July 14, 2015

Portuguese Communist Party leader speaks about upcoming election while in Paris

Crowd participating in the June 6th mobilization of the
Communist Party to launch the ongoing election campaign
 Adrien Welsh

“Eles comem tudo e não deixam nada/ They eat everything and leave nothing” says the song by Zeca Afonso. The singer-songwriter also wrote “Grândola Vila Morena”, which became an anthem during the Portuguese April Revolution. These words are probably the best description of the situation the people of Portugal are currently living in. The title of this song is “Os Vampiros/ The Vampires”, referring at the time it was written to the capitalists who kept Portugal under the rule of a fascist dictatorship until 1974.

Although the country was able to overthrow the Estado Novo regime and adopt one of the most progressive constitutions in Europe (thanks largely to the Communists), Portugal, along with Greece, is one of the European countries most affected by austerity programs imposed by the Troika. The European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund are the new vampires who “eat everything but don’t leave anything” for the people.

More than 128,000 people from Portugal chose to leave their country in 2013, and their number keeps increasing year after year. More than 1.5 million Portuguese have decided to live in France. That is about 15% of the total population currently living inside Portugal.

Jeronimo de Sousa, General Secretary
of the Portuguese Communist Party
This is why, on May 30th, comrade Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), came to Puteaux near Paris to present his Party’s electoral program to the Portuguese community in France. This was in preparation for the upcoming legislative and presidential elections of Portugal which will take place next September and October.

The goal of this meeting was to take into account the difficult reality of Portuguese migrants and integrate this in the program of the PCP - which was presented publicly on May 26th.

Among the main themes discussed by the 23 associations who attended the meeting, was the theme of the lack of recognition of Portuguese immigrants by French and Portuguese governments. Comrade de Sousa identified this situation as a consequence of the successive cuts in public services and due to the “state shedding its responsibility”. This is connected to the cuts in public funding carried out throughout the last 38 years of right-wing government rule.

In the last four years, about 400,000 jobs have been lost, which has meant the unemployment rate has risen to 14% in the country. As a consequence, official data states that there are more than 2.5 million people living in poverty. To add to this there are millions more affected by the cuts in wages, retirement pensions, social services, and so on. Just like everywhere else, among the most affected are the youth.

This situation is not a “divine punishment” according to the Communist leader. Nor is it because the Portuguese people lived above their means, which supposedly increased the national debt and justified these cuts. On the contrary, it is a result of the concrete and concerted policies of successive governments, who have become more and more aggressive since signing the “aggression pact” presented by the Troika four years ago.

However important the role of the Troika is in this process, Jerónimo de Sousa insisted on emphasizing the role of the Portuguese government in implementing austerity. This is the opposite of where various opportunist political formations place the emphasis. The PCP’s viewpoint seems to have been proven correct since the memorandum policies are still being applied even though the memorandum came to an end around one year ago.

A PCP march in 2012 behind the banner "We fight against
theft and exploitation!"
Concerning the objective of these austerity measures, the ruling class’s hypocrisy was outlined. Austerity’s imposition on the Portuguese people was supposedly to impede the country’s bankruptcy. The aggression pact worsened the situation: the debt is much higher than before and the country is more dependent on foreign countries than ever. Since 2008, 160 billion Euros have been allocated for interest payments on the debt alone. The numerous bailout plans for financial institutions, such as banks, have to be added to this sum.

Comrade de Sousa also took the opportunity to talk about the election program of the PCP and Democratic Unity Coalition (CDU) (an electoral coalition of PCP and the Ecologist Party [PEV]). These elections will have an important impact on the political developments of the country. Portugal is now confronted with a dilemma: either “continue with this policy that leads to disaster” or search for another alternative.

For the PCP, there is no doubt that the only way out of this situation passes through a break with these rightist policies implemented at the service of the European Union and the big monopolies. Communists put forward strong opposition and a real alternative, a patriotic and left program at the service of the working class and the people, which will carry forward the values of the April Revolution.

This policy puts forward the renegotiation of the debt, a defense of public services, a program of higher wages and pensions, and a defense of the constitutional rights in a context where Portugal’s constitution is being violated by government. One of the important points to defend in the constitution is the right to free, universal and quality education for all Portuguese youth, even those living outside the country. Another highlight of the CDU’s policy is public investment in productive sectors of industry instead of continued dilapidation of industry in the hands of the big trusts. To reach this objective, the Communists insist on the importance of nationalizing the banking sector and imposing a tax on financial transactions.

As was discussed during the meeting, Portugal has many assets that could sustain a healthy economy, but many were destroyed by austerity governments. Portugal’s shipbuilding industry is a prime example.

In the current parliament, the PCP has 14 members of the assembly and the PEV has two, bringing the CDU’s total assembly members to 16. Concerning the possibility of joining a governing coalition after the next election, the position of the Party is clear. It isn’t based on a principle of refusal to join a governing coalition necessarily. The question can only be answered by analyzing which interests will be served by joining such a coalition. The PCP is ready to take part in a government only if it will fulfill the interests and needs of working people. But for now, as long as the Socialists and the other right-wing forces (PSD, CDS, PP) agree on majority of the important points in their programs, and since they are equally responsible for the current desperate situation, there is no possibility of any type of alliance in government.

This meeting was also an occasion to prove that the people of Portugal can win a better future. However, without a fundamental break with the policies in the interest of the monopolies; without fundamental opposition to the political actors responsible for this disastrous situation, the working class and the people in general cannot aspire for better conditions. This policy of rupture is only defended by PCP and the CDU.

Poster for the June 6th mobilization, in which 100,000
people participated.
Whatever the balloting results end up being, the fight for progress, social justice and for the advancement of democratic rights will continue in the streets. “The PCP is a party with a long history of unity [...] which doesn’t work towards its own interests, but works in the interest of the people with whom it fights permanently, and not only when it is time to ask for votes.”

As De Sousa concluded, “when we fight, we don’t always win, but if we don’t fight, we surely lose.”

PCP launched its electoral campaign earlier in June by organizing a massive national rally, the “People’s Force” in which more than 100,000 people marched in Lisbon. This sends an important message: that the Communists are eager to keep fighting along with the people, but it also shows that far from being an out-dated ideology, communism is linked inseparably with the people’s concerns: “We are not above the people. We are men and women with concrete beliefs and values. [...] We serve the most noble cause: the one of the liberation of the people and the workers.”

Adrien Welsh is the chair of the YCL-LJC Canada’s International Commission and is currently living in Paris, France. He attended the May 30th meeting in Puteaux, France.

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