In this paper we argue that patterns of civil society in post-authoritarian democracies are the result of divergent pathways to democracy. Through a comparison of contemporary Portugal (social revolution) and Spain (reform), we show that revolutionary pathways to democracy have a positive impact on the self-organizing abilities of popular groups, thus also contributing to a higher quality of democracy. There are three mechanisms in social revolutionary processes that contribute to this. The first stems from the fact that the masses are the key actor in the revolutionary transformation process, with the power to shape (at least partially) the new rules and institutions of the emerging democratic regime. This results in greater legal recognition and institutional embeddedness between civil society organizations and the state, making it easier, in turn, for resources to be transferred to those organizations. Secondly, as a result of changes to the social and economic structure, revolutions engender more egalitarian societies. Likewise, citizens are given more resources and capacities for collective action. Finally, revolutions tend to crystalize a political culture between elites and the masses in which the principles of egalitarian participation and social change through the action of the people are accepted. This all leads to greater opportunities, resources and legitimacy for the civic action of the common people during the subsequent democratic regime.