Cunhal, Álvaro

(Barreirinhas)
(1913-2005)
   Leader of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), author, and ideologue. Álvaro Cunhai was a militant of the PCP since the 1930s and was secretary-general from 1961 to 1992. In the midst of Mikail Gorbachev's reforms and perestroika, Cunha refused to alter the PCP's orthodox commitment to the proletariat and Marxism-Leninism. Throughout a long career of participation in the PCP, Cunhal regularly held influential positions in the organization. In 1931, he joined the PCP while a law student in Lisbon and became secretary-general of the Portuguese Communist Youth/Juventude Comunista (JC) in 1935, which included membership in the PCP's central committee. He advanced to the PCP's secretariat in 1942, after playing a leading role in the reorganization of 1940-H that gave the party its present orthodox character. Cunhai dubbed himself "the adopted son of the proletariat" at the 1950 trial that sentenced him to 11 years in prison for communist activity. Because his father was a lawyer-painter-writer and Cunhai received a master's degree in law, his origins were neither peasant nor worker but petit-bourgeois. During his lifetime, he spent 13 years in prison, eight of which were in solitary confinement. On 3 January 1960, he and nine other mostly communist prisoners escaped from Peniche prison and fled the country. The party's main theoretician, Cunhal was elected secretary-general in 1961 and, along with other top leaders, directed the party from abroad while in exile.
   In the aftermath of the Revolution of 25 April 1974 that terminated the Estado Novo and ushered in democracy, Cunhal ended his exile and returned to Portugal. He played important roles in post-1974 political events ranging from leader of the communist offensive during the "hot summer" of 1975, positions of minister-without-portfolio in the first through fifth provisional governments, to his membership in parliament beginning in 1976.
   At the PCP's 14th Congress (1992), Carlos Carvalhas was elected secretary-general to replace Cunhal. Whatever official or unofficial position Cunhal held, however, automatically became an important position within the party. After stepping down as secretary-general, he was elected to head the party's National Council (eliminated in 1996). Many political observers have argued that Cunhal purposely picked a successor who could not outshine him, and it is true that Carvalhas does not have Cunhal's humanistic knowledge, lacks emotion, and is not as eloquent. Cunhai was known not only as a dynamic orator but also as an artist, novelist, and brilliant political tactician. He wrote under several pseudonyms, including Manuel Tiago, who published the well-known Até Amanhã, Camaradas, as well as the novel recently adapted for the film, Cinco Dias, Cinco Noites. Under his own name, he published as well a book on art theory entitled A Arte, O Artista E A Sociedade. He also published volumes of speeches and essays.
   Although he was among the most orthodox leaders of the major Western European Communist parties, Cunhal was not a puppet of the Soviet Union, as many claimed. He was not only a major leader at home, but also in the international communist movement. His orthodoxy was especially useful to the Soviets in their struggle to maintain cohesion in a movement threatened by division from the Eurocommunists in the 1970s. To conclude that Cunhal was a Soviet puppet is to ignore his independent decisions during the Revolution of 25 April 1974. At that time, the Soviets reportedly tried to slow
   Cunhal's revolutionary drive because it ran counter to detente and other Soviet strategies.
   In many ways Cunhal's views were locked in the past. His perception and analyses of modern Portuguese revolutionary conditions did not alter radically from his experiences and analyses of revolutionary conditions in the 1940s. To Cunhal, although some conditions had changed, requiring tactical shifts, the major conflict was the same one that led to the creation of the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in 1947. The world was still divided into two camps: American and Western imperialism on one side, and socialism, with its goal to achieve the fullest of democracies, on the other. Cunhal continued to believe that Marxism-Leninism and scientific socialism provide the solutions to resolving the problems of the world until his death in 2005.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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