Portugal: Governmental crisis

Towards a ‘Left’ government?

The last general elections saw the Left (Left Bloc and Communist Party) increase its presence in the Parliament and, with that, the strengthening and growth of anti-austerity forces. The capitalist two-party system, which supports austerity policies unanimously, achieved only a precarious victory. Neither the PS (ex-social democratic “Socialist” Party) nor the PaF (right wing coalition of ruling PSD and CDS parties) can rule alone. This situation opens up a new opportunity for the Left to deliver a decisive blow to the ‘rotation’ in power of these two parties, and start building a real alternative.

The situation following the elections – especially following the outrageous anti-democratic intervention of the Portuguese President, Cavaco Silva – represents a fully-flidged governmental crisis for Portuguese capitalism.

PaF cannot rule.

The governmental coalition has failed, by a long way, to get majority support. It has no popular mandate to rule. Winning 36.8% of the votes, and with an abstention of 43%, only a small minority of the population has effectively voted for them. During the campaign, they tried to hide the faces of the government leaders – the executioners who dragged working people to a level of exploitation and poverty not seen since before the 25th of April revolution in 1974.

The right wing commentators’ hysteria following these elections, including the right wing of the PS, is a good indicator of the crisis which the establishment is facing after 6 years of applying brutal austerity measures, including the former PS government’s austerity packages before 2011.

In this context, Socialismo Revolucionario (SR – CWI in Portugal) supports the Left Bloc and Communist Party’s decision to refuse to facilitate any government led by the PaF coalition. This position should be extended to any prospective government which continues with an austerity policy.

The PS has lost as well

Even after 4 years of Troika intervention, supported by the PS, and brutal austerity by the Passos/Portas government (respectively, leaders of PSD and CDS), the PS has not been able to win the elections.

It is clear for the more radicalized sectors of society in these elections that the PS was a party of capitalism, and that it essentially supported austerity policies and was unable to be an effective opposition. It was after all, the PS itself which welcomed the Troika into Portugal and signed up to the blood-sucking ‘memorandum’.

As such, the usual ‘useful vote’ effect was weaker this time. The Left Bloc was thus capable of electorally capitalizing on the existing resentment towards austerity, be it implemented by PSD or PS.

PS at a crossroads: pressures from Left and Right

BE and PCP have indicated their willingness to allow a PS government to come to power and, under certain conditions, are willing to take on governmental responsibilities. While it would be correct to support the formation of a PS government to block the path of the right to power, in return for concessions to benefit working people, it is also important for the Left parties to avoid falling into a potential trap of being tied to a government operating within the confines of capitalism and austerity. The lessons of history show how disastrous such a trap can be for the Left.

The PS will try to dilute the so-called “red lines” of the Left to the max, trying to compromise the BE and PCP and tie them to an austerity-light policy for 4 years. The PS leaders would prefer this to having to rule together with the right-wing coalition because, in that case, it would become obvious to the working masses that the PS refuses to fight against austerity, passing the power onto the right and acting as its running-dog.

Reflecting the party’s break with the interests of working people, several key figures of the PS, including trade unionists, have come to the fore against the possibility of the PS making a deal with the Left. Fully aligned with the heralds of neoliberalism, they prefer a ‘grand coalition’ [PS+PSD] government over a solution which, even if very limited, could challenge austerity.

On the other hand, the right-wing is also pressuring PS, with a ferocious hysterical campaign against the possibility of a “left” government. They speak of protecting “democratic traditions”, – by which they mean the practice of the last 40 years which has guaranteed the political hegemony of capitalism – and use the usual rhetoric of “stability” and “trust” to try to hold on to their power and discredit the alternative.

Undemocratic intervention of the President

The President of the Republic, Cavaco Silva, who officially has the responsibility of appointing the government, made an extremely controversial undemocratic intervention following the results. Despite their rejection by the majority and the fact that only the PS and Left parties had the potential to form a parliamentary majority, he endorsed Passos Coelho of the PaF as Prime Minister.

He accompanied this undemocratic decision by launching a political tirade against the Left, saying he was unwilling to hand power to “anti-European” elements, such as the Left Bloc and Communist Party. What does this shows us? That the capitalist class fears, above all, any questioning of austerity and will do everything in its power to continuing it. We have seen something similar after the election of Syriza in Greece. This undemocratic manoeuvre shows that the Portuguese ruling class – and no doubt the Troika, in the shadows – is willing to sidestep democracy in order to impose austerity as the only possible policy.

For the ruling class, the inclusion of the Left Bloc and Communist Party in a governmental majority would be far too risky, susceptible as these parties are and would be to the pressure of the mobilised and organised workers and youth of Portugal. This is what lies behind the President’s actions.

However, in doing so, he gave birth, most likely, to the shortest government in our democratic history – it will almost immediately be voted out of office by parliament – and to an unstable and unpredictable situation.

Conditions for a “Left government”

In this context, and to avoid being smothered and tarnished by association with the PS, the BE and PCP have to draw very clear red lines. A left government can only exist under the condition of being 100% anti-austerity.

The Left parties must stand firm. If the PS wants in fact to form a government which defends the interests of working people, the welfare state and the Constitution, it can only do so by turning to the left, rejecting all austerity and implementing a 100% anti-austerity programme. This would include a decent full-employment policy, the rebuilding of public services, and restoration of worker’s incomes to pre-crisis levels and the drawing of the necessary resources from where they exist: in hands of the big fortunes and big corporations.

These should be the red lines of the Left for the formation of a government. If PS refuses, with the old and rotten speeches of “responsibility” and “moderation”, it only proves, once and for all, which side it is on.

The Left’s strength is in mobilisation of the working class

However, the Left’s demands are not to be defended and won inside closed government cabinets, negotiating with those that have been proven, over the past 40 years, to put the interests of the ruling class, and the markets over the most basic needs and interests of working people. The strength of the Left is in organization and mobilization. Those demands from the street, the schools and working places must be taken to the parliament and not the other way around. All negotiations for a left government should be public and open to workers, and all of the Left’s demands should be defended and mobilised for on the streets, in order to gather strength.

We call for a united front campaign, uniting all Left organizations: parties, trade unions, social movements and associations which fights relentlessly for:

• And to austerity, open or disguised

• Undo all cuts to salaries, pensions and social services

• End precarious contracts and defend collective bargaining

• Immediate raise of the minimum wage to €5 per hour for the big companies, for a monthly minimum wage calculated on the basis of a 40-hour week.

• For a working week of 35 hours for all workers with no loss of pay

Whatever Cavaco Silva does in relation to the next government, it will be weak and much more permeable to worker’s struggles that the previous one, which makes the need for more mobilization and action even more pressing. The next months will be months of intense struggle and polarization. The question of a Left government will be central. For a Left government to succeed, it will need to be based on a great social mobilization behind it, and that government’s program must be elaborated in the midst of that mobilization. In conclusion, as was shown by the Greek experience, a Left government must be prepared to go beyond the limits of the Euro and EU, and of the dictatorship of the markets and capitalism itself, if it is to consequently defend the interests fo the majority. SR defends the need for a revolutionary socialist programme throughout the Left and social movements.

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October 2015