October 20, 2019

Results Notwithstanding, Portuguese Communists Vow to Intensify Class Struggles

R Arun Kumar

PORTUGAL, Austria and Poland had elections to their respective parliaments recently. While the Social Democrats were victorious in Portugal, Conservatives won in Austria and Poland. A noteworthy feature is the decrease in the vote share of the far-right party in Austria, a coalition partner of the Conservatives in the previous government; the entry of Left into Polish parliament and the marginal setback to the Left parties in Portugal.

In Austria, the ruling Conservative Austrian People's Party won 37.5 per cent of the votes, retaining power. Its former coalition partner, the far-right Freedom Party lost 10 per cent votes in the parliamentary elections and are now no longer in the government in Austria. The Greens, who had failed to gain parliamentary entry in 2017, won 14 per cent votes this time and emerged as a strong force.

In Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party retained power by winning 43.5 per cent of the votes, but lost five seats. In the upper house, they have lost 13 seats and control of the Senate. The Left, which could not enter the parliament in the last elections, failing to poll the required 5 per cent threshold votes, improved its performance tremendously and won 12.5 per cent of the votes and 49 seats. The ultra-right Confederation won 6.3 per cent of the votes and 11 seats.

In Poland, the communist party is banned along with the usage of red flag with hammer and sickle and all other communist symbols, related with its socialist past. Hence, we do not find the communists contesting elections. In Austria, communist party is a very small force and though it had contested elections, was able to secure only 0.7 per cent of the votes and did not gain entry into the parliament. Portugal is different from these two countries in this aspect. In Portugal, the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) is a very active and militant party that has considerable presence throughout the country and also in the parliament. PCP played an important role in keeping away the right-wing parties from forming the government after the 2015 elections.

In the recently concluded parliamentary elections in Portugal, the social democratic Socialist Party (PS) was able to emerge as the largest party securing 36.6 per cent of the votes. This is an increase from the earlier elections (2015). The PCP led coalition, CDU lost 1.8 percentage of votes and 5 seats. To understand these results, we need to look at the political and economic situation of Portugal, at least of the past five years.

In the 2015 elections, another social democratic party, the PSD won majority of the seats, but fell well short of majority. The PSD is an ardent advocate of neoliberal austerity policies imposed by the European Union (EU) that were pushing the country further deep into crisis. The then president of the country, desired the formation of a PSD led coalition government along with the Conservatives – the common binding thread between all of them being their adherence to neoliberal philosophy. All those parties and groups opposed to this right takeover of governance, discussed the various ways and means that ultimately led to the formation of the government led by the PS.

The basic premise on which the government of the PS was formed in 2015 were: to resist the impositions of EU, renegotiating of public debt; valuing work and workers, their rights, wages, and pensions; defence of public sector; guarantee of public control over banks, basic and strategic sectors of the economy and supporting the micro, small and medium companies and cooperative sector.

The PCP explained this situation to the people as “not the formation of a government of the Left, but the formation and coming into office of a minority PS government with its own programme and where, at the same time, the parliamentary groups of PCP and PEV condition decisions and are crucial and indispensable for the restoration and achievement of rights and incomes”. The PCP is not the “supporting force of the government through any agreement of parliamentary incidence but a situation where, having contributed towards the government initiating functions and develop its action, the PCP retains full political freedom and independence”, to act in defence of the interests of the workers, the people and the country. PCP’s decision was guided by its objective to ensure a ‘break (rupture)’ from the right-wing policies that successive governments were pursuing and reverse some of them.

The PCP played an active role in ensuring that the PS stays committed to this premise by consistently mobilising workers and people in various struggles it had conducted all through these years. As a result of its efforts, a ‘reversal of the continuation and intensification of earlier government’s offensive’ was ensured and also limited progress was made on ‘restoration of rights, wages and income’ of the working class and common people.

Though PS is called a ‘socialist party’ it is not a ‘Left Party’. Talking about the class character of the PS, the PCP observes: “PS's new stand hasn't transformed it into a party with left-wing policies, it hasn't changed the nature of its policies and political options, which are characteristically of a right-wing nature and are expressed in well-known strategies of subservience with regard to the EU's process of capitalist integration and the interests of monopoly capital. This analysis and characterisation of PS's political positioning is not based on “its public statements, but on the practical measures” it took.

The ruling classes of Portugal targeted the PCP precisely because of its consistent class analysis, struggles waged in defence of the rights of the working class and increasing acceptance among the people. Various anti-democratic measures were initiated that limited or even banned political activity inside companies and workplaces. Almost the entire media, controlled and supported by the ruling classes, carried out a campaign manipulating and falsifying the positions taken by the PCP, deliberately ignoring its activities and attempting to erase its existence from popular memory. The media deliberately called the PS government as a ‘Left-wing government, in which the PCP was also a part’ and blamed the PCP for the government’s failures. This had added to the existing extensive ideological offensive against communism, equating communism with fascism, re-writing history on these lines and changing the content of syllabus and education. The ruling classes deliberately promoted other Left forces, which they assessed as ‘not as dangerous as the PCP’.

In spite of all these attacks on the PCP, its present electoral performance was possible only because of the militant commitment of its activists, the deep connection and rooting of the PCP forces within the workers and the people. The central committee of the PCP which had met a day after the elections and the results were declared, self-critically accepted some its mistakes and pledged to carry forward necessary corrections to overcome the setbacks.

The CC statement noted: “It has been clear in these years that steps have been taken in the defence, restoration and achievement of rights, but it has been equally clear that the negative measures that have been prevented and the advances made are not sufficient for the necessary response to the national problems and the materialisation of a developed and sovereign Portugal….What a full response to the country's problems demands is a break with the interests of big capital….a break with the submission to the Euro and the impositions of the European Union….What is needed is the implementation of the alternative, patriotic and Left-wing policy that the PCP proposes and...the intervention of the PCP with mass struggle, to move forward, not allow any setbacks, particularly in matters such as the so-called ‘structural reforms’, which PS and PSD share in several areas”.

Apart from the political issues, the central committee of the PCP pointed to the need for strengthening the Party. It decided that ‘steps must be taken to strengthen the work of leadership at various levels, ensure the accountability of cadres and militants for permanent tasks and responsibilities, pursue political and ideological formation, promote affirmation of the Party's working principles’. It also highlighted the priority that needs to be given for the promotion of organisation and intervention among workers. “It is necessary to promote the reinforcement of cadres and means, ensuring an action that has as its fundamental concern the knowledge of workers' problems, aspirations, claims and state of mind and the initiative to promote their unity, organisation and struggle, articulated with the affirmation and strengthening of the Party. It is also necessary to pursue the implementation of the other guidelines for the strengthening of the Party, namely the handing of new membership, promotion of intervention among social groups and specific sectors, strengthening of local organisations, work of propaganda and Party press”.

An indication of the results of these elections in Portugal was there in the EU elections held in May this year. The Portuguese ruling classes and their representative parties like the PS are feeling unshackled after the results, as they no more need to depend on the PCP. This unleashes their desire to aggressively implement neoliberal policies, which will once again lay enormous burdens on people. It is here once again that PCP’s intervention through leading class struggles, will determine the future of Portuguese people and the country – a patriotic task, which the PCP vowed to unflinchingly undertake.