these recent times show that the balance has begun to tip further, beyond all promises, to the opposite side of defending the interests of workers,” he explained further.
It was a rousing send-off, ending with boisterous music and dancing in the huge crowd, preparing the attendees for the work ahead after their weekend of celebration and education. As it has for decades, the Avante! Festival truly embodied the practice of deploying art to agitate, resist, and, hopefully, triumph.
- Chauncey K. Robinson
The writer is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.