by Stephen Morgan
Mobilize workers and youth to defend democracy! For a one-day general strike and a million-strong demonstration now!
Portugal may be headed for a political crisis of massive proportions. Following elections at the beginning of the month, President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to allow a democratically-elected left alliance to form a government. Instead, he has installed a center-right, pro-austerity administration, which commands only a minority of the votes.
The left alliance, which includes the Socialist Party (PS), the Left Block (BE) and the Communist -dominated Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) won more than 50% of the vote. The PS gained 32% of the vote, the BE 10% and the CDU 8%. The left coalition now has 122 MPs in the 230-member parliament, compared to 102 for Passos Coelho’s center-right Portugal Ahead (PàF) coalition.
Silva's argument for blocking the formation of a left government is that the BE and CDU are anti-EU, anti-NATO parties, who wish to leave the Euro currency and oppose the EU's fiscal policies of austerity and budget deficit cuts. By saying they have no right to be part of a government, Silva is, in effect, introducing a ban on left-wing parties. This amounts to nothing less than a constitutional coup.
In doing so, President Silva is not only brazenly defending the interests of the Portuguese ruling class, he is acting as a puppet of the European capitalists. Like in Greece, where an elected government has effectively been replaced with the administration of its economic affairs by ruling class bureaucrats in Brussels, Portugal has now also come under the thumb of the EU dictators, reducing it to just another political and economic colony with the German bourgeoisie at its head.
There is no doubt that President Silva's refusal to approve a left government was made under the direct command of the Berlin government. Indeed, not wishing for another Syriza-crisis, German Chancellor Merkel visited Portugal last week to give instructions to the ruling class on how to deal with the left and it was Merkel who actually organized this coup from behind the scenes.
The European and German ruling class, in particular, have become arrogant and imperious as a result of the fall of Stalinism, combined with the apparent victory of capitalism during the past economic boom and the decrease in class consciousness and combativity among workers which followed. Tragically, their recent victory in crushing the left-wing Syriza government has made them even more cocky and self-confident.
But they are playing with fire. Regardless of set backs, the tide is turning as workers have woken up to the rottenness of capitalism following the 2007-9 recession and the avalanche of attacks on them in the name of austerity. The swaggering way in which the EU and German capitalists are trampling on democratic rights throughout Europe is undermining illusions in capitalist democracy and the very foundations of the European Union.
With regards to Portugal they have failed to take into account the revolutionary traditions of the Portuguese working class, which in 1974 overthrew the dictatorship that had ruled Portugal for 50 years and virtually eradicated capitalism. The steps taken by President Silva will invoke memories of Portugal's fascist past and will enrage workers and youth, who want no return to the black reaction they fought so heroically to overturn. In this context, there is every possibility that the economic woes suffered by the Portuguese workers and the constitutional coup could combine to create a revolutionary situation in Portuguese society.
As it stands now, the crisis is likely to intensify in the next week with the Socialists promising to vote down the center-right austerity programme in parliament and to move a motion of no-confidence to bring the government down.
But according to the constitution, there can't be new elections until March next year, and if President Silva doesn't back down and allow the left to form a government, Portugal will be virtually ungovernable. A right-wing caretaker government would lack any legitimacy or popular support for its reactionary policies. Unless, the EU and Portuguese bourgeoisie backtrack and allow the left alliance to take power, Portugal will be thrown into a period of extreme instability.
During the 1974 Revolution, the British Observer newspaper described Portugal as "a state with a head but no body.” And so it is today – Silva's actions have decapitated democracy in Portugal. Even if events wont be a re-run of 1974, there is definitely the potential for revolutionary crisis in this situation.
The background to the crisis
The center-right government of the Forward Portugal Alliance (PàF) has been carrying through a fierce austerity programme over the past four years with swinging cuts in pay, pension and public spending, plus massive tax hikes as part of Portugal’s €78bn bailout agreement with the EU-IMF Troika. This has seen unemployment rise to 14.%, with 31% of youth without jobs and 1 in 5 people on the poverty line. Those figures would be even worse were it not for a massive wave of emigration by workers and youth struggling to survive.
The consequent pain and suffering of the working class, youth and poor farmers has resulted in a backlash which has caused a huge rise in support for the PS, the Podemos-style BE Left Block and the Communist Party (PCP). The vote for Left Block (BE) has risen from 2.4% in 20058 to 10.2% today and the CP has grown to around 8%.
The Left Block (BE) is a coalition of left groups, similar to those which originally made up Syriza in Greece; while the CDU is made up of the Portuguese Communist Party and the Ecologist Party "The Greens" (PEV).
While the vote of the Portuguese CP has not risen above 10%, it still holds onto a huge amount of grassroots support. It controls more than 30 urban municipalities and many more local governments, as well as having great popularity in poor rural areas. The funeral of its long-time leader, Álvaro Cunhal, attracted a quarter of a million people in Lisbon in 2005, and each September its national feast day attracts some 200,000 people - that's in a country with a population of only 10 million. But, more importantly the PCP still retains control of the largest trade union federation in Portugal, the CGTP.
The character of this shift to the left in Portugal is part of the overall trend to the left across much of Europe, beginning with the 99% movement, the Indignados and then Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. In other European countries, like France and Germany, this has also led to a rise in support for left blocs like Die Linke and Front de Gauche. More recently, in the UK, this same wave has found its expression in the election of the left-winger Jeremy Corbyn to leader of the Labour Party and a huge influx of workers and youth into its ranks.
As Portugal shows, this left shift in Europe manifests itself differently in different countries and with a different momentum. Unlike Greece, where Pasok, was devastated by its participation in carrying through vicious austerity measures – seeing its vote fall from 44% to 4% – the traditional socialist parties in Portugal and Spain have retained mass support, although suffering a temporary set back.
Because of its governmental participation in austerity measures, the PS has seen its share of the vote fall from 45% in 2005 to 28% in 2011,. But in the recent elections its support has started to rise back up to 32%, showing it is far from a spent force.
The PS was born out of the 1974 Revolution in Portugal and has taken on the character of the mass political organ of the working class. Although, it has a history of supporting capitalism and carrying out attacks on the working class, the majority of workers still look to it as their main political weapon against capitalism. Now, the extreme economic crisis and the austerity attacks have enraged workers and pushed the PS to the left.
The fact that its leader, Antonio Costa has come out for an anti-austerity programme, gone into alliance with the leftist BE, Greens and Communist Party, and has vowed to vote down the center-right's economic programme and topple the government, shows how the pressure of the working class can push its traditional party back to the left. He has even threatened to expel any socialist MPs who don't vote with him to bring down the government.
The Lessons of the 1974 Revolution for today
When the dictatorships fell in Southern Europe in the mid-70s, it was in Portugal that the revolution went furthest. While the ruling class was able to organize a relatively soft transition to democracy in Spain and Greece, in Portugal the working class and poor peasants took the bourgeoisie by the throat.
Such was the force of the movement that the army collapsed and the young officer corps and rank and file soldiers initially spearheaded the destruction of the dictatorship. Then, at each repeated attempt to reinstall the dictatorship by the forces of reaction, the working class rallied to answer every blow with a double blow.
Workers took over the factories and the poor peasants occupied the land. More than 50% of the economy was nationalized and the majority of the land transformed into peasants collectives.
The leaders of the PS were pushed so far to the left that they were forced to defend Marxist ideas and the Times of London wailed on its front page headline, “Capitalism is dead in Portugal!”
50 years of fascist dictatorship crumbled under the might force of the working class.
But socialism was not consolidated following the 1974 Revolution. The socialists and communists came to power but allowed capitalism to gradually claw its way back from the dead.
And therein lies the lesson of the 1974 Revolution - that the revolution needed to go one step further. Nationalization was not enough in itself. Workers control over industries, services and the land had to be one of direct democracy with the election of management from the shopfloor, together with selected technicians and experts under the strict control of the employees, and expanded into a system of rule on a national scale.
Similarly, the workers' parties in power should have been under the direct control of the rank and file membership with the immediate right of recall over all its leaders, so they should be sure they would carry out the programme demanded by the workers. That is what real democracy would look like.
Without such checks on the activities its leaders, the PS and CP crumbled in the face of the pressures of national and international capitalism. Consequently, the bourgeoisie was able to slowly and stealthily retake control of the factories and lands as the revolutionary tide ebbed, and then re-exert their monopoly of the political process.
1974, and events in Portugal today, show that so long as total democratic workers' control over the state and industry is not introduced, then the ruling class will use its power over the state and the economy to shift back to a dictatorship, when it feels necessary.
The need for a fighting Socialist Programme
The current Left coalition will face exactly the same pressures of capitalism as in the past and it will need to decide how it will stand up to the attacks of the Portuguese and EU ruling classes.
The PS and the left have correctly called for an end to austerity measures and for an expansion of public spending to create jobs and improve living standards.
They have proposed canceling cuts in the social security contributions and company tax rates to pay for increased expenditure on pensions and wages and they want to end the freeze on pensions, while also revoking salary cuts for government employees.
The Left Bloc and Communists have also called for stricter rules on sacking workers and are proposing the minimum wage be increased to 600 euros which the PS looks to accept.
However, not only is the Portuguese ruling class opposed to this, but it runs contrary to entire the policy of the EU’s Fiscal Compact, under which Portugal has agreed to a 20 year austerity programme. Therefore, to implement their reformist programme, the Left must be prepared to stand up to the IMF-EU Troika and not buckle to their threats as Syriza did in Greece.
In order to be successful, the left will have to mobilize the mass of the working class and youth for a revolutionary confrontation with the European and Portuguese ruling classes. A left government could only effectively pursue an anti-austerity and pro-reform programme if it is ready to nationalize the banks and the top monopolies and introduce workers' democratic control and management of the economy and the state, as they should have in 1974. Then they will have to spearhead an-all European-wide movement against capitalism and for a democratic socialist Europe to defeat the international bourgeoisie.
Unfortunately, there are already bad signs of a possible “repeat-Syriza” in the making. The CP and BE have already dropped their demands for withdrawal from the Euro and Nato, as well as their programme for the nationalisation of the commanding heights of the economy, in order to enter the coalition with the PS.
To its utter disgrace, the leaders of the UGT (Portugal's second largest union, aligned to the PS) has gone as far as to call on the PS leaders to break with the Left and go into a coalition government with the center-right parties - a coalition for the purpose of reigning down more ruthless attacks on the working class! Such fat-cat, privileged bureaucrats, who are nothing but stooges of capitalism, must be removed immediately.
Workers and youth must now flood into the PS, BE and CP, as well as the unions, to stop the Left coalition from buckling to bourgeois pressure and to ensure they have fighting, committed socialist leaders who really represent them.
What is needed now?
Democracy was only achieved in Portugal by revolution and it will only be defended by revolution.
Silva's ban on left parties in government is a direct attack on the fundamental democratic right of workers to organize. If he is allowed to get away with this, Portugal is on the slippery slope back to dictatorship.
The leaders of the left and the labour movement in Portugal must now respond with a mass mobilization of the workers, the youth and the rural poor.
* Rank and file fighting groups for the defense of democracy should be organized in trade union branches, local left party cells, factories, workplaces, villages, colleges, schools, and in the armed forces. These groups should be linked up from the grassroots level to a nationwide “United Left Front for the Defense of Democracy” – and a national rank and file conference should be convened from elected local delegates to discuss further actions and the need to transform society..
* Workers and youth should hold meetings across the country about the current crisis, about the lessons of the 1974 Revolution, and what democratic socialism should really mean.
* Workers, peasants and youth should pour into the PS, CP, Greens and the Left Block to push the organizations to the left and replace those leaders who waver with trusted, intransigent defenders of the working class.
* Left controlled local governments must refuse to carry out any austerity measures demanded by the central government.
* A one-day general strike in defense of democracy should be the first step in a mass campaign of direct action and a national demonstration of millions should be organized in Lisbon immediately.
* Occupy the workplaces, the banks and Parliament!
* For an end to capitalist dictatorship, for a working people's democracy in Portugal and internationally!