Dias Lourenço –legendary leader of the anti-fascist struggle in Portugal
António Dias Lourenço the legendary Portuguese communist leader and editor the party’s paper, Avante!, died on 7 August in Lisbon at the age of 95.
He was born in the village of Vila Franca in 1915 and became a lathe operator, joining the party as a 17 year-old in 1932. Portugal was at the time suffering under the iron fist of fascist dictator Salazar – which would become the longest surviving fascist dictatorship in the World. Dias Lourenço was responsible for the illegal publication of the party paper Avante! from 1957 until 1962, under the dictatorship, and became its editor from the day of its first legal issue in 1974 until 1991.
He was imprisoned twice under Salazar in 1949 and in 1962 and spent 17 years in fascist prisons. He made a spectacular escape from the notorious prison fortress of Peniche in 1954. This damp and formidable medieval fortress, on the western coast, is lashed by the sea and from which it was believed impossible to escape. But Dias Lourenco managed to hide in the prison, before jumping off the high wall into the freezing Atlantic waters and swimming to safety. While in prison he was viciously tortured to reveal party secrets, but kept silent.
When I was filming in Portugal only a few months after the momentous 1974 April revolution, we made a portrait of Dias Lourenço for GDR television. We accompanied him to Peniche prison where he related his story. While filming in his old cell, now holding former fascist guards (in very liberal conditions I might add), he rushed out, feeling nauseous. We wondered what had happened and he told us that one of those guards was had been his torturer during his own incarceration.
He took an active part in the reorganisation of the party in 1940/41 in the area of the Baixo Ribatejo and was elected to the regional committee. From then on he led a life of clandestine political activity, responsible for party publications and their distribution. Together with the party’s general secretary, Alvaro Cuñhal and others, he was able to forge close links between the country’s progressive intellectuals and workers, thus building the party’s unique standing throughout the country and giving the anti-fascist struggle a broader base.
He was elected to the central committee in 1943 and remained until 1996. He was one of the chief organisers of the mass strikes of July and August in 1943 and in May of 1944. He also led the struggle for the eight-hour working day for agricultural workers.
António Dias Lourenço was elected a member of parliament after the revolution 1975-87. He also wrote several books about his experiences under fascism and in the party.
He was a man of incredible courage, passion and commitment. With an unassuming modesty and love for his country and its working people. He will be sorely missed by progressives in Portugal and internationally.