Wed May 29, 2024
May 29, 2024

On the 50th Anniversary of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, The Democracy of the Rich Shows its Limits

By: Em Luta, Portugal

The results of Sunday’s elections have left the country at a crossroads. The narrow victory of the center-right AD (Democratic Alliance) party, Passos-Coelho’s heir, over the PS (Socialist Party), after the fall of António Costa’s absolute majority, leaves the scenarios for a new government in a nebulous state. A parliamentary majority can only emerge if far-right party Chega enters the government, or at least with an agreement on governability. Alternatively, if the PS makes the AD government viable, this will further inflate Chega.

Along with Chega’s growth, the parliamentary left continues to be degraded, with the loss of the PCP’s representation in Beja, and the electoral results limiting it to a small presence in the country’s two largest cities.

At a time when a section of the working class and its activist sectors are reflecting on the insecurity associated with the explosive growth of Chega, the crisis of the democratic regime in the country and the prospect of a new wave of attacks, it is essential to debate the current situation.

The Unresolved Crisis of 2008, the “Geringonça” and the Exhaustion of the Democracy of the Rich

The economic crisis of 2008, the need of the imperialist bourgeoisie to destroy the conquests of the working class in order to impose a new level of exploitation, and the response of the political actors involved in this process are a fundamental part of the explanation of the crisis of the regime under which we are currently living.

Portugal has been in a process of decline since the 1980s and 1990s, with its integration into the European Union (1986) and the large privatizations of strategic sectors of the economy in the 1990s. This process of dependency and semi-colonization took a qualitative leap with the intervention of the Troika in Portugal, which completed the privatization of strategic sectors of the economy that were transferred to foreign capital (CTT, TAP, airports, PT/MEO/Altice, etc.), ended the last major bank of Portuguese capital – Banco Espírito Santo – and made direct EU intervention in the design of the Portuguese economy the rule. Within the EU, Portugal is above all a supplier of cheap and precarious labor, hence the important weight of foreign and multinational investment in the Portuguese economy. That is why the crisis of 2008, and the intervention of the Troika, meant a huge reduction in the rights and conditions of the working class, which the Geringonça government (and the majority PS government that succeeded it) never reversed. Today, the Portuguese economy is based on tourism and services, which has further accentuated the country’s external dependence and the peripheral character of its economy. The country’s subordinate position within the EU means that all government decisions in Portugal are determined by European rules, to which Portugal is subordinate. Hence, the reluctance of the Geringonça and PS governments to implement austerity measures. The much-vaunted reduction of the Portuguese debt to below 100% of GDP is the result of the PS government’s true accounting, which suffocates the financing of public services in order to present itself as a good compliant to the excesses of the EU.

After strong social protests against the Troika’s measures, the country experienced a political shift to the left, which led the BE [Bloco de Esquerda] to elect 19 deputies. However, the response of the parliamentary left was to make the PS government viable with the Geringonça, a response that at the time prevented an existential crisis for the PS motivated by the lack of a political alternative to the traditional right. However, the Geringonça did not reverse the path of destruction of the country and did not allow it to recover from the sacrifices imposed by the Passos Coelho/PSD government.

In this context, the Portuguese Left (BE and PCP), whose strategy was to defend the PS, and take the discontent of the struggles to the ballot boxes and then to the paralysis of the government base, ultimately played into the hands of the owners of the country. By treating the democracy of the rich as an end in itself, and fighting only within the system, it concentrated its forces on defending it instead of building an alternative for the working class.

In the context of this crisis, the far right has emerged as the last bastion of important sectors of the ruling classes, desperate for a new level of exploitation and profits. Around the world, money and media coverage has rained down on this conservative, patriotic, identitarian, openly and socially regressive far right. Without denying the deep crisis and its inability to overcome it, the ruling class is playing on two levels: deceiving us with the defense of a democracy that is not ours and at the same time offering a return to the times of dictatorship, a return to a supposedly glorious past  where everything was in place (for them).

The Collapse of the Democracy of the Rich

Within the limits of the democracy of the rich, it is at best a matter of fighting to lose by a narrow margin. This is not our democracy. We defend our rights within it, but we do not sacralize it: on the contrary, we want to transcend it for the sake of our survival as a species and the survival of our planet. It is ironic that on the 50th anniversary of the April Carnation Revolution, we have about 50 right-wing extremist MPs in power. But that is not the only reason why we say this is not our democracy. This democracy and these institutions are not the fruit of the victory of the revolution, but of the end of the revolutionary process. They are the result of the possible agreement that the Portuguese ruling class managed to cook up with the PS, the PCP and the MFA, at the expense of the majority leaders of the Portuguese working class, in order to defeat the occupations, the expropriations, the spontaneous strikes, the workers’ and peoples’ power and democracy in the streets, and also to avoid the anti-colonial and anti-racist internationalism that threatened the racist ideology of a colonizing country. As soon as possible, the democracy of the rich tried to eliminate the remnants of this revolution by taking over the institutions of the state for itself, that is, for the ruling class, and making them work in its favor.

Today we live in a democracy in which we are symbolically authorized to validate, in elections financed by power, who will be the foreman of the workers and the youth. It is not our democracy, and that is why at the moment it is impossible for many workers to have their own home for themselves and their families. That is why many of us are forced to extend our working hours with longer and longer commutes, and why public services are deteriorating and our living conditions are deteriorating.

Giving a balance of the current situation is fundamental because during these 50 years, the April Revolution has been emptied by the social pact between the PS and PCP and the ruling class, directly represented by the democratic and conservative right. At the same time as April 25 became a day of democracy, carnations, and freedom, the real confrontations with the Portuguese bourgeoisie were left behind. In the name of a democratic mythology, the heroic sacrifice of the African peoples in the 13 years of liberation struggle and their role in the outbreak of April were also ignored. In this way, the xenophobic and racist sentiments that Chega exploits today have remained in Portuguese nationalist ideology.

The Return of Those who Never Were

It is a fact that Chega’s project is not only national, but also part of an international network of the extreme right, sharing strategies and ideologies with figures such as Steve Bannon, Trump, and Bolsonaro, thus riding an international wave that is an expression of a strong crisis of the world order. However, the national process unfolding in Portugal today has its specificities. We highlight two very important ones.

The first is that the Portuguese Revolution did not reckon with Portugal’s colonial and slave-owning legacy. The subordinate place of the anticolonial revolution in the official outcome of the Portuguese revolution explains why, in the concrete field of social and labor relations, racism was never challenged in Portugal. The entire arc of power and the autarchic governorships provided the African and immigrant populations that arrived in democratic Portugal after April 25 in search of a better life with a profound social and territorial segregation, building a racial division of labor. The black population is the standard bearer of precariousness and overexploitation, and schools, institutions, and the police want to perpetuate this relationship. In this chronically racist country, deeply proud of the process that made transatlantic slavery possible, the election of 49 deputies in line with the glue that binds Portuguese identity is also an expression of this. To say otherwise is to ignore, among other things, the total disregard for the former colonist complexes of the returned population and the anger and trauma of the former overseas fighters. There is also the forgetting of the massacre of the Timorese people by the pro-US regime of Suarto’s Indonesia, until the complicit silence became deafening in the 1990s. In those 49 full years, a viable and non-racist Atlantic Portugal was always celebrated from the right to the left, but it was never explained how the racism and chauvinism of a country with five centuries of colonial empire had been overcome. It takes work!

The second reason for the growth of  Chega is part of the international context, but in Portugal it materialized in the lack of a radical solution to the social and political crisis. The electoral base of Chega, far from being merely ideological, is also composed of those dissatisfied who demand radical change. With its populist discourse, Chega ends up occupying the space of discontent generated by the social crisis that is ravaging the country. The big question we have to ask ourselves is: why does Chega occupy the space of the discontented? In our opinion, it is the lack of a radical and independent response to the real problems of the social and political crisis that the country is experiencing, in a context in which the parliamentary left has directed its forces to govern together with the PS.

Finally, it is important to say that Chega, by feeding on the discontent of the middle sectors of society and strengthening the discourse of hate, can indeed be a ferment for the growth of fascism, but it is also essential to reject the simplistic generalizations that from now on put an equal sign between fascism and the extreme right. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that an essential task of the next period is to expose it and fight it in every way: ideologically, in the streets and by building a real alternative.

Fight the Far Right with a Working-class Alternative Independent of the PS!

We affirm that as long as the solution presented is to save the democracy of the rich, we are on the road to barbarism. It will not be possible to fight against the far right hand in hand with the PS and the forces of the bourgeois parliament. The parliamentary left, BE and PCP, must oppose AD and Chega in parliament. But if they want a political alternative to Chega, they cannot again pour water into the mill of the PS. It is necessary to organize the mobilization of the streets, the neighborhoods and the workplaces, and to build an alternative so that the working class is the reference that pulls behind it the sectors of small owners and the middle classes that are dissatisfied with the current situation of crisis. A program is needed to wage a life and death struggle for the unity of the working class against the moral and ideological destruction represented by racism, xenophobia, misogyny and LGBTiphobia. There is an urgent need to build a working class and poor people’s alternative that presents a program of class independence, that stands against exploitation and oppression, for a truly sustainable society, both environmentally and socially, and that points to the need for a revolutionary and socialist way out.

Article published in Em Luta, 3/13/2024.

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