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2022 general election in portugal - lessons to be learned by us all
Jim O'Connell writes about the recent elections in Portugal.
'Portugal's Socialists have won a big victory!'. This recent Guardian headline
would make you think that the people of Portugal had risen up and thrown off
the shackles of neoliberal capitalism.
But unfortunately, that is not the case.
These 'socialists' are a party like the Irish Labour party. They portray
themselves as representatives of the working class while wholeheartedly
supporting and enforcing the neo-liberal policies that widen the gap between
ordinary people and a privileged establishment.
Portuguese cheerleaders for the idea that capitalism can be defeated by
parliamentary governance touted a 'confidence and supply' type arrangement.
The radical left "Left Bloc" and the old Communist party entered the cosy so
called 'geringonca' ('contraption') agreement with the Labour style Socialists.
This was no case of "the tail wagging the dog" and the Labour style "Socialists"
were given a useful breathing space in which to maintain and strengthen their
dominance. The radical left could have supported the left government on a
case-by-case basis and threatened to bring Labour down when they went
Instead, they signed up to a written agreement and kept the Labour style party in
power for year after year. They discredited themselves by doing this.
The Socialists were then able to blame Left Bloc and the Communists for
"political instability" when they finally withdrew support and brought down the
government in late 2021. They were not being punished for causing the election
- but for being quiet for so long.
The resulting 'snap' election brought in some disappointing and worrying
The Labour style socialists got an overall majority which will greatly facilitate
them in pushing through policies aimed at making ordinary people pay for
measures brought on by the Covid crisis, climate change and rising inequality
on the European continent (Portugal is a member of NATO).
The radical left's policy of unquestioningly facilitating a centre-left government
and then only pulling out when it was too late (not supporting one budget after
supporting many others) meant that the relatively recent gains they had made
for real left politics and workers' rights took a kicking.
The most radical workers were demoralised and the centre ground was able to
grow. This is even more frustrated considering the strikes that spread across
the country in recent times from nurses and teachers to Metro workers.
The radical left's parliamentary presence was drastically reduced with the
Communist's percentage of the vote falling by a third and the Left Bloc by half!
The centre-right PPD (like Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil) emerged unscathed by the
election "instability" and is still at 27.8% - maintaining their position as having
the second biggest share of the vote.
The danger of a right-wing coalition between the PPD (like Fine Gael or Fianna
Fáil) and the far right Chega (the fascists) may arguably have meant more
support of the centre ground Socialists, but one of the most worrying parts of
the election has to be the gains for Chega the far-right, anti-immigrant party.
They have increased their representation from one parliamentary seat to 12.
This can only embolden anti-worker, anti-union, racist and anti-socialist voices
already heard in Portugal and elsewhere across Europe.
The radical left should have played a leading role in the strikes and protests of
workers on the streets while being a voice for those struggles in parliament. At
the same time, they could have united with workers who supported the centre
left to oppose the fascists on the streets.
There is much scope for the radical left to use the "dung-heap" of the
parliamentary system to make gains for real socialism and equality. A means to
this end is arguably some form of conditional support for a left government by a
sizeable presence in the opposition benches where real influence on policies
can be brought to bear without facilitating neo-liberalism.
A radical left that supports left government on a case-by-case basis, that
prioritises strikes and protests and fights for real socialism can make gains in
the present period.
The main representatives of the radical left in Portugal chose to take that
position a step further and into the area of fuller participation in a 'social
democratic' government. They fell into a trap and as a result they have lost a lot
of credibility and real influence.
The biggest losers are the ordinary working class who will suffer at the hands of
the Labour style "Socialists". Among the winners were the 'centre ground
"Socialists" who have become a larger somewhat softer alternative to the right
Another winner has been right wing extremism - now with parliamentary
justification for their dangerous policies. Anyone on the radical left considering
the possible option of entering any kind of power sharing arrangement within a
left government surely has to take heed of these developments.