Parties from around the world flocked to Lisbon to confront the challenges of tomorrow reports John Foster
The Fifteenth International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties was held in Lisbon last weekend, coinciding with the centenary of Alvaro Cunhal, the communist architect of Portugal’s anti-fascist revolution of April 1974.
The delegates, drawn from 75 communist and workers parties, ended their meeting by joining the centenary celebrations in Lisbon’s bull ring.
Some 15,000 party militants heard the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) secretary Jeronimo de Sousa pay tribute to Cunhal, artist, historian, poet, political prisoner and previous general secretary.
De Sousa also set out the next stage in the struggle against the new, softer but no less crippling dictatorship now effectively governing Portugal – the troika of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission.
Under the memorandum of understanding signed by the right-wing government with the support of the opposition Socialist Party, real wages in Portugal have been cut by over 12 per cent since 2011 and youth unemployment has risen to almost 40 per cent.
Up to a quarter of households now have to subsist off an income of less than £90 a week.
The character of the economy is also being transformed. Portugal’s very large public sector, a legacy of the 1974 revolution, is being systematically privatised.
Airlines, energy, banks, transport and telecommunications are all on the line.
Yet Portugal has resisted. Its trade union federation, Intersindical, has led repeated general strikes and mass actions while the PCP’s electoral alliance, the CDU, has been advancing its control over regional and local government.
No less important, Portugal’s Constitutional Court, based on the 1974 constitution which Cunhal helped draft, has struck down key pieces of austerity legislation as unconstitutional.
On several occasions the government has been forced to retreat and now faces demands for its resignation.
It has been at least in part because of Portugal’s successful resistance that last month’s EU summit declared its intent to take new legal powers for the enforcement of “structural adjustments” in debtor countries.
In future financial support will depend on a formal agreement that implementation will be directly in the hands of the troika. National parliaments and courts will become powerless.
These new political realities informed one key area of discussion at the international meeting.
In the past a key dividing line, at least among European parties, has been over whether the EU could be “reformed” or not. These divisions are now disappearing.
Gilles Garnier for the French Communist Party called for a clear break with EU treaties as instruments of neoliberal oppression and demanded an urgent campaign against the EU-US free trade treaty.
The Communist Party of Spain spoke of the need to create a European Alba that respected the democratic sovereignty of its peoples.
The Party of Italian Communists now states that “the EU is not our Europe.”
These are new positions. History has clarified issues. The PCP itself, always critical of the EU, is calling for Portugal’s withdrawal from the eurozone and a rupture with the EU.
This emerging consensus among communist and workers parties of Europe is of importance for everyone on the left in Britain.
However, this year’s meeting was not without debate, at times quite intense.
The focus of disagreement has now shifted to the issue of the transition to socialism and the types of national and international alliance that can assist that process.
Internationally, the debate focussed on the “Brics” countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and the Alba alliance in south America and how far they had the potential to shift the balance against imperialism.
Parties such as those of India, South Africa and the Communist Party of Brazil stressed the tactical character of the Brics alliance and the differing political paths of its members.
At the same time they also noted the group’s current importance as a counter-pole to the neoliberal imperialism of the US and the EU.
Other parties, the Communist Party of Greece and the Brazilian Communist Party, labelled countries such as China and Brazil as themselves imperialist.
Similar contrasts in evaluation applied to the Alba countries. The Communist Party of Greece argued that the lack of any fundamental and rupturing challenge to capitalist state power would mean that the attempts at social reform, however deep, would eventually lead to immobilisation and defeat.
On the other hand, Oscar Martinez for the Communist Party of Cuba stressed the new and unique features of Alba.
The alliance represented a historic recovery of national sovereignty by the member states after two centuries of US hegemony.
The combination of popular mobilisation for basic human rights, the strategic development of fully democratic public ownership and the battle for socialist ideology did possess a transforming potential.
There should, however, be no illusions about the continuing “straitjacket of the democratic-bourgeois system” and the power of transnational capital. Solidarity and vigilance were essential.
The call for vigilance applied even more forcefully to discussions led by the communist parties of the Middle East.
The future of Palestine and Syria hung in the balance. The threat of cataclysmic war remained real.
The Middle Eastern parties were also unanimous in their characterisation of “politicised Islam,” in its various forms, as serving both internal and external reaction.
The conflicting interests of Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia should not disguise the degree to which all were willing to work with the US and the EU to re-divide the region and do deals with Israel.
As Navid Shomali for Iranian Tudeh Party pointed out, an anti-US stance did not mean that repressive and autocratic states automatically became anti-imperialist.
The Communist Parties of Egypt and Sudan also stressed the distinction between the popular uprisings of 2013 and those of 2011.
This summer’s risings were specifically secular and far more based upon economic issues.
One of the 13 areas for “common and convergent action” agreed at the meeting was for the urgent convening of a seminar to discuss political developments in the Middle East.
Others included the marking of the centenary of 1914 as an imperialist war and, as stressed by Liz Payne in a powerful intervention from the Communist Party of Britain, the need to use International Women’s Day celebrations in 2014 to highlight the impact of the capitalist crisis on women.
A further area for convergent action was that of opposition to xenophobia, fascism and, across much of eastern Europe, institutional anti-communism.
Here again the works of Cunhal on nationality, nationalism and class struggle were highlighted as of continuing importance for the joint struggle for a democracy that can give real power to working people.
John Foster is international secretary of the Communist Party
This appears in today’s Morning Star
Britain’s only socialist daily newspaper