Portugal – the collapse of the contraption

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By BOAVENTURA DE SOUSA SANTOS*

The victory of the PS and the defeat of the left in the Portuguese elections

In Portugal, the left to the left is made up of the parties to the left of the Socialist Party (PS), that is, the Communist Party (PCP) and the Left Bloc (BE). In the January 30, 2022 elections, the PS won the elections with an absolute majority. From now on, Portugal will be the only European country with an absolute majority government of a left-wing party, the Socialist Party.

The two parties to his left had their worst results ever. The PCP, which had twelve deputies in parliament, now has half and the BE, which had nineteen deputies, now has five. The BE moves from the third political force to the fifth and the PCP, from the fourth to the sixth. The positions of these parties began to be occupied by ultra-right forces, one of fascist inspiration, (Chega), now the third political force, from the Vox family and the European and world extreme right, and one of a hyper-neoliberal profile, pure and hard social darwinism, that is, survival of the fittest (Liberal Initiative), now the fourth political force.

The electoral results show that the left to the left of the PS lost the historic opportunity it gained after 2015 by building a left-wing government solution that became known as a contraption (PS, BE, PCP), a solution that stopped the austerity imposed by the solution neoliberal impact of the 2008 financial crisis and launched the country into a modest but consistent economic and social recovery. This solution began to become precarious in 2020 and collapsed at the end of 2021 with the rejection of the budget presented by the government. This is what led to the January 30 snap election.

It will take time for these leftist parties to have another opportunity and hopefully they will then remember the previous setbacks and learn not to repeat them. There will certainly be other leaders and it is to be hoped that there will be other policies as well. A more in-depth analysis of the results will have to come later. For now, we can stick to the most obvious. It is necessary to distinguish between BE and PCP. The two parties have a common remote past, the fracture of the labor movement at the beginning of the 1917th century between socialists and communists. The PCP belongs to the communist faction and the BE belongs to the divergences that occurred later within this faction as a result of the evolution of the Russian Revolution of XNUMX.

What unites the two parties and is more relevant for understanding the root causes of their defeat in these elections is that for both parties the Socialist Party is, in essence, a right-wing party, a right-wing masquerading as the left, but which is not really the left. It is. True left is them. Its leaders don't say it, but they think it. They cannot imagine considering the victory of the PS in these elections as a victory for the left.

The PCP has historical reasons for this attitude, as the communists and their privileged base (the labor movement) were often victims of socialist policies and, in part for this reason, this anti-socialist attitude is widely shared among leaders, militants and sympathizers. . In the case of BE, the story is more ambiguous, such division does not exist on the same terms and this was evident from the founding of the party. Both parties have a tradition of avant-garde thinking. When theory collapses in the face of reality (eg, electoral collapse) reality is to blame, never theory.

Catarina Martins' pathetic speech on election night was ample proof of that. And let us remember that, in 2011, the same disregard for reality led the Bloco de Esquerda to fail the Stability and Growth Plan of the socialist government (José Sócrates), opening the doors to the most anti-social right that the country has ever known. This time, it is the unconditional merit of António Costa's PS to have avoided the emergence of a right-wing contraption. Even so, the door to the far right was left more than ajar.

In the Portuguese context, the fall of the Communist Party is structural because it is linked to the decline of trade unions, the basis of the party's social implantation. The PCP is one of the only European communist parties that did not renew itself after the fall of the Berlin wall and for that reason it was hostage to the evolution of its organized social base, the trade unions. The decline of these leads to the decline of the party. The non-renewal of the PCP was, in fact, one of the reasons for the emergence and success of the Left Block. The tragedy of BE has been that, instead of accentuating its difference, it has allowed it to fade away. In these elections, no one noticed any relevant difference between the blocist and communist discourse. But the drop in BE is explained by the accumulation of other errors in recent years.

The pandemic gave a new dimension to human fragility, lasted long enough not to be considered a minor accident and hit aging populations particularly hard, especially those used to a minimum of social protection that suddenly seemed precious, not because it was satisfactory, but for existing despite its shortcomings. It exponentially increased the imbalance between fear and hope. This imbalance in favor of fear created two distinct collective emotions: fear of increased precariousness and despair experienced as resentment.

The first emotion fueled the desire for stability and was captured almost entirely by the Socialist Party. The second emotion fed the desire for the authoritarianism necessary to break the dishes and was captured by the ultra-right in two ways, State authoritarianism which, in Portugal, is equivalent to Salazarist nostalgia (Chega) or the authoritarianism of capital and social Darwinism, that is , survival of the fittest (IL). In these circumstances, it is clear that the Bloco de Esquerda could only be on the side of stability in order to strengthen and qualify it. Just as Livre did brilliantly. Instead, it threw everything into the adventure of a third collective emotion for which there was no social basis.

BE did not understand the signals of its electorate because its avant-garde thinking did not allow it to go down to where citizens discuss, in their own terms, their fears and hopes. He did not listen to them and if any impact had, it was to make them suspect that his electoral reinforcement would mean more instability. The bloquista leader spent the first half of the campaign justifying the decision to reject the Budget and the second half appearing to apologize for having done so. What credibility can such a leader have?

Furthermore, if the Bloco de Esquerda had approved the State Budget, it could have been improved in terms of expertise and largely thanks to the technically competent proposals of the BE. Instead, it objectively ended up contributing to eventually having an OE less good than the one we would have had there been no elections. Furthermore, by self-inflicting this defeat, it left the PS free to be less of the left than we would like it to be. The party that manages to shoot both feet simultaneously would only miraculously not fall.

*Boaventura de Sousa Santos is full professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Coimbra. Author, among other books, of The end of the cognitive empire (Authentic).

 

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