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Portugal: Left Bloc debates call for a left government

Delegate votes during the Left Bloc's eighth national convention. Photo from www.bloco.org.

By Dick Nichols, Lisbon

November 18, 2012 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- A spectre is haunting Portugal ― the spectre of Greece and of Syriza, its radical left party. All the powers of neoliberal Europe, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have entered into an unholy alliance to exorcise this spectre.

Accompanied by representatives of German big business, Merkel ran the gauntlet of protesters in Lisbon for six hours on November 12. She congratulated Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho for his “courage” in applying austerity (a “success story”) and urged the country’s most unpopular political leader to stick to his guns.

Two days earlier, Portugal’s most respected politician, Francisco Louçã, retiring national coordinator of the Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) had told that party’s eighth national convention: “We struggle relentlessly for the resignation of Passos Coelho” because “the people can’t withstand the destruction, the unemployment, the impoverishment, the economic degeneration”.

As a result of policies imposed as a condition of the 78 billion euro “rescue package” by the European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund (the Troika), austerity has shrunk the Portuguese economy by 3.3% in the year to September 2012.

Official unemployment has risen from 12.4% to 15.8% and youth unemployment from 30% to 39%. Young people are flooding out of the country in search of work and ever greater numbers of people in Portugal are going hungry.

For Louçã, the alternative to Passos Coelho’s policies of austerity and destruction of the public sector was a government of the left, a “government of the social movements that are running through the arteries of the Republic”.

This was a reference to ongoing waves of protest that reached new peaks with a 1 million-strong demonstration across Portugal on September 15, followed by massive union-led protests on September 29.

Fault lines

Yet a left government would seem to the Left Bloc pie-in-the-sky, especially when the bloc itself stands at only 7.5% in the latest opinion poll. Even with support added for the Democratic Unity Coalition (CDU), led by the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), backing for forces advocating a left government comes to only 17.1%.

That’s against the 34.2% still behind the parties of the governing coalition—the Social-Democratic Party (PSD), at 26.3%, and the Democratic and Social Centre-People’s Party (CDS-PP), at 7.9%.

Add in support for the Socialist Party (PS), presently leading the polls at 32.1%, and the degree of backing for the five main forces on the Portuguese political battleground still remains within their historical ranges—despite the unprecedented social pain.

Yet the feeling that the government’s days are numbered grows daily. Left Bloc parliamentary fraction leader Luis Fazenda told the convention, “the wind is shifting, the government of Passos Coelho and Paolo Portas [CDS-PP leader and foreign minister] is finished”. He added “now is the moment of truth, of finding the right political outcome”.

The government’s own tactics reflect this sense of turning point. Even as the convention was taking place, Carlos Abreu Amorim, deputy leader of the PSD parliamentary group, offered the Socialist Party “a serious and patriotic invitation … to take part in rebuilding the form in which the Portuguese state is constructed”.

Avorim said: “We need to know if [Socialist Party leader] António José Seguro prefers to ally with and, eventually, to tie himself to, an extremist party without solutions for Portugal [the Left Bloc] or if he prefers to make an agreement with the majority for a change of regime so that Portugal won’t again fall into the tremendous situation it’s in at the moment … now is not the time for hesitations nor for maybes.”

For the Socialist Party, however, it is through “hesitations and maybes”, combined with noisy populism against the government, that its support base can be held together. In his convention address Louçã described the Socialist Party as a populist “party of protest and often of protest against itself”, adding that “the Left Bloc is a barrier against populism”.

Socialist Party strategy combines trying to spook the Troika―you will have another Greece on your hands if you don’t reschedule Portugal’s debt repayments―with an “alternative plan” of asking European agencies to increase credit to small and medium business.

In the meantime, in the words of Socialist Party national secretariat member João Ribeiro, reported in the daily O Público, “it would be irresponsible to risk Portugal’s financing, it would be irresponsible to tear up state commitments. That’s not the Socialist Party way.” Socialist Party European MP Edite Estrela waved away the Left Bloc proposal for a left government as “insincere”.

Socialist Party spokespeople also never miss the chance to blame the Left Bloc’s motion of no confidence against the former Socialist Party government of José Socrates for the present nightmare of Passos Coelho.

For the time being, the Socialist Party is being spared the fate of PASOK in Greece (at 5.5% in the latest poll) and the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) (23.9%), by being in opposition and by the still widespread feeling that Troika “rescue” was unavoidable.

Another important factor helping the Socialist Party is the still limited collaboration between the forces to its left—the Left Bloc and the Communist Party (PCP). Although they came together to propose a joint censure motion against the government in early October, the prospect of any higher forms of collaboration, such as an electoral alliance for the 2013 council elections, are nil at the moment.

In the draft political resolution for its 19th congress (November 30-December 2) the PCP simply states that future elections are invaluable opportunities for building the CDU. At the same time “the permanent talk about a ‘broad left’ or a ‘modern left’ with which the Left Bloc would be synonymous is evidence of a sectarian orientation and of an unacceptable arrogance and unmaskable dispute with the PCP”.

Nonetheless, the PCP’s five points for a left government that breaks with Troika austerity are close to those of the Left Bloc, with the addition of a point covering the need to boost internal demand and reduce costs and competition to Portuguese small and medium business.

Armindo Miranda, PCP observer to the Left Bloc convention, stated that “we defend the creation of a left and patriotic government with the participation of democratic forces, sectors and personalities that would … break with the policy that is bringing poverty and hunger into the homes of the Portuguese.”

Unity on what basis?

How to break this impasse was the central theme of debate at the convention, where two counterposed positions were up for adoption. These were Motion A (“The left against the debt”) and Motion B (“For a fighting socialist response”). Summaries of the two motions are included as an appendix to this article.

Motion A spelled out that a left government must (1) cancel illegitimate public debt and renegotiate the repayment conditions of the remainder, (2) restore wage and welfare payment levels, (3) nationalise those banks receiving public subsidies, reverse privatisations and boost public investment to create full employment, and (4) introduce a new tax system based on fighting fraud and shifting the tax burden from labour to capital.

Such a government would “correspond to a reconfigured political map, immediately influencing the political and social field of the Socialist Party” and “require the full availability of the PCP and, above all, a new popular protagonism”.

Motion B stated that “a new government of the left would refuse and reverse the policies and politics of the troika, firmly stand for the welfare state, and work towards the renationalisation of essential public services and strategic industries”.

While calling for the renegotiation of the public debt, Motion B did not make a specific stance towards it as a precondition for entering an alliance for a left government. Rather, it stated that “without dialogue and the ability to compromise, the Left Bloc will be left with no space to grow and expand its influence”.

In the debate sizeable differences emerged as to what exactly a left government would be, how much to compromise in order to achieve it and how to increase the influence of the Left Bloc within the broad spectrum of the left.

The other major area of debate was the Left Bloc’s internal functioning, to which Motion B devoted two-thirds of its text, and which proposed changes to the party’s statutes in the areas of dues exemptions, sanctions against members, voting systems and whether to move to a system of joint national coordinators.

“[If only] we had the 20% that the latest polls have given Syriza in Greece”, lamented João Madeira, presenter of Motion B. Mareira called for “less tacticism and more boldness” in the Left Bloc’s relations with the SP and PCP, but what this would mean in practice was unclear.

Madeira said that the Left Bloc growth had been slow considering the possibilities, and that the party had to act less as a parliamentary force and “more as the social and political activists that we are” to increase its implantation in the social movements, especially at the local level.

Daniel Oliveira, former national executive member and well-known journalist in Portugal, criticised the left government formula as vague (“a nice phrase for a billboard or a state of mind”), saying that “in coming years there will be no left government that excludes the Socialist Party”.

Supporting Motion B he said: “We can wait for the other parties to adopt Left Bloc positions in their near entirety, and then we’ll have the perfect left front—us and our clones.”

Motion A supporters replied to these criticisms in various ways. Long-time leader and historian Fernando Rosas said, to stormy applause, that “the political situation will change a lot in the coming months, and there will be a left government, whether the Socialist Party leadership wants it or not”.

Incoming joint national coordinator João Semedo, while accepting that the Socialist Party camp is much bigger than its leadership and parliamentary fraction, rejected an alliance policy with a Socialist Party that has “one foot in the Troika memorandum and the other in the opposition”. Semedo also rejected the idea that the Left Bloc should become a junior partner to the Socialist Party—a mirror image on the left of the junior partner role of the CDC-PP in relation to the PSD.

According the new national coordinator, “the Left Bloc will play its part to help bring about convergence, without sectarianism or pretensions at hegemony” but “others must also play their part”. At the same time “no-one should expect that the Left Bloc will give in in just to grab its share of a lesser evil solution of austerity ‘light’”.

New social majority

Clearly, the left government promoted by the whole Left Bloc is “unrealistic” — given the present balance of forces in Portuguese politics. However, it is based on the solid reality, what Semedo calls “the new social majority”.

One Left Bloc-supported initiative to give more organised expression to this majority was the Democratic Congress of Alternatives, called under the slogan “Rescue Portugal for a decent future”. Its final declaration, outlining policies for breaking from the Troika and achieving a new relationship between Portugal and Europe, was adopted by a 1700-strong meeting at the University of Lisbon on October 5.

The slogan for a left government also presupposes that increasing social mobilisation against the Troika will place the Socialist Party before the choice of shifting leftwards or losing increasingly large portions of its social base, as has happened to Pasok in Greece.

One sign of the strength of the pressure was the September decision of 17 Socialist Party MPs to back the successful Left Bloc-initiated appeal to the Constitutional Court against the government’s decision to cut traditional Christmas extra pay to public servants and pensioners.

In his conference address Louçã acknowledged the stand of the Socialist Party MPs, saying “we distinguish between the commitments of individuals and the logic of the party apparatus”.

At the end of the congress debate Motion A won 80% of the vote while motion B won 17%, with 3% abstaining. In the election for the 80-seat national board, Motion A supporters won 61 positions and Motion B supporters 19.

Finally, if a left government replaced Passos Coelho what could it actually achieve against the powers of neoliberal Europe? That would depend on the solidarity that it received from working people in other European countries.

The Left Bloc is acutely aware of this and puts special emphasis on the European dimension. This convention opened with an impressive multilingual international meeting, hearing from leaders of European left parties, including Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras (via video from Greece), French Front de Gauche leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Cayo Lara, national co-coordinator of Spain’s United Left and Germany’s Die Linke European MP Gabriele Zimmer.

Each speaker not only denounced the crimes of austerity, but traced out alternatives. Most of all, the meeting dramatised that the seeds of another Europe based on solidarity, social justice and equality between nations already exist.

That reality helped newly elected national co-coordinator Catarina Martins tell the convention’s final session: “We want to sack this government because it is a government whose program is to impoverish the country and it deserves to be sacked. It is a government without honour.”

[Dick Nichols is the European correspondent of Green Left Weekly and Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal based in Barcelona. He attended the Left Bloc’s eighth national convention as a representative of the Australian Socialist Alliance. A shorter version of this report appeared in Green Left Weekly.]

Appendices

The following English-language summaries of the two motions presented to the Left Bloc’s eighth national convention were provided to international guests to the gathering. Editing and footnotes by Dick Nichols. The wording in bold in Motion A reproduces the bold sections in the original text.  The original Portuguese texts of both motions, before amendments, can be found at http://www.bloco.org/media/8cn_debates1.pdf. For a pre-convention TV debate between supporters of the two motions go to http://www.bloco.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2775.

Summary of Motion A: The left against the debt

The demonstration on September 15 changed the country. The largest demonstration in recent decades showed that the people are not resigned to austerity.

But this is a long-term struggle: besides its tax holocaust against labour the 2013 State budget will bring drastic cuts to public services that are already at risk of collapse.

In the fight to overthrow the power of the troika the Left Bloc responds by taking the path towards a left government—from the censure motion [in the Portuguese parliament], to the Democratic Congress of Alternatives, from people’s demonstrations to a general strike.

1 This debt is not ours

The debt has become a predominant argument of the ruling bloc and an accusation against the people—“we are living beyond our means”. The sovereign debt crisis operates as a powerful ideological attack and as a massive transfer of wealth from labour to capital.

The troika was called in to aid the financial system. Support to private banks amounts to 30% of the troika’s loan. The State went into debt to safeguard bank shareholders.

State indebtedness is being exploited to attack people’s rights, salaries and public services.

The single currency deepened the inequalities in European construction and worsened the indebtedness of the peripheral States. The model of construction of the Euro reduced the capacity of States to intervene in the economy and made wages the only adjustment variable for differing national [economic] trajectories.

Breaking with the dictatorship of the creditors means breaking the stranglehold of the debt. The Left Bloc considers it essential to conduct an audit of the debt to identify the part which is illegitimate and to require the cancellation of this part, as well as a renegotiation [of the remainder] that would require the State to observe constitutional rights.

2. The government of the troika is the government of unemployment and poverty

Austerity is a dead end. Even with the tax hike the steep decline in State revenue shows that the deficit is out of control. Debt is increasing and society is drowning in recession and unemployment.

3. The troika is the front line

The troika’s policy shows that there is no alternative within [centre-right, centre-left] governmental rotation. The memorandum was jointly signed by the Socialist Party (PS) and the parties of the right. Until now the PS has approved or facilitated the implementation of all the basic decisions allowing application of the memorandum and been part of the consensus on the European budget treaty. The PS’s vote against the 2013 State budget does not break its commitment to the troika’s memorandum.

In the face of the policy of the memorandum Greece shows that the way is open for a governmental alternative against the troika. Based on this lesson, in Portugal space is opening up to the left for systematic engagement over the social crimes of austerity with the support base not only of the PS but also of the parties of the right.

This is our centre of gravity: maximum political and social unity on the ground of breaking with the memorandum.

The Greek elections exposed the fate of ambiguous talk by the left: those who refused to break with the memorandum are now part of the Samaras government’s parliamentary support. On the other hand, Syriza, with an independent strategy of confrontation with the troika, was the expression of a left Europeanism that rejects bankruptcy and leaving the Euro, thereby gaining the support of a broad sector of society.

The country needs the opposite of austerity. Greater clarity over the need to break with the troika’s memorandum is a condition for greater daring in [creating] convergences.

4. The fight for a left government

The Left Bloc has its political program of response to the troika and to the crisis. For the next elections, it will update its program of essential social changes for voter scrutiny.

The Bloc proposes a left-wing government based on a break with the troika’s memorandum. This is a proposal of unity, of a broad political alliance.

In the devastation caused by austerity, the anti-capitalist left must show its willingness and ability to generate a majority and a government committed to breaking with the troika, based on these clear positions:

(1) Cancellation of illegitimate debt, reduction of the debt to 60% of GDP and renegotiation of interest rates and repayment periods with all the credit institutions, public and private, national and international;

(2) Reinstatement of incomes that were cut and a guarantee of basic rights of access to public education, the National Health Service and public Social Security;

(3) Nationalisation of the banks assisted by the State, with mobilisation of resources for public investment and for full employment, and nationalisation of public assets privatised or contracted out (electricity, fuel, telecommunications);

(4) A new fiscal system that fights evasion and shifts the tax burden from labour to capital and wealth.

This government should correspond to a reshaped political map, most immediately in the political and social base of the PS, such that many people unite in opposition to the memorandum. It also requires readiness for unity from the PCP and, above all, further mass action by the people.

5. Left Europeanism

Under the dictatorship of the creditors, only two alternatives are on offer: the authoritarianism of a European State that is imposed on all peoples; or the punishment of expulsion from the Euro, punishment to be borne most of all by the workers as the first victims of the subsequent sharp devaluation. The Left Bloc rejects both choices.

This crisis shows that the choice between intergovernmental compacts and federalism as political models for European Union governance is false, and that both are authoritarian.

An EU run according to the intergovernmental game will only bring about European deconstruction.European construction should respect the cultural identity and sovereignty of all States.The Left Bloc does not accept the imposition of the fiscal pact.

The Left Bloc presents itself as a European, and not only national, alternative to austerity and recession. Its response includes:

(1) Pooling of debt through the emission of European debt securities;

(2) A more robust European Union budget, which would allow joint employment projects and the “levelling-up” of social rights;

(3) A fight throughout the European Union against the tax race-to-the-bottom, by establishing minimum tax thresholds on capital, by eliminating tax havens within the European jurisdiction and by imposing a tax on financial transactions;

(4) Subordinating the European Central Bank to elected institutions, and centred on the creation of employment and guaranteeing the financing of the States;

(5) European social minima and a coordinated policy of wage increases.

A European response to the crisis implies the rejection of the Treaty of Lisbon, its logic and its subordination to the strategy of NATO.

The left should fight for the peripheral countries to present a united front. Also needed is a more intense collaboration with our allies of the European Left Party, as well as with all socialist currents, in Europe and across the world, with whom we can build joint discussion and programs of action.

6. A left for socialism

The elite that is directing the conservative modernisation of the country cannot and does not want to change the social regime in favour of the interests of the majority of the population.

Socialism is the name for the [total] liberation made up of all [partial] liberations. For this reason, we assess each struggle according to the value of the rights that it defends. We want to make the Left Bloc a common home for all concrete struggles for liberty and justice.

We never give up. The Left Bloc adopts as its own the legacy of all the struggles and revolutions that over recent centuries have challenged exploitation and injustice, war and colonialism. That legacy is the bearer of the project to overthrow capitalism.

7. The greatest urgency is the social response

Outbreaks of indignation are a characteristic of our period in history and demand an open attitude and the involvement of the left, instead of reactions of fear or conservatism.

The demonstration of the September 15, 2012, which brought together a million people throughout the country, heralded a new wave of popular mass action in Portugal.

The Left Bloc challenges the 99% movement to make sure that its indignation does not go to waste in the game of musical political chairs. The Left Bloc is committed to creating spaces for participation and broader popular struggle in order to resist the troika’s policy and austerity.

In recent years, important steps have been taken in the organised expression of workers in casual employment. These steps should be supported and multiplied. They need to achieve deeper social implantation.

In the movement of workers committees, there is a need for a national network of such committees. In the trade union sphere more activists need to come forward as leaders and union delegates. We shall encourage the active participation and political intervention of Left Bloc members in forming these networks, decisive if it is to grow as a mass party.

8. Tasks and methods of organisation

For the Eighth Nation Convention, the priorities in terms of organisation are: (1) the creation of active forms of participation in decision-making and of paths towards collective activism; (2) the enlargement of the network of communication of ideas.

9. Regional, local and local government intervention

.The Left Bloc clearly opposes the changes in electoral law which reinforce the predominance of the majority while weakening the representation of citizens and the rights of oppositions. In its proposals the Left Bloc will further develop all the mechanisms of participatory democracy, essential for reinforcing and structuring local democracy.

In the October 2013 elections we will have a left program for local government. This program will be defended by its own candidacies, committed to disputing the political space and winning greater representation, and will be open to independents and local activists who share its objectives.

We are in favour of all possibilities of convergence with citizens’ movements which represent genuine perspectives for change and have programs consistent with these basic principles.

If and where the possibility exists of convergence of the whole of the left on a clear program to defeat the right installed in local government, the Left Bloc will not be to blame if such a convergence does not take place.

The Left Bloc will continue its struggle to build regional administrations founded on democracy, on discipline in public accounts, and on the fight against the abuse of power and breaches of the Constitution.

Summary of Motion B: For a fighting socialist response

The reasons behind this motion

The Left Bloc was founded through the merging of different currents, but it has become much more than a mere sum of those currents. For the past 13 years, this has been our political space—a space of convergence.

We belong to different generations and carry diverse experiences. We are members of the BE—and it is in this party that we feel comfortable and wish to undertake our struggles.

The Eighth National Convention of the Left Bloc, as a prime occasion for debate and decision-making with a view to the future of our political action, should adopt a courageous and lucid attitude as its starting point, and honestly reflect upon our goals, our achievements and our failings.

Over the past two years, the Left Bloc was faced with a very challenging political context, in which it found it particularly difficult to intervene effectively. The adventurist endorsement of Manuel Alegre’s presidential candidacy[i] undermined our party’s subsequent political intervention. Then, the election of Cavaco Silva as president, alongside the deterioration of the international context, brought further changes to the balance of forces, to the detriment of the left.

The party leadership did not fully understand the reach and meaning of these changes, and often engaged in erratic politics. It submitted a motion of no confidence in an untimely manner and unfathomably refused to meet with the troika representatives.

It was in this context that the Left Bloc lost half of its popular vote and half of its parliamentary representation[ii] – and ever since then, internal criticism has been dealt with increasing impatience, and some of the most critical voices have been increasingly ostracised. In the public realm, the Left Bloc has lost its vigor and willingness to engage in dialogue.

I. Resisting the abyss of neoliberal Europe

Neoliberalism has brought on a model of capitalism that is built on financial globalisation, the free movement of capital and the belief in the markets’ ability to regulate themselves. The numerous speculative bubbles that have hit the global economy, especially as of the 2007-2009 crisis, were but paroxysms of this steady deterioration.

Austerity has one clear goal: to bring the neoliberal model to the most vulnerable countries, by rolling back the Welfare State and extending the reach of the market, in societies which have no alternative but to resist.

In the Portuguese case, the inability to undertake corrective currency devaluations has provided the grounds for seeking to reverse the trade deficit by cutting down domestic consumption and investment, thus devaluing the entire economy itself. This strategy deepens inequality and leaves a trail of destruction from which it will be very hard to recover.

Fighting the politics and policies of the troika and of the PSD/CDS government; recreate the conditions for economic growth; improve the living standards and eradicate poverty—these should be the central axes of our political action.

Towards a reform of the European institutions and of the euro

Our economy is a victim of the harmful features of the governance of the European Union, of a dysfunctional common currency and of the macroeconomic imbalances that the latter entails, such as the inevitable trade surpluses in the core of the Eurozone and deficits in the periphery.

The structural flaws of the financial system thus metamorphosed into mounting public debt problems, leaving the door wide open for austerity measures to be put in place to the benefit of the creditors in the European core.

The Left Bloc should stand for a sustainable development model with Portugal as a member of the Eurozone. However, remaining in the Eurozone requires profound reforms.

Beyond the renegotiation of public debt and the refusal to pay back that debt which is illegitimate, we demand profound changes in the statutes of the European Central Bank, the creation of Eurobonds, the devaluation of the Euro, active policies to support the export sector, the nationalisation of all the banks that benefit from government support, an end to tax havens, strict regulation of the financial sector and a European plan to relaunch the economy and move towards full employment.

At the European level, it is essential that the Left Bloc further intensify its cooperation with other social and political forces, by engaging in joint initiatives that seek to build coordinated strategies and political alternatives.

For the unity of the left

In order to defend democracy, the Welfare State and workers’ rights, we need to create spaces for debate and compromise. We need to overcome the divisions on the left and move beyond mere resistance.

Faced with a government that is increasingly isolated and contested, we need to work towards the unity of the left by combining daring proposals and initiatives, tactical wisdom and the ability to deliver when required.

The demonstrations of September 15th were a huge and unmistakable public display of popular discontent and refusal to comply. Those of September 29, organised and framed by the trade union confederation CGTP, were another powerful instance of the generalised protest. In its turn, the Democratic Congress of  Alternatives has also constituted an important turning point and an important breeding ground for further initiatives. The Left Bloc must strive to create and reinforce broader and wider alternatives. Without dialogue and the ability to compromise, the Left Bloc will be left with no space to grow and expand its influence.

A new government of the left would refuse and reverse the policies and politics of the troika, firmly stand for the Welfare State, and work towards the renationalisation of essential public services and strategic industries. Turning such a government into a reality is a task that calls for the participation of all the parties on the left, in addition to social movements and independent individuals that share a similar vision.

II. New ways of fighting the isolation, internal division and bureaucratisation of the Left Bloc

The Left Bloc arose out of the coming together of several different political parties and groupings, in a way that refused sectarianism and embraced a spirit of unity. This alone requires that our Party’s strategy does not limit itself to exposing the iniquities of the government and the troika and the complicity of the PS leadership. The Left Bloc needs to mobilise its members beyond its propaganda activities, so that they find that their intervention and participation have actual consequences.

A more central role for local-level political work

Expanding and improving the presence and activities of the Left Bloc at the local scale is an essential requirement for our Party’s organic consolidation and a crucial way to break with the tendency to regard the party bases as mere executors of day-to-day activities.

Our Party needs to open itself up to society and to take on the role of constituting a focal point for the unity of the left. The upcoming local elections are a crucial opportunity to reaffirm the importance of local-level political work and our commitment to dialogue and unity on the left.

Towards a feminist, ecological and social agenda

Combining the feminist and anti-capitalist struggles remains a challenge in our times. The feminist struggle must not be regarded in an opportunistic or instrumental way. Feminism brings together all the key struggles and should be a central part of all of those struggles.

Fighting the policies of the troika implies striving for a development model that is based on safeguarding the environment, promoting social and territorial justice, redistributing wealth more equally and eradicating poverty.

In defence of public education and essential social services

The Welfare State is a key element for ensuring equal opportunities and the protection of the most vulnerable segments of society. The PSD/CDS government has been leading a ruthless attack against public services, by degrading their quality and seeking to deprive them of their universalistic character.

There is an urgent need to mobilise and bring together teachers, students and parents in defense of universal public education.

The National Health Service has been undergoing a process of increasing commodification, which puts its mission at great risk.

Public services must be firmly and urgently defended against this debasement and destruction.

III. Defend and improve party democracy

Party democracy within the Left Bloc must not be limited to a set of rituals that serve to provide the elected leadership with formal legitimacy. Rather, it should be a crucial and ongoing instrument for collective discussion and decision-making, scrutinising the actions of the Party leadership and providing its decisions with truly democratic and collective support.

The right to organise within the Party along tendency lines is not in dispute. Suppressing the tendencies would lead to a harmful “pensée unique” without room for different perspectives and different ways of expressing those perspectives.

The Left Bloc and its members

The BE is currently going through a crisis in terms of its membership. Some of the key tasks of this Convention are to rethink the role and strategy of the Party and to renew the enthusiasm of its members.

We have not always been successful in creating mechanisms that open up the Party. The Left Bloc needs to take on the challenge of undertaking its activities “out in the open”, instead of turning inwards.

We need to make the rights and duties of the Party members, as well as the entire range of internal procedures, more clear, so that the democratic life of the Left Bloc is not captured by parallel and unscrutinised decision-making processes.

Beyond the tendencies

In order for the Left Bloc to evolve in a truly democratic way, the various tendencies should contribute to enriching and improving the political debate within the Party, but should also refrain from non-cooperative and tacticist behavior, or from imposing tendency discipline.

The Left Bloc needs to reinforce its spaces and fora for internal debate. Participation by Party members in the Left Bloc transversal initiatives must not be a constant pursuit of internal balances between the existing tendencies.

Democracy and renewal

The renewal of the higher-level political leadership has remained very limited. Promoting democracy and avoiding bureaucratisation require that the Party’s democratic procedures be improved.

The illegitimate recourse to correspondence voting and to granting exemption from paying the membership fees, in addition to the restrictions placed to the ability on the part of competing lists to access the electoral registers, have biased the electoral results in some regional-level and local-level bodies, and created serious obstacles to the formation of competing lists.

It is very important that the Party’s Electoral Regulations, and certain parts of its Statutes, be changed so as to ensure access to the electoral register and adequately frame, in a rigorous and non-ambiguous way, both correspondence voting and fee exemption.

A leadership model that ensures continuity and effectiveness

The figure of the Party Coordinator is a specific feature of the Left Bloc that has proven effective, insofar as it has constituted a stable reference in the current political landscape. There are no convincing reasons for changing this model, given that there is ample room within it to overcome the constant tensions associated with ensuring the representation of the various existing tendencies.

The existence of a Coordinator is not incompatible with reinforcing various methods of collective decision-making and leadership.

The Mesa Nacional (Central Committee) constitutes the Party’s highest body in between any two Party Conventions and must be regarded in this way by the Party leadership. Both the Political Bureau and the Parliamentary Group must be subordinated to it.

Notes

 

[i] In the January 2011 presidential election the Left Bloc supported Manuel Alegre, who had stood as a left independent against the Socialist Party candidate Mário Soares in the 2006 presidential poll. In the 2011 poll the Socialist Party swung its support behind Alegre.

[ii]  In the June 11, 2011, legislative elections the Left Bloc vote fell from 9.8% to 5.2% and its representation in parliament halved to eight MPs.

 

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