Portugal: The long-awaited collapse of Santana’s government

A month ago the Portuguese president dissolved the Portuguese parliament and announced a general election for February 20th.

The rightwing government of Santana/Portas took power, following a defeat in the European elections and the move of Durao Barosso to become the President of the European Commission, only 4 months ago. (see New government, the fight continues)

As we explained at the time this was a weak and unstable government. It failed to get general support from the main coalition party, the liberal PSD. The far right PP, the other coalition partner, lead by Paulo Portas, kept a low but aggressive profile.

Declarations made by the Prime Minister were challenged by other members of the cabinet and vice versa. While the government tried to cloak its attacks on social rights in the language of "consumers and producers" and claimed to be advancing "social justice" it was rocked by scandals and intrigues. In reality the policies of the Santana/Portas government meant the shameless robbery of hard-working families to enrich big business even more. This came on top of widespread tax avoidance by the establishment. While the Portuguese elite siphons millions of euros to offshore accounts on the Island of Madeira, the working class is paying more for basic necessities and services.

The last two terms of the PSD-PP Governments saw an intensified neo-liberal offensive by big capital and the bosses. The political instability these governments created, not their policies, caused the bosses to withdraw their support.

In the last 4 months Portugal saw a big increase in the number of bankruptcies. Portugal is now the EU country with the highest level of unemployment.

Traditional parties with no alternative

The government faced ferocious opposition by the working class, including a general strike and different days of action called by the Trade Union federations. However, this was not reflected amongst the activists of the PS, a former traditional workers’ party or the PC, the Communist Party, because they were also divided by their own crises.

PS – "moderate" social-democracy to the neo liberal Blairites

The social democratic, Partido Socialista (PS), the largest opposition party, during the government of Durão Barroso, was involved in a paedophile scandal that involved prominent public figures, including one of the leaders of the PS and included the previous general secretary, Ferro Rodrigues.

Ferro Rodrigues while he is considered to be a "left-winger, has always been "surrounded" by PS apparatchiks who are clearly pro-capitalist and heavily involved in local councils riddled with corruption. His involvement in the paedophile scandal, even if indirectly, has weakened his position.

When Durão Barroso went to Brussels and President Sampaio, also a so-called socialist, decided to support the coalition PSD-PP coming to the power with the formation of a government led by Santana, he thereby gave his approval to neo-liberal polices. The Socialist Party leadership only put up very timid opposition and Ferro Rodrigues felt himself betrayed. The PS had just won the European elections and in protest he resigned as General Secretary of the PS.

In the leadership contest that followed three candidates stood: João Soares, son of the founding father of the PS Mário Soares and himself a former President of Lisbon Council; Manuel Alegre, a longstanding PS member who proclaimed he supported the "socialist traditions of the PS to the rank and file"; and José Sócrates, Environment Minister of the Guterres Government and a Portuguese defender of Blairism.

The ruling class supported José Sócrates who won the elections in the PS and went on to seek agreements with the PSD-PP government.

José Sócrates is a ferocious supporter of "budget rigidity" to comply with the EU’s Stability Pact. He argues for a moderation in wages to defend the "national economy". On all the key issues the PS policies of the Sócrates leadership mirror the pro-capitalist programme of the PSD-PP.

Communist Party: words not deeds

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), which the ruling class, and some on the left, incorrectly characterize as an unreformed Stalinist party, is in a deep and irreconcilable crisis. Its rank and file is made up of workers but the bureaucratic apparatus is moving to the right and remains only in words a "Marxist-Leninist" party.

This was clearly reflected at the 18th PCP Congress, held during the the last week-end of November in the municipality of Almada. Almada council, where the PCP has a majority of councillors, is about to privatise the collection of rubbish services. They use the same propaganda to justify this that is used by other PS, PSD or PP councils.

In the trade unions, the Communist Party leadership defends social partnership and "economic realism". They try to break the fight back by workers by limiting struggles and demands to local workplaces. Rank and file leaders, shop stewards and activists are increasingly demanding a co-ordinated struggle and a plan and programme of national resistance, linking together various sectors of workers to fight the bosses’ offensive.

In fact the CP leadership agrees with the propaganda of the pro-capitalist commentators – and even with some on the left – that "to speak of class society is outdated and without a future in the 21st century".

Those on the left who are repeating this kind of "anti-communist" criticism are in actual fact strengthening the PC bureaucracy in its attempts to isolate the membership of the party from other working class activists.

Left Block, a possible alternative

Bloco de Esquerda (Left Block – BE) has been growing both in electoral influence – in the European elections it was the only organization that increased both it’s percentage and actual vote – and in influence.

Being a recent political movement, (five years) it defends a radical left position and argues that capitalism cannot be reformed. In documents, it speaks of socialism as the strategic objective.

With a small but spirited parliamentary group – 3 MPs in the Assembly of the Republic, 1 European MP and 1 Regional MP in Madeira Island -, BE have launched legislative proposals that find an echo amongst the left as well as amongst ordinary workers.

It has an important influence in the colleges and amongst sectors of the left urban middle class. The BE also does some work in the trade union movement and in workers committees in workplaces based on one of the tendencies within BE, Popular Democratic Union, a group that defines itself as communist. However, the mistaken approach to CP rank and file and the lack of a really clear programme to build a left democratic and militant workers movement weakens its appeal amongst the working class.

It tends to overestimate the social movements and its organisational structure is loose, rather building networks and national campaigns with a very diffuse structure. It has had success partly due to its own parliamentary political initiative, the political weakness of the PS, the largest opposition party, and the continuous silence in the media about CP and a good coverage in the press of the BE.

However, the realignment of the parties has given the ruling class more options and they are clearly promoting the PS as alternating government. The BE runs the risk of being undermined in its support among middle class by the logic of a vote for the "lesser evil" unless it is built amongst the workers’ movement and the youth.

For a program of struggle solidarity and socialism

The Alternativa Socialista, cwi grouping in Portugal, has been intervening the BE. One comrade is a member of the National Table (National Council). We also campaign among the rank and file of the PCP, PS and independent workers and youth. We consistently defend the need for a new party of workers’ and youth, based on the workers and of their struggles, on national and international solidarity and with a clear program of democratic socialism.

The working class and youth of Portugal lack, in this new political landscape, a clear political alternative defending the demands of the working class. This requires a flexible approach that can bring together, on the basis of democratic socialism, the ‘old’ activists and new layers of the working class and youth to prepare against the onslaught by the next government of the PS. The next government will be forced to continue the neo-liberal program of the previous government.

We think that the small layer of PS members who think it is possible to reclaim the party from pro-bourgeois control, despite their honourable intentions, are waging a lost battle. The process of bourgeoisification in the PS is irreversible. José Sócrates, leader of the PS, openly defends the neo-liberal policies that will form the core of the next government. The mass of the workers do not see the PS as an instrument for change in their interest.

Alternativa Socialista argues for a minimum wage of 500 € for all workers and unemployed, the legalization of all immigrant workers, the abolition of the Labour Code and other anti-working class legislation, the defence of Public Services. These demands have to be linked, in the day to day struggle of the working class and poor, with the struggle for socialism. The struggle for a society in which the working class takes into public ownership the decisive sectors of the economy in order to democratically control, manage and plan them in the interest of the big majority of society and not the few rich billionaire capitalists and landowners.

This programme can appeal to the most class conscious members and voters of the parties on the left. As a program of action and class struggle this could be basis on which a new formation for the defence of workers rights and conditions, and the struggle for genuine socialism can be founded. To unite and use the enormous potential force of the Portuguese workers and youth we have to rebuild the workers movement and arm it with genuine socialist ideas.

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