SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 150 - July/August 2011

A vacuum still to be filled

THE JUNE 5 general election saw the worst defeat for the Partido Socialista Português (PS) in more than two decades. The right-wing Partido Social Democrata (PSD) and Partido Popular (PP) together secured a governing majority, with 39% and 12% respectively.

Abstentions, however, hit 41%, the biggest in recent history. This was an expression of the huge anger against the establishment parties and their social war against the workers and the poor. It also shows that important layers have not found on the left a programme or party that could serve as a vehicle for their opposition to harsh austerity.

Electoral support for Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc – BE) plummeted, with half of its votes lost (from 9.8% in 2009 to 5.2%), and its 16 MPs cut to eight. Its leaders are blaming ‘a swing to the right’. However, it was really a reaction by its electorate to BE’s move to the right. This was symbolised by BE’s support for Manuel Alegre, the PS candidate in January’s presidential elections, by BE MPs voting for last year’s Greece ‘bailout’, and the caution of its MEPs towards the imperialist intervention in Libya.

The lack of will to build a serious workers’ and youth front with the Partido Comunista Português (PCP) against the avalanche of attacks, combined with its turn towards the PS (when anger is growing against the PS), weakened BE considerably.

Without a radical change of policy, BE could face meltdown. The youth, who saw BE as a pole of attraction, will look for alternative ways of self-organisation, like the Geração à Rasca (desperate generation) movement. While the PCP has a stable base of electors and influence among the trade unions, the BE’s grassroots membership is smaller, its influence in the working class more limited. As a result, BE is more susceptible to its electoral support, with very volatile results, especially now when the intervention of the troika (EU, ECB and IMF) demands a bold response from the left.

As for the PCP, the result represents virtual stagnation. In the context of the biggest crisis in living memory, and of explosive mobilisations by workers and young people, the party’s vote actually went down slightly.

It still has 16 MPs but the PCP is not offering a real plan of militant action to defeat the troika’s programme, and rejecting the payment of the debt. A clear programme of fighting demands is needed to grasp the desire of the majority for action, and for a society based on the needs of all and not the diktats of the market. As long as the PCP continues to consider socialism as a distant abstraction not linked to the concrete debate on what to do now, and prefers patriotic rhetoric to arguing for international working-class solidarity, it risks a decline like the other so-called ‘communist’ parties in Europe.

The new right-wing government is charging its batteries for one of the biggest programmes of capitalist attacks in Portugal’s history. This will not pass by without massive resistance. In this context, lessons need to be learnt from these elections to start the process of offering a basis for a new impetus in the future struggle of all sectors of the left in Portugal.

Mauro Kato, Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Portugal)

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