Left blocked

An interview with Portugese Left Bloc activist Ricardo Sá Ferreira

August 28, 2011
7 min read

What will the ‘bailout’ mean for ordinary people in Portugal?

The ‘bailout’ is not financial help, it is extortion – it is going to give them a €520 million profit after they intervene in the Portuguese economy. The Portuguese people know this, but the hegemonic discourse dictates that it is ‘inevitable’ and without this package, the economy will go under. However, people know that the ‘bailout’ also means more austerity, compression of the workers’ wages, less public services, more VAT and the progressive destruction of the welfare state.

How has the Left Bloc responded to the financial crisis, and to the austerity that has already been imposed?

We have responded through social mobilisation and by presenting concrete legislative proposals that would be able to cut superfluous spending, while at the same time raise enough revenue for the state to pay off the deficit, without sacrificing the economy and the workers. This could be done by taxing fortunes and financial transactions to off-shore banks, the implementation of a new tax bracket where the rich are taxed more, and renegotiating the public debt in order for the economy to breathe. However, the real response must come from the streets.

Is there any kind of debt default movement in Portugal yet, inspired by what’s going on in Greece? Does the left have a common position on how to deal with the debt crisis?

There are a couple of small debt default groups, but nothing compared to the movement in Greece. Both the Left Bloc and the Communist Party have a common position on how to deal with the debt crisis and the first step is to renegotiate and restructure the public debt.

Why? Defaulting the payment of the debt will automatically exclude Portugal from the euro, meaning that we would have to go back to our old currency, the escudo, which in turn would be devalued as inflation would destroy the purchasing power of the Portuguese. With the renegotiation of the debt, we can withdraw pressure from the economy, alleviate the austerity and create a decent economy. Only with the creation of employment can we then start thinking about paying the public debt, though not the private debt or the extortionate interest rates.

This spring saw Portugal Uncut groups springing up around the country, inspired by UK Uncut protests. What kind of actions has Portugal Uncut been organising?

Portugal Uncut has been organising a series of debates, talks and actions. Its main intervention has been in the area of information, diffusing what UK Uncut and US Uncut have done, and through their example carrying out similar actions in Portugal. Their actions have been more directed at banks – how they only pay 5 per cent tax instead of 25 per cent like any other Portuguese company or shop – as well as millionaire bonuses and tax evasion schemes.

In the elections on 5 June, the Social Democratic Party [Portugal’s centre-right party] won the greatest number of seats. What will this mean for Portugal?

More austerity. The victory of the Portuguese right will bring more austerity for workers, instilling further precariousness and ‘flexibility’ of the work contract, as well as the dismantling of the welfare state. The Social Democratic Party, in coalition with the Popular Party [a smaller party to the right of the Social Democrats], has already stated that it will have to make profound changes in order to kick-start the economy and pay our creditors, and that can only be done with changes in the Portuguese constitution.

In order for this to happen, the Socialist Party will need to vote alongside the Portuguese right, which is quite possible since it was these three parties that struck a deal with the Troika [the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF].

The austerity measures mean that workers pay 80 per cent of the bill, whereas the banks pay the remaining 20 per cent. In economic terms this is disastrous because it will reduce consumption, which will then drive down the production levels, leading to unemployment. In the end, this means less taxation and revenue for the state to channel into social spending.

The Socialist Party lost seats at the election, but so did the Left Bloc. Was this a general shift to the right in Portugal? Why did the Left Bloc lose out, while the CDU [the Communist/Green electoral coalition] vote remained stable?

It was a major defeat for the left. Everyone recognised this except the CDU, though their total number of votes dropped too. A lot of people wanted to punish the Socialist Party, especially general secretary José Sócrates, and voted Social Democrat instead.

As far as the Left Bloc goes, we suffered a general boycott in the media, whereas the CDU did not; and in any case the CDU voter base is more rigid, whereas ours is more volatile as we compete with the Socialist Party for votes. This means we always have the possibility to grow again, as 2009 demonstrated, while the CDU stagnates at the same percentage.

However, we had other problems. The fact that the bailout deal was signed determined the direction of the vote, simply because whoever won the elections had to apply what is on that memorandum. People felt a vote for left-wing parties would not make any difference.

Also, we made some tactical errors, including not meeting with the Troika. People wanted to see the Left Bloc as a responsible party that would not auto-exclude itself from power. We could have done this without entering into the deal, using the occasion to make our proposals and denounce the Troika’s proposals. This is what the two largest trade unions did.

Before the election you had 16 members of parliament (out of 230) and 9.8 per cent of the vote, which is pretty impressive for an anti-capitalist party in normal times. What did you manage to achieve with that number of MPs?

This was important for the Left Bloc because we look at parliamentary work as something that must always be articulated alongside social movements and extra-parliamentary political activism. Our parliamentary work sought to bring to parliament the problems that the country felt, the urgent debates of our lives. The Left Bloc brought forward the bill to legalise same-sex marriage (we also proposed same-sex adoption but this was not passed because the Socialist Party rejected it).

We also made proposals for transsexuals to be able to change sex, to criminalise illicit enrichment, and for the taxation of financial transactions and bank profits.

The Left Bloc is relatively new. Where did it come from and who now makes up its voting base? How would you define its politics?

The Left Bloc is only 12 years old and it’s the convergence of three far-left parties, União Democrática Popular (UDP), Politica Socialista Revolucionária (PSR) and Política XXI (PXXI). All of these parties have different backgrounds and historical movements. UDP come from a Maoist tradition, PSR are Trotskyist and PXXI are social democrats. The Left Bloc was a compromise between these three small parties to leave aside some of the more theoretical divergences while bringing to the fore what united them.

The Left Bloc’s membership is now largely made up of people who are not in one of the original far-left groups. These groups still exist in the Left Bloc, as political associations that offer an ideological and theoretical platform for debate.

When it comes to the voting base, it is very diversified. Initially, the Left Bloc got most of its votes from urban intellectuals and was concentrated in two main cities: Porto and Lisbon. Since then we have been able to spread our voting throughout the whole country, ranging from university teachers to steelworkers.

The Left Bloc’s politics is based on a combative left alternative that responds for the people, and never loses sight of the fact that it stands for socialism.

Ricardo Sá Ferreira is a postgraduate student and Left Bloc organiser in Porto, Portugal’s second biggest city.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry

Airport expansion is a racist policy
Climate change is a colonial crisis, writes Jo Ram

Momentum Kids: the parental is political
Momentum Kids is not about indoctrinating children, but rather the more radical idea that children have an important role to play in shaping the future, writes Kristen Hope


4