The Portuguese Left chooses Mariana Mortàgua as new leader
- ANA MENDES
On 27 and 28 May, the Bloco de Esquerda (the Left Bloc) held its 13th National Convention in Lisbon. The meeting discussed the party's strategy for the next two years and reaffirmed the commitments made in the approved political agenda. The motion, led by Mariana Mortágua, who took on the national coordination of the party, obtained 439 votes in favour, with 78 votes opposed. The delegates attending the Convention also elected a board of 80 members, with absolute parity. It is worth noting the large participation of young people at the Convention, as well as the significant presence of representatives of various left-wing political forces from across the world. The initiative received extensive media coverage across Portuguese media.
As an internationalist political force, the Left Bloc emphasised the battles currently being waged on the world stage. Both at the "Fight for Democracy" rally on the eve of the Convention—attended by the Brazilian federal deputy for PSOL, Guilherme Boulos, and La France Insoumise MEP, Younous Omarjee— as well as over the two days of the movement’s leadership meetings, the need for an international articulation of the left to strengthen the fights against the erosion of freedoms due to the alliance between neoliberalism and the extreme right was made clear. The Left Bloc claimed to stand together with all the political forces of the left and all the movements that fight for democracy worldwide, emphasizing its support all those working against racism and discrimination, corruption and oppression, as well as militarism and wars.
For the Left Bloc, the answer to the radicalized right is to strengthen a programme that responds to the difficulties in people's lives, a programme guided by equality and social and environmental justice. Such a programme requires a confrontation with the logic of capital accumulation that survives by plundering the incomes of the vast majority of the population. It requires a confrontation with the capitalist financial system putting States at the service of elites and not of the majority. In an increasingly unequal world in which fears are fomented and resentment stirred, the alternative proposed by the Left Bloc is built on "a project of justice and solidarity, of hope and transformation".
At the Convention, the party reaffirmed its founding commitment to the struggle for the self-determination of peoples and the struggle against all forms of (neo-)imperialism. The political agenda that was approved condemned the further militarisation of Europe and the expansion of NATO. The Left Bloc maintains that the European Union must sign non-aggression treaties between European states, creating a policy of security and cooperation that respects and supports the right to self-determination of all peoples. It also reiterated its call for a UN and EU-led peace conference for Ukraine, accompanied by a complete halt to the current arms race and, in particular, to nuclear threats.
While some of the Stability Pact rules were suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic, the stranglehold on public spending imposed by the EU led to clearly inadequate social measures. The European institutions are now reintroducing austerity measures with particularly devastating consequences in over-indebted countries. The Left Bloc advocates for the creation of the foundations of another Europe, replacing the current treaties with a policy of effective cooperation, free from the pressure of sovereign debts.
As Mariana Mortágua stressed at the closing of the Convention, "the global climate crisis will determine, now and in the coming years, all social problems and political choices". The new Left Bloc national coordinator stated that "the climate crisis will determine current and future wars, migration of people, drought, employment, the economic model and the way of life, revealing how capitalism is a curse for all humanity". Precisely for this reason, this issue was at the forefront of the Convention, and its centrality is reflected in the Left Bloc's political programme. No crisis is inevitable. We know what the answer to the climate crisis is, but there is no political will to move forward because the response clashes with the interests of extractive capitalism squandering natural resources, threatening humanity and the survival of the planet. The time for change has come and the Left Bloc is committed to fighting for energy transition, the end of fossil fuels and productive adaptation.
In Portugal, the Socialist Party holds an absolute majority, which is mired in internal quarrels and is plunging the country into a governmental crisis. But that is not Portugal's main problem. The principal problem is that the government in place serves the interests of the rentier and extractive sectors and imposes a low-wage economy on its people. A government that makes up for pardoning the economic elites from taxes by stealing from workers’ wages, that promotes an attack on the welfare state, on the right to health, housing and education, while supporting real estate speculation, the interests of the banks and the sale of the country's resources, undermining its sovereignty. A government that ramps up its plan to liberalize healthcare, impoverishing the National Health Service, one of the fundamental achievements of Portuguese democracy. Inequalities are worsening with more than 1.7 million people living on less than 554 euros a month and proliferating job insecurity. 1.7 million people have no family doctor and there is a lack of professionals, equipment and materials in public health establishments. People are confronted with a lack of teachers in schools, a lack of transport to and from school and work and a lack of financial means to pay supermarket bills and water, electricity and gas costs. Intensive irrigation is spreading, while the drought worsens year after year and there is a lack of decent housing for those who cannot pay the exorbitant rents charged in the real estate market. Today, living in Lisbon is more expensive than living in Madrid or Milan.
People's living conditions are deteriorating, but the government prides itself on deficit figures and economic growth. The socialist executive exalts the values of dignity and respect, equality and freedoms, but denies the basic conditions of decent wages, public services and affordable housing to the majority of the population. The socialists are outraged by the empty criticism of the right wing in parliament, but replicate their policies. By muddying the democratic debate, fuelling resentment, hiding behind the blackmail of fear, reneging on all its commitments and ignoring the justified expectations of the population, the Socialist Party is fuelling the advance of the extreme right. Neither Emmanuel Macron in France nor António Costa in Portugal know the vaccine against the virus of the extreme right. Quite the contrary. Their scorched earth policies, sweeping away social, labour and economic rights, lay down the red carpet for the most fascist part of the right.
The Left Bloc is the alternative. The party is committed to fighting hatred with hope and to healing resentment with respect. It refuses to be threatened and will have the backbone to set people-centred policies ensured decent housing for all. Its policies aim to strengthen public services by providing necessary investment in the public sector, ensuring tax justice, just employment contracts, decent wages and pensions, and the resources required for the energy transition.
The Left Bloc also maintains its commitment to fight corruption and denounce the collusion between the public and private spheres, defending the principle of separation between politics and businesses and demanding that transparency be strengthened. It also reaffirms its commitment to fight for an efficient and accessible justice system.
With an emphasis on the social centrality of the capital-labour dichotomy, the Left Bloc gives priority to the trade union organization of the most precarious sectors, and to the fight for a structural reform of labour relations and the corresponding legislative framework. Furthermore, it assumes "the responsibility to continue to be a model on the left for activism, as well as a direct promoter of unionization, and the renewal of the experience of working class self-organization". The party warns of the increasing obstacles faced by immigrant and racialized workers, advocating the strengthening of ties between all segments of the working class, a strategic condition for the emancipation of all workers.
The Left Bloc’s manifesto, approved by the 13th Convention, highlights the importance of social movements and mobilization in relation to climate justice, feminist, LGBTQI+, anti-racist work, struggles for the rights of immigrant and racialized communities, in defence of animal welfare, for the right to housing and health, for a National Care Service and quality public services. The party reinforces its commitment to the movements and mobilizations, in which it participates, upholding their central role and the development of their programmes.
Breaking with the false inevitabilities that are imposed on us, the Left Bloc clearly identifies the goal of the struggle: a good life for all. For the party led by Mariana Mortágua, a good life is not a state of mind, but the result of a political programme. A good life is "not to be condemned to exploitation in a life of meaningless drudgery". A good life is "a life that is not spent in a degrading endeavour to obtain the minimal". It is "having a welcoming home, rights guaranteed at the workplace, quality public services, time to enjoy life on a habitable planet, access to culture, to individual and collective well-being: a good life requires material conditions for a dignified existence and is not limited to that alone".
At the closing of the Convention, Mariana Mortágua affirmed that "the duty of the left is to regain strength, to unite the social forces that do not renounce the struggle for a good life. The duty of the left is to be united and combative, to speak out and mobilise the people".
The Left Bloc leader reaffirmed the party's commitment to the popular struggle, the commitment to strengthen social movements and to the unity of the left. She also gave a name to the Left Bloc’s political project: socialism.
Mariana Carneiro works as a Journalist at Esquerda.net and is close to the Bloco party. She holds a Master in Contemporary History and is a labor sociologist, specialised in labor law.