Socialists Outside the Box

16 de March 2016 - 11:39

Everyone is saying it and no one can deny it: the adoption of State’s budget by socialists and left-wing parties is an historical event. By João Semedo.

porJoão Semedo

PARTILHAR
Photo by Manuel de Almeida/Lusa

And I shall not be the one who minimises it. Quite the opposite: what I fear is its trivialisation, the common fate for things as striking and consensual. 

Indeed, the socialists’ choice for an agreement on the left is rather historical. Because it breaks away from their traditional government practices: either with the right-wing or doing the exact same, always with their backs turned to the left. The socialists are truly outside the box, and that’s an historical event.

One can actually argue that, faced with the electoral gains on his left, Antonio Costa really had no other option. Anything else, regardless of how accommodating towards the right, would jeopardise his own political future and leave the PS in a rather awkward position. That’s all very true, but it is always like that, and it’s the same for everybody. There is no such thing as making choices outside the distribution of power, but that does not diminish them at all. António Costa made his choice, and left-wing parties made theirs. They could all have been different.

This being such an uncommon situation helps to explain the difficulties felt all parties in coming to terms with a political map where PS is not where it was supposed to be. The right wing lost its life-saving machine, whereas the left gained an unexpected partner. The right is indeed stunned and paralysed, waiting for some kind of external hurricane to bring it back to power. Opposition work is now in the hands of professional political pundits and the media circus surrounding them.

Meanwhile, the left remains suspicious, tentative, unsettled, while it comes up with more and more proposals and initiatives. Refusing to shut down differences or stifling protests, it submits proofs of life on a daily basis, regarding a myriad of issues.

The left faces other dilemmas. No agreement, no matter how good it might be, will erase PS’s past, nor the divergences within the left. Debt, banks and Europe are not lesser issues, thus there won’t be a shortage of problems or tension in the near future. What remains to be seen is whether there is the will to overcome them, or if they will be used, instead, as the excuse some (on both sides of the political spectrum) are looking for to break the current agreement, in the name of inalienable values for the left: identity, autonomy, assertion, social struggle.

On the other hand,  the right tries to disguise the deep depression it fell into, though the leadership campaigns do nothing but display its anaemic condition. Breaking away from tradition, there’s no opposition candidates running.

The former Prime Minister Passos Coelho’s campaign is based upon two falsehoods: first, the slogan «Social Democracy Forever» — and him the most antisocial prime-minister the country has ever seen! The second is his persistence in pretending to be the prime-minister he no longer is. There’s only one purpose in his mind: to shield himself against Marcelo’s pushover. At the moment, te newly vested President Marcelo is the most visible face of what Passos opposition will look like, as anticipated in Marques Mendes’ criticism on his Sunday homily. 

Assunção Cristas, the new leader of the right-wing CDS struggles to hide a double irrelevance: that of CDS towards PSD — as a former minister, she personifies better than anyone else the seizure of areas traditionally linked to PSD but governed, over the past four years, by CDS ministers (business, industry, agriculture, social charities and “mercy houses”), and her own, when compared to Paulo Portas. The former leader chose her and made sure she had no opposition, which undermines her and stirs the undeniably cold manner in which the remaining motions address her.

Separated, PSD and CDS are searching for something that just is not there anymore: the centre, which they demolished together, thanks to their government’s extremism. PSD remains proud of Troikas’s policies, and even vows to bring them back, whereas CDS, always playing by the tune of ideological pragmatism — we’ll be in office with anyone, no matter who —, betrays its former parter, claiming that “ we didn’t do it, they did”.

The left faces other dilemmas. No agreement, no matter how good it might be, will erase PS’s past, nor the divergences within the left. Debt, banks and Europe are not lesser issues, thus there won’t be a shortage of problems or tension in the near future. What remains to be seen is whether there is the will to overcome them, or if they will be used, instead, as the excuse some (on both sides of the political spectrum) are looking for to break the current agreement, in the name of inalienable values for the left: identity, autonomy, assertion, social struggle.

There is no such thing as an agreement for life — some will actually claim this one is nothing but a gap. And there’s no doubt about that. The question is whether it will be cut short, bringing about more conflict, or extended, allowing for its content to be revised and widened.

There will be plenty of things to discuss and loads of fun at PS and left wing parties’ congresses. A lot of questions remain: the red lines drawn by each party, the convergence’s programatic limitations, the articulation between parties, government and parliament, whether or not local elections will matter for these conjectures…well, so many questions. And the clock is already ticking for answers.

Originally published in “Visão” on March 3rd 2016. Translated by Mariana Avelãs for esquerda.net/English.
João Semedo
Sobre o/a autor(a)

João Semedo

Médico. Aderente do Bloco de Esquerda.