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Portugal’s Socialist Party, between illusion and cowardice

Portugal’s Socialist Party is now 40 years old. But what happened to the ‘socialism’? asks Joao Mineiro

The socialist party, founded in April 1973, has transformed itself its a strange thing called “democratic socialism”, a kind of third way, in which the project of the socialization of the economy, building the popular movement and the ambition for equality as a central political objective have been replaced by policies such flexibility and individualization in the labour market, privatization of the few strategic sectors that remain in public control, and adaptation of life to apparently ‘irreversible’ market laws.

But rather than discuss how the socialist project transformed into a social-liberal project, what’s really important is to ask the question that is now being discussed throughout Portuguese society: what policy alternatives can now be built to face up to the economic and social destruction of the country, and how do we respond to debt slavery?

Economic decimation

It is now clear to all that never, since the Carnation Revolution of April 25 1974, has Portuguese society experienced so critical a moment. The rights gained by thousands of workers through decades of popular struggles, from social and labour rights, public services and public management of strategic sectors of the economy to the social and cultural democratization of the country are all being undermined. With the pretext of the payment of the debt – that just keeps on rising – and with the excuse of complying with the Troika loan programme – undemocratically imposing policies that will affect the lives of all in society  - the Portuguese economy is being decimated, the welfare state destroyed and we walk in great strides towards bankruptcy. Never before were choices and strategies to respond to the emergency in our country so decisive.

Socialist party activists realise this, as does the entire Portuguese society, with every day presenting us with the challenge of the courageous choices that we must make.

Forty years after the foundation of the socialist party, its current leader António José Seguro is peremptory in the choices he makes for the Socialist Party: he proposes “the construction of a new alliance, a new coalition that brings together christian democrats, humanists, social democrats and all progressives to restore hope to Portugal.” A coalition to resist the destruction of the welfare state and bring back the”values ​​of liberty, fraternity and solidarity.”

Seguro had already sent a letter to the troika calling for an end to austerity and rejecting the destruction of the welfare state. But that letter also reaffirms the commitment of his party to a balanced budget, the so-called Golden Rule, a commitment to institutionalizing austerity on the pretext of maintaining debt payments. And even if Seguro wants to renegotiate interest rates and terms, he is still tied to a commitment that he himself insists on reasserting: the commitment to a Europe for whom the economy and the lives of workers can be completely destroyed in order to pay debts that are not possible to pay, because they increase along with austerity, regardless of who applies them. The fight for the welfare state is inseparable from the fight against the Troika, because its policy and the Memorandum are destroying social rights and public services, hollowing out the state’s role in the economy and submitting the sovereignty of the country’s policy choices to undemocratic, ultra-neoliberal policies.

Lack of political courage

Forty  years later it is symptomatic that the Socialist Party is caught between its rhetoric and lack of political courage. Forty years later, the Socialist Party calls for debt renegotiation while at the same time committing itself to austerity ad eternum, making renegotiation a mere illusion. Forty years later the Socialist Party rhetoric of an end to austerity and narrative that the last of a series of austerity packages – that was drafted, together with the Troika, but without consulting the President and the other parties in March 2011, just before losing power –  was the country’s salvation, when it was based on austerity, the destruction of labour rights and making workers pay for the crisis. Forty years later, the Socialist Party continues treading a path between the illusion of a defence of the welfare state and and the reality of supporting the Troika Memorandum whose aim was its utter destruction, because it was designed to fail, and introduce the inevitability of more austerity and more cuts in public services.

The central policy is this: illusionism, bluff, acquiescience and lack of courage. The central policy is the inevitability of austerity ad eternum, of attacks on social rights and the transfer of income from labour to capital under the motto of debt.

The alternative

There will certainly be many socialists for whom the only alternative to debt slavery is the end of the policies of the Troika, the end of its Memorandum, a courageous renegotiation of debt (in respect of the payment period, the interest and the money), the return of all wages and stolen pensions to those who work or who worked and contributed to their pensions all their life, and the implementation of a tax reform that means those who have the most pay for the crisis. The voices who want this alternative are in the streets, meetings, debates and are those who participate in everyday resistance to these policies. It is from this practical political activist and campaigner, without sectarianism but political clarity, that one can draw a concrete political alternative that meets the urgency of the day.

A government of the Left against the Troika and the tyranny of finance is the opposite of political illusionism that is failing to present a brave alternative for Portugal and Europe. This alternative is what the Socialist Party should be, if it honoured, at a bare minimum, that word socialism which it insists on keeping in its name.


Translation/edit by Revolting Europe

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Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or email [email protected]


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