ALMADA, Portugal – While right wing parties menace the political landscape in the U.S., Britain, France, Germany and in Eastern Europe, they have been substantially beaten back now for a full year here in Portugal.
Reflective of this was the celebratory mood here this weekend at the 20th Congress of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), which played an important part a year ago in ousting the right wing government of then-Prime Minister Passos Coelho. Thousands of party members and supporters from all over Portugal packed the sports stadium here just outside Lisbon. Red banners and flags announcing the gathering lined the streets not only in this municipality but also in the capital city of Lisbon across the river.
Miguel Madeira, a member of the PCP’s central committee and the party’s leader in Beja, an agricultural and mining region in the south of Portugal, explained to People’s World how the country’s leftist groups began strategizing to fight the right wing after the national elections in October of 2015.
The Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is in fact a hard-line right wing party, won about 32 percent of the vote and the center-right Christian Democrats earned about 12 percent. That translated, for the two right wing parties, taken together, into just under 45 percent. The Socialist Party (PS) garnered around 32 percent, with the remaining 23 percent divided almost evenly between the Communists and the Left Bloc, a joint group of smaller left parties that includes Maoists, Trotskyites and other small parties.
So it appeared that the right wing had won and, as per the country’s constitution, the president asked them to form a government with Coelho as the leader.
“They were already celebrating, thinking they could get away with four more years of austerity,” Madeira said, “until we, the PCP, said, ‘not so fast!’”
The Communists told the Socialists they would file a notice of objection, which anyone with a seat in Parliament could do, and this would allow the Socialists to form a minority government of themselves alone. The Communists made an agreement with the Socialists that each of the two parties would maintain its independence and program, but that both would have to agree on a list of emergency measures to ease the pain of the working class. “Both of us came to agreements on various measures we could both support even though we disagree on major things,” Madeira explained. “They (the Socialists) support the EU and the Euro, for example, while we advocate leaving the EU and freeing ourselves from the Euro.”
So the objection was filed, the Socialists formed the minority government of just themselves and, as expected, the new right wing PSD-CD government filed a counter objection. The Socialists, the Communists and the Left bloc together were able to vote down the counter objection because combined they had 122 of the 230 seats in the Parliament, spelling doom for the right wing coalition and putting the Socialists in power.
Madeira said the broader Portuguese left, and the PCP in particular, understand that the current situation is but a temporary one. They are not counting on the present situation to last forever.
“Of course it is always precarious when you fight powerful forces,” Madeira said, “but people can see that the measures we are supporting and taking are in the interests of the workers and they support this.”
The last year has shown, the PCP says, the success of such flexibility as a tactic in the service of a larger strategy.
“The results, although limited,” PCP General Secretary Jeronimo de Sousa said here this weekend, “are nevertheless visible. Many wage cuts have been restored and the 35-hour work week has been restored for public workers. Income taxes for workers have been reduced and four stolen holidays restored. Privatized public transport companies have been restored to public control, the national minimum wage is being increased, and supplementary payments for families and the elderly have been increased. PCP demands for hikes in the education budget for 2017 have been accepted as have free textbooks for elementary school students. Collective bargaining rights for public workers are being restored.”
“This means life for our children,” Teresa dos Santos, a nurse at Lisbon’s largest hospital, said. “The right wing government had closed clinics and hospitals and now we are getting agreements to reopen them.” Dos Santos, also a delegate to the PCP convention, said, “I am here today because this party, my party, fights for the children.”
Albano Nunes, another member of the PCP’s central committee, said there was no contradiction between the PCP working for immediate reforms and its longer range goal of a socialist society free of all exploitation.
“The struggle for real and immediate goals, for a break with right wing politics and external constraint, and for a patriotic and left wing alternative, are part of the struggle for advanced democracy,” Nunes said. “This is an inseparable part of the struggle for socialism and communism.”