Portugal: Left Bloc Fires up to Fight Austerity

Published on Global Research.ca, by Dick Nichols, June 1, 2011.

When the 548 delegates to the seventh national convention of Portugal’s Left Bloc came together in a vast sports hall in Lisbon over May 7-8, they had two big questions to answer. The first was what alternative should they propose at the June 5, 2011, Portuguese elections to the €78-billion (about $108-billion CAD) rescue package negotiated between the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund (the troika) and the Socialist Party (PS) government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates?

The second was how to build greater unity among all those forces opposed to austerity – representing millions of Portuguese – so that a government of the left becomes thinkable in a country used to a back-and-forth shuffle of PS and Social Democratic Party (PDS) administrations? 

… Left Unity:

  • Closely tied to this debate was that over how best to take steps toward the left unity needed to underpin any government of the left. For Motion C supporters, the core of the issue was an alliance with the PCP – “united the Left Bloc and the PCP could be a governmental alternative.” In debate, its supporters accused the leadership of privileging unity with left SP forces. This had ended in the “disaster” of the Left Bloc’s support for a “left” PS candidate (Manuel Alegre) in the 2010 presidential poll, who was then supported by the PS itself, putting the Left Bloc and the PS in the same camp.
  • Motion B supporters (1.8% of delegates) also backed the Left Bloc making a unity push toward the PCP, but to create a new left “movement-party” capable of attracting broad layers of those in the struggle – especially the young people of the “generation on the scrapheap.”
  • Speakers for Motion A replied that the process of left unity would never be achieved by decree or by the single tactic. For example, a Left Bloc-PCP alliance might well attract less support than if the parties ran separately: there were PCP supporters who would never vote Left Bloc and vice versa. That sentiment was reflected in Motion D (1.6% of delegates). In the words of spokeperson Jorge Ceu, it would “never envisage governmental solutions with the PCP.”
  • It even arose within Motion A, where an amendment stating that “the PCP does not distance itself from the Chinese CP and Cuban CP regimes and other repressive regimes,” was rejected.
  • Notwithstanding these tensions, the Left Bloc and the PCP recently held a leadership meeting. Miguel Portas, a Left Bloc deputy in the European Parliament, said: “The PCP and the Left Bloc have everything to gain from normalising their relationship, preventing friction and creating a non-sectarian political atmosphere.”
  • At this stage, the Left Bloc’s formula of a “left government” remains unavoidably abstract: it can only take clearer form on the basis of real developments, not least the results of the June 5 election and ongoing struggles against austerity.

Parliament:

  • The other main focus of debate was over the role of the Left Bloc’s 16-strong parliamentary fraction, and a supposed lack of internal democracy and involvement by the party’s 10,000 members. The minority motions all shared this criticism. They say this is evidenced by the fact that important decisions in the life of the party (such as the decision to support Alegre and bring a no-confidence motion against Socrates), had been taken by the 16-person political commission and not the 80-person national board (the leadership elected at national conventions).
  • Lack of democracy was also said to be the cause of the Left Bloc’s low vote (3.1%) in the 2009 municipal elections.
  • These differences were laid bare in the session that considered changes to the Left Bloc’s statutes. Amendments adopted included a provision that at least 50% of the national board be composed of rank-and-file members.
  • A proposal to limit parliamentarians and elected public officials to two terms in office was put off to a future vote, as was a proposal to limit elected officers in the unions and social movements to three terms.
  • Other proposals, such as compulsory turnover on leadership bodies and easier conditions for calling special national conventions, were defeated.
  • When the vote on the motions was taken, Motion A had won 80.6% and Motion C 14.3%. Motions B and D and abstentions shared the rest. The incoming national board reflects these proportions.

Intensified Commitment:

  • These debates, played out on Portuguese TV and radio and extensively covered in the print media, might suggest a party at war with itself. But that would be mistaken.
  • The Left Bloc’s seventh national convention was a high-energy engagement with the burning tasks of Portuguese politics, often driven by the younger generations of the party. The debate, conducted with scrupulous democracy, intensified the conviction and commitment of the delegates for the battles ahead.
  • When Louca delivered the convention’s closing address, a call to arms to the Left Bloc’s members to make the election campaign a battle of resistance against austerity, the hall shook with their enthusiasm.

(full long text).

(Dick Nichols is European correspondent for Green Left Weekly, where this article first appeared. For further coverage of the Left Bloc conference go to Bloco de Esquerda).

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