The elections in Portugal on March 17 and their outcome represented a major political event in the life of the country. The results, if somewhat expected, were nonetheless representative of a new wave of discontent towards the main political protagonists of the nation. One can say that once and for all, the Portuguese people lost their "innocence". From the humblest shopkeeper to the middle-class bureaucrat, from the teenage student to the old retired pensioner, people are finally beginning to stir...
The PSD vote
After the counting of votes, the winner was the PSD (Social-Democrats, a centre-right party), with 40% of the votes. This was much of a bitter-sweet victory for its candidates who behaved in the most arrogant and scornful way during the entire electoral campaign towards the Portuguese people. They were convinced that a landslide victory was already guaranteed. In the end, they won with only a very slim 2% margin. The PSD results demonstrated that the Portuguese have a memory, and not a short one at that. The people who are now in government are exactly the same ones that were at the helm of the country from 1985 to 1995. For 10 years they looted the state, initiated the most shameful and corrupt privatisation schemes of all Europe and destroyed years of social conquests the Portuguese people had managed to attain with extreme difficulties after the Revolution of 1974. And yet they are now back with a vengeance, after making demagogic promises of tax cuts during the campaign, only to do the exact opposite as soon as they sat in their comfortable seats in parliament! But then you may ask, if this was all known, if their terrible reputation was so much in the open, how was it possible for them to win the elections, "malgré tout"?
The role of the Socialist Party
The answer is to be found in the PS (Socialist Party) leadership and their policies. From 1995 up to March 2002, the Portuguese Socialist Party governed the country during a period in which Portugal and its people were going through somewhat of a "golden age" - very low interest rates combined with a sustained rise in wages. This does not stop the Portuguese workers from still being the worst paid in all of the European Union (and the ones with the highest prices in the EU!) Thanks to that situation they managed to convince the Portuguese people that they could spend money as one uses tissues to wipe one's nose in a bad winter. The EU "milking cow" kept on sending the funds to keep the show going on, and people got too distracted too even notice the looting of the state by the PS and its bureaucratic apparatus! The privatisation of the main industries of the country was completed, and the process of privatisation of the health and educational systems was initiated. Of course they tried to camouflage such actions by introducing social measures of doubtful impact in the medium-long term, such as the implementation of the "Guaranteed Minimum Wage" to everyone (between 25,000 to 38,000 escudos - 125 to 200 euros a month, a complete outrage!) and the negotiation of the reduction of the working week with the trade unions (à la Jospin). But after 7 years of such shameful politics, and after the catastrophic results in the local government elections of December 2001 (where the PS lost most of its councils, including the 2 most important ones, Lisbon and Oporto), our "socialist" prime-minister, António Guterres, cowardly decided to abandon his party and the Portuguese (again a bit à la Jospin). However, on the March elections, they still managed to score 38% of the votes, a result they themselves considered to be excellent! If only shame was taxable... The PS vote was, more than anything else, a reflection of the fear amongst the Portuguese workers of having the PSD back in government. Most of the votes for the PS were votes against the conservative Social Democrats! For in actual fact the illusions any Portuguese workers may have had about the socialist clique at the head of the party have now totally disappeared.
The Popular Party saves the day for the PSD
However, if the PSD and PS results were that close, how on earth did the social-democrats manage to form a government? The answer is to be found in the PP (Popular Party). The Popular Party, a right-wing, ultra-conservative party, with its 8% of the votes, made it possible for a PSD-PP coalition government to be formed. The leader of the PP, Paulo Portas (now the Minister of Defence), is the classical demagogic by-product of global capitalism. Far more intelligent than Le Pen (all in all not much of an achievement of course), a better speaker than Pim Fortuyn and better at faking it than Berlusconi, Portas is, as he likes to consider himself, the "right arm" of the Portuguese government. During the campaign he made the most touching appeals for the introduction of a mandatory rule in all Portuguese state schools for the singing of the national anthem every morning in every class of the nation. He defends a vast increase in the budget for defence spending (thus making him a favourite within NATO). There is no mistake here: Portas is a VIP crook. He is under investigation for his part in a case of money laundering of drug trafficking and weapons sales through a private university where he used to work as a teacher and member of the administration. He is a dangerous man because he is a very intelligent crook that has managed to get into power. His party holds key places in the government, such as Defence, Justice and Tax control. Yet his party's vote has not increased. Despite its demagogical innuendoes and nationalistic chauvinism, the Portuguese people did not vote for him. The PP is now in power only thanks to the PSD, who - in yet another U-turn that only they are capable of - broke all the promises made before the elections about a possible coalition with PP. Durão Barroso (PSD leader and the present Portuguese prime minister) had publicly stated several times in the past how much he despised Portas. But after the counting of the votes, Barroso realised he desperately needed the PP's votes in order to obtain the very slim margin of a 1-seat majority in parliament. A few days after polling day, Portas and Barroso were all smiles as they signed their governmental pact. They are two sides of the same coin, they defend the interests of the same people (all the big corporations, the banks, the private investors). They are "brothers-in-arms".
And the Communist Party?
And so we are left with the PCP (Portuguese Communist Party). The PCP got a score of 7% in the spring elections. A weak result, no doubt about it. Yet, given the circumstances, the PCP could be seen as the "lesser evil". It is the only party in the country that denounces the current state of affairs of Portuguese politics. It also has renounced its "Communist" identity. Because of this the PCP has been targeted by the media in general in the most vile campaign of character assassination ever seen! All the bourgeois press and the privately-owned TV stations have placed the Communist Party in the headlines, repeatedly refered to the "death" of the party, the "death of communism", the need to "reform" the party and transform it into a "democratic" organisation. Fuelled by the criminal opportunism of a small clique of senior members of the PCP (some clearly looking for an excuse to join ranks with the PS and PSD, as they did just after the fall of the USSR, others clearly being manipulated by their reformist "comrades"), the party, its members and its activities suddenly became the "hotspot" in the news all over the country. It gives one food for thought though, that a party already "condemned" to extinction, that is considered by most of the bourgeois analysts of this country simply as an "irrelevant organisation", that such a "marginal" party like the PCP suddenly begins to deserve all of their attention! Every communist in Portugal should feel touched and honoured by the display of such "altruistic" emotions on their part! A most humble thank you! "They" really do care about us! "They" kindly show us the road we should take, that we should "reform", abandon Marxism once and for all, become "democratic", and even start thinking about how nice it could be to join forces with the Socialist Party leaders at some point in the future…
Return to Lenin!
Yet they are right on one thing. The PCP does need to be reformed but not along the lines they are suggesting. The party must maintain its links with the October revolution, to the ideas of Lenin. It must maintain its symbols! It must be a genuinely internationalist party. The PCP needs to hold on to the Marxist tradition, not abandon it! It must place at the top of its programme the socialist transformation of society, the ending of exploitation by one class of another! Most of the older members of the Portuguese Communist Party are well-intentioned, honest men. For decades they fought the Fascist regime in Portugal, the regime that many of them helped to bring down in 1974. These old activists deserve the respect of any intellectually honest communist in the country. Yet such respect should not stop us from criticising some of the aspects of their politics. Many of these activists are still holding onto their Stalinist past. This is no wonder, for in one way or another they are the products of the period in which they were educated politically. For them it was (is) very difficult to keep a critical mind towards the misleading, and in many occasions criminal, methods implemented by Stalin and his followers in the USSR. And thus, the old leaders of the party are "guilty" of misleading their own people in Portugal, and of wasting invaluable opportunities for making the revolution successful (see 1974). They are "guilty" of not putting to question what was going on, and thus of allowing the ideas and the past conquests of genuine Marxism and Leninism to be distorted by the Stalinists. Yet there is now a new generation of people ready to take up the legacy of Marx and Lenin, people that have (and are) learning from history, and that will not fall into the same pitfalls of the past! Now more than ever before the youth in Portugal are aware of the role they can play in the struggle for a genuinely socialist Portugal! The workers' struggles all over the country, which for the last few months have been expressed through some very important strikes in the transport sector, in heavy industry and in some very important private enterprises, is a clear sign that things are beginning to change, and at a very fast pace! Now the workers and youth in Portugal are more educated, more determined and, most importantly, we have learned from the past. Layers of youth and workers are again beginning to turn to the PCP, looking for a lead in the struggle for a socialist future. Armed with a Marxist programme, the Portuguese Communist Party can (and will) play a leading role in the Portuguese revolution! Because people are finally began to stir…