Portugal: Austerity light?

Thanks to the support from the Portugese radical left, a new government has been formed in the Republic of Portugal. The government is led by the social democrats of the Socialist Party. Although many workers hope for an end to the brutal austerity cuts of the previous conservative government, the social democrats are known to support austerity too. Revolutionary socialists fear that the radical left is about to support a government that will cut social services in the name of balancing the budget. Portugal may even face a situation similar in Greece, were the radical left betrayed the working class out of cowardliness! 

There are two radical leftist parties in Portugal. The oldest is the Portugese Communist Party which is the leading force in the Unitary Democratic Coalition with the Ecologist Party “The Greens”. Newest radical leftist force is the Left Bloc, a political party made up of socialists and leftists to the left of social democracy!

The last elections in October 2015 led to a major defeat for austerity forces. Conservative and neoliberal forces lost the trust of the voters. The biggest defeat was for the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party. In Portugal the neoliberals call themselves the Social Democratic Party (PSD) which may confuse those who think that this party would be social democratic in nature. It is not the case, as the PSD is a right-wing party and supportive of neoliberalism and deep austerity cuts. The People’s Party or PPP is the main conservative party, supportive of austerity and the ruling class!

Now that the supporters of austerity lost the election, a new problem emerged. The social democrats of the Socialist Party (PS) has not enough seats for a majority government, therefore they need the support from the radical left. Revolutionary socialists said that working with the pro-capitalist PS would not result in a anti-austerity government. In the past, the social democrats proved themselves to be good supporters of capitalism and even carried out deregulation and market based reforms.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is the current President of Portugal and he has openly called on the PS government to carry out austerity. The president is a member of the right-wing PSD. He asked that the PS government stays loyal to the demands of the European Union. Greece was in a similar situation, when Jeroen Dijsselbloem blackmailed Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras into obeying the EU. Out of cowardliness Tsipras capitulated. Now the former radical leftist party: SYRIZA is supporting austerity, deregulation and privatizations under orders of the Euro-Group led by Dijsselbloem!

Portugal must not go down this road too. If the PS government led by prime minister Antonio Costa capitulates to the demands of the EU and the ruling class, the Portugese radical left must brake with the social democrats. There must be a clear NO to austerity and austerity light. The problem is that the Left Bloc and the Portugese Communist Party have made the deal with the social democrats, behind the back of the working class. The agreement to support the PS government is not even calling for a radical change of society. Both the Left Bloc and the PCP are already betraying their socialist ideology by agreeing to support what is in fact a capitalist government!

The radical left has allied itself with a capitalist government, which is bad. Even with moderate austerity cuts, workers will not see improvements. They will ask themselves why political parties that claim to support them, are dealing with those who attack them? SYRIZA in Greece claimed there was no alternative to austerity, the classic TINA story of Thatcher the Iron Lady of Britain. She said after the collapse of the USSR that all socialists had to accept that capitalism defeated ”socialism”. There Is No Alternative to a market based economy, she claimed. Most social democrats agreed and have supported right-wing politics even since. SYRIZA was not willing to brake with European capitalism, as they lacked a socialist program and could not see beyond the limits of a capitalist society!

Portugal is facing modest economic recovery, still the forces of capitalism demand austerity and cuts to welfare programs, pensions and social services. Neoliberal parties such as the PSD and PPP have shown their true colors, by standing with the capitalist class against the working class. This puts the social democrats in a difficult position. One the one hand they wish to be supportive of the Portugese ruling and the European Union. On the other hand, they know that supporting austerity would mean that the radical left windrows it support, leaving the PS with a minority government. If the social democrats had any genuine leftist feeling left, they should reject the EU and the right-wing. But since the PS has moved so far to the right, they are only socialist in name!

Left Bloc, Portugese Communist Party and Ecologist Party should unite on a unified socialist program to combat not only the right-wing (PSD & PPP) but also the social democrats (PS). It is true that the Socialist Party is the lesser evil, but supporting this lesser evil is not the alternative. If austerity politics are carried out by the PS with support from the Left Bloc and PCP, it would harm the Portugese radical left. Workers, young people and the poor would feel completely disillusioned and lose faith in elections and democracy. The Left Bloc should not forget why they lost -%4,7 last time. After calling on workers to vote for the PS candidate during the 2011 presidential election, the Left Bloc lost over 268,383 voters in the general election. Workers did not choose the lesser evil by voting on the PS candidate and punished the bloc for supporting the Socialist Party!

Because the conservative government was just as brutal as the previous social democratic one, the Left Bloc was able to regroup and rally against the attacks on workers. This made them to win back the lost voters. The coalition of the PCP won +0,4% more voters in the 2015 general election. Portugese workers who vote for the Unitary Democratic Coalition are very loyal and would not abandon the communist party and the green party. But with only 8,25% of the vote, the coalition is still a modest force. Together with the Left Bloc, the Portugese radical left got 18,44% of the votes. If these three political parties could join in a true socialist coalition for a Portugese Socialist Republic, they might win even more votes. However it would require a strong commitment to socialism, not a more leftist version of social democracy!

What will prime minister Antonio Costa do? Will he agree with president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa? Will he submit to austerity as demanded by big capitalists and the Euro-Group? If so then the radical left must brake with the PS and call on workers to fight them. A true workers movement is needed to end austerity and to build a socialist alternative in Portugal. Unlike Greece, the radical left has not yet capitulate and can win the trust of many who have been affected by poverty in the European nation!

However if the Left Bloc and the Unitary Democratic Coalition agree to support the PS even if they carry out modest austerity, they will betrayed the Portugese working class. Revolutionary socialists fear that the PS will do the bidding of the Euro-Group and the ruling class. Social democrats have never been people who stand up for the working class in opposition to the capitalist class. In the last 30 years, most if not all social democratic parties moved towards not only accepting capitalism as a system, but also to carry out austerity of the markets demand it!

Portugese workers should not put all hopes on the exiting radical leftist parties. As in Greece, the parties that claim to be ”leftist and revolutionary”’can easily betrayed them. This is why workers must be ready to take action themselves. Strikes and demonstrations are their weapons against politicians and capitalist bosses. Revolutionary socialists struggle for a socialist Portugal on the bases of the original 1976 constitution. This constitution was deeply socialist in character and not loved by the right-wing. Both the PS and PCP should have worked together for a socialist Portugal, after the overthrow of the conservative dictatorship. But because the PS was too moderate and the PCP too sectarian, socialism was never constructed although the constitution called for it. By 1989, the PS agreed with the capitalist parties to remove all socialist references. With the socialist elements removed, the government could start with the first wave of privatizations!

The right-wing trusts that the PS government will start with some cuts to ”balance to budget” they expect the social democrats to stay loyal to the demands of the EU. It is up to the radical left to say NO, just as the Greek workers said NO to austerity. Alexis Tsipras ignored them and carried out the will of Jeroen Dijsselbloem and his Euro-Group. Are the Left Bloc and the PCP following the footsteps of Tsipras? Will they also claim TINA as excuse? Whatever happens, workers must not give up the fight for a socialist society. Politicians can betray them, but they still have to the power to win!


Portugese prime minister and PS leader. Socialist symbols remain, but do not think this party will build a socialist society!

Socialist symbols remain, but do not think the Socialist Party will build a socialist society!