Portugal: 'We need a left government'

May 28, 2013

Francisco Louca is an economics professor at the Technical University of Lisbon. Louca was part of the student movement against the Salazar dictatorship in the 1970s. He was a founding member of the Left Bloc, launched in 1999 when several left groups united. He served as the Left Bloc's chief coordinator between 2005 and last year. He was interviewed by Mark Bergfeld, a London-based socialist activist. The interview is abridged from MRZine.

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Across Europe we have witnessed three strands of resistance to the Troika (the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank) and their savage austerity measures: mass strikes by workers, youth revolts like the indignados in Spain, and electoral revolts such as Syriza in Greece and Left Front in France. In Portugal we have seen the first two, but not an upsurge in support for the Left Bloc or the Portuguese Communist Party. Why hasn't the Portuguese left been able to take advantage of a favourable situation?

The opinion polls show growing support for the anti-Troika left parties. Today, they represent more than 20%. To elect a left government ― one which calls for the end to austerity and the Troika's rule ― much more would be required.

A left government would have to restructure and partially cancel the debt to regain the capacity for investment and employment. The million-strong demonstration on March 2 showed the readiness of a large section of the Portuguese people to fight for their wages and pensions.

At the Left Bloc's congress in November, delegates voted overwhelmingly to adopt the slogan for a “government of the left”. However, a left government would only be possible with the participation of the Socialist Party, which isn't explicitly against all austerity measures. What does the slogan mean and what can it achieve?

It is not a slogan. It is a proposal to all those men and women fighting for a viable left-wing alternative. In that sense, it is not a compromise with the Socialist Party.

As long as it supports or accepts the Troikas “memorandum” [imposed on Portugal in return for bail out funds], this party is unable to provide a solution. To accept the Troika simply means to pursue the policy of unemployment.

A left government is defined by its popular mandate to break with the Troika ― just as Syriza has proposed in Greece. We do not abdicate responsibility or hesitate to fight for a strong short-term solution.

We advocate a break with the impositions of finance capital. This policy represents the popular demand for a left government against the Troika.

With the current balance of forces, do you believe that a left government in Greece or Portugal could beat the Troika?

It is the only way. Of course, such a government would come under threat. It must be ready to look for allies in Europe and elsewhere, since the European Union and European Central Bank are devoted to austerity and serve the interests of the finance capital. Its victory depends on popular support, its coherence and capacity for initiative.

The total of Portuguese state debt amounts to 209 billion euros, equivalent to 126.3% of the gross domestic product. Activists have long demanded the cancellation of Third World debt. Today there are similar discussions about “debt renegotiation”, “debt cancellations” and “debt jubilees” among the left in Europe. How should the European left respond?

Exactly in the same way. An economy with a deficit of 3% cannot pay an interest rate of 4%. If debt creates debt, cancellation is the only possible solution.

We have seen several strikes by workers in the public sector, and several general strikes. We have also seen outbursts of popular anger in the streets in the anti-Troika demonstrations. How do these two strands of resistance relate to one another?

The strike movement is weak. The popular movement by young people ahas mobilised for very large demonstrations on two occasions: September 15 and March 2. Both times more than a million people marched in a country with a population of 10 million.

This is a huge success. It shows to what extent an open and united political platform can transform the situation.

In 1974 a coup by left-wing military officers overthrew the Salazar dictatorship and ignited a revolutionary upheaval of the Portuguese workers. What role does the memory of the “Revolution of Carnations” play in the mobilisations against austerity?

The Revolution of Carnations was the last revolution in 20th century Europe. It ignited the movements to replace the dictatorships in Greece and Spain. It is deeply engrained in the memory of older generations.

Young people today chant “Grandola, Vila Morena”, the wonderful and meaningful song used as the radio signal for the military operation in April 1974. One generation later people have re-appropriated the symbols of the revolution.

But new modes of politics require different visual representations. We need to provide solutions through the proposal for a left government rather than rest on what happened decades ago.

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