An urgent letter to the activists of the Portuguese Communist Party

The following is an open letter from our Portuguese comrades (Colectivo Marxista) to members of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), following the snap elections on 10 March, which saw the ruling left/centre-left alliance defeated. The PCP went from 332,000 votes in 2019 to a historic low of 202,000. The comrades draw some conclusions from these poor results, and offer a dialogue to members of the PCP about how to build the forces of Portuguese communism going forward.

[Originally published in Portuguese at]

Firstly, it must be made clear that this criticism is not aimed at attacking the PCP. On the contrary, Colectivo Marxista is deeply concerned about the crisis of the most important workers’ party in the history of Portugal, a party that brings together some of the best and most class-conscious fighters of the Portuguese proletariat. But our analysis must be forthright, because the party’s situation is not good. This letter seeks to help PCP militants reflect on the difficulties of their organisation and to open a debate between comrades on how to regenerate communism in Portugal. 

We have already analysed the PCP’s election results in another article. Here, we simply note the party’s negative results, which followed on from its poor performance in 2022.

A balance sheet of the geringonça

During the period between 2015 and 2019, the PCP played a crucial role in sustaining António Costa’s Socialist Party (PS) government, approving its budgets and guaranteeing the stability of the government, in collaboration with the Left Bloc (Bloco). During the years in which the PCP and Left Bloc made a confidence-and-supply agreement with Costa's government, the so-called geringonça (‘contraption’), some positive reforms were approved. The minimum wage was increased, the cost of public transport was reduced, childcare facilities were opened, etc.

These reforms were a response to the pressure that the PCP and the Left Bloc were able to exert on the PS minority governments thanks to the excellent results they obtained in the 2015 elections, where they won a million votes. In turn, this extraordinary result was the electoral expression of the huge mobilisations against the EU’s imposition of austerity in the previous years.

Costa Image PES Communications FlickrThe PCP played a crucial role in sustaining António Costa’s Socialist Party government / Image: PES Communications, Flickr

Costa was lucky, as his government was formed during the (relative and limited) recovery of European capitalism after the 2008 crisis, and after the previous government of Passos Coelho had ‘stabilised’ Portuguese capitalism through savage cuts and attacks on the working class. These moderately favourable conditions created a certain margin to implement some reforms.

However, we can’t exaggerate the scope of these measures, which didn’t substantially change the living conditions of the working class. In many areas, the situation in fact worsened, such as in housing and working conditions. The relative recovery of 2015-2019 was based on greater exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie, which enjoyed years of social peace guaranteed in part by the leaders of the PCP and the Left Bloc.

Since this period, the pandemic, rising inflation and the wars in Ukraine and Palestine have pulverised the (weak and unstable) foundations of that recovery. In 2020, public debt and the national deficit skyrocketed. Inflation swallowed up the reforms of the previous years. The economic ground for reformist policies shrank. This led to the rejection of the 2021 budget in parliament.

But the conclusion drawn from these events by the PCP and Left Bloc was quite different. For them, the Socialist Party’s turn to the right was simply an ideological choice, which could easily be reversed if their own forces in parliament were stronger. Instead of criticising the limits of the geringonça, these two parties have exalted it, prioritising a “new geringonça” and even, in the case of the Left Bloc, advocating reentering into a coalition with the PS.

The PCP’s electoral programme describes the last decade of Portuguese politics as “[right-wing] policies that were only interrupted in 2015 by the initiative and intervention of the PCP and then continued with the PS governments of 2019 and particularly 2022.”

The harmony that existed for more than five years between the PS, PCP and Left Bloc – a harmony that is celebrated by the PCP – has blurred the political differences that exist between the three parties. Not seeing substantial differences between these three parties, many left-wing voters – in both the 2022 and 2024 elections – opted for the strongest option, the PS, to block the rise of the right wing. At the same time, in the face of the great discontent that has spread across the country in recent years, the most politically backward layers of the petty bourgeoisie and even the working class have turned to the right, seeing the left – including the PCP – as responsible for the country’s calamitous situation.

The communists and the elections

“The country is not condemned to the path of decline and impoverishment that the PS, PSD [Social Democratic Party] and CDS [People’s Party] have led it down,” explains the PCP’s electoral programme. “Experience shows that strengthening the PCP and the CDU [the PCP’s electoral front] is an indispensable condition for breaking with decades of right-wing policies and those responsible for it.”

Here we are told that it is not the global crisis of capitalism and the intensification of imperialist struggles (exacerbating an underlying organic crisis of capitalism) that have condemned the Portuguese working class to a precipitous fall in living standards, as is happening in every country in the world, but the “right-wing policies” of the PS, PSD and CDS! In addition, it’s not the struggle of the working class that can put an end to the capitalist nightmare, but “the strengthening of the PCP and the CDU”!

CDU Image PCP TwitterThe most formidable type of pressure comes not from the CDU’s seats in parliament, but from the workers themselves mobilising in the streets / Image: PCP, Twitter

The capitalist crisis is very deep, but reforms are not impossible. The bourgeoisie can make concessions if they come under great pressure – and the most formidable type of pressure comes not from the CDU’s seats in parliament, but from the workers themselves mobilising in the streets.

In fact, as Lenin already explained, the importance of the elections does not stem from this or that reform that communist politicians can occasionally win, but from the value of parliament as a loudspeaker for revolutionary agitation. At the same time, in the current phase of capitalist crisis, any reforms will be precarious, and the bourgeoisie will try to systematically undermine them, as we saw with the reforms of 2015-2019.

Therefore, the PCP's obsession with parliament is excessive, and very much resembles what Marx called ‘parliamentary cretinism’, which Engels defined in the following terms:

“Parliamentary cretinism [is] a disorder which penetrates its unfortunate victims with the solemn conviction that the whole world, its history and future, are governed and determined by a majority of votes in that particular representative body which has the honour to count them among its members, and that all and everything going on outside the walls of their house—wars, revolutions, railway-constructing, colonising of whole new continents, California gold discoveries, Central American canals, Russian armies, and whatever else may have some little claim to influence upon the destinies of mankind—is nothing compared with the incommensurable events hinging upon the important question, whatever it may be, just at that moment occupying the attention of their honourable house.”

In the PCP’s electoral programme – which is almost a hundred pages long and devotes several paragraphs to topics such as fisheries and river transport – they only found space to devote a few brief lines to the international economic and political situation. But capitalism is a global system, and the conditions in a tiny country like Portugal are determined by the global development of the system, which has its own laws. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the President of Portugal and a stalwart representative of the bourgeoisie, explained: “Times are very difficult out there and, therefore, also here... We expected situations like this, in which wars have grown over into economic and social crises, to be overcome by the end of the pandemic. It is in these times that it is most important to vote.” We gain a greater understanding of the global crisis of capitalism from the representatives of the bourgeoisie than from the leadership of the PCP!

Recognising the depth of the world crisis doesn’t mean that we are fatalists, it means that communists must fight Portuguese capitalism, which is weak, parasitic and vulnerable, with an internationalist and revolutionary policy, and not be obsessed with what happens in parliament. The Portuguese working class can and must take the initiative to become a spark for the Iberian and European revolutions, as happened in 1974-1975.

Reform capitalism?

If it is not the capitalist system that’s responsible for the crisis, but “right-wing policies” and “neoliberal dogmas”, as the PCP’s programme says, then it’s reasonable to think that it's possible to reverse the situation within the framework of capitalism, without challenging the fundamental interests of the ruling class. In fact, it’s sad to see that the PCP’s proposals all belong to the typical arsenal of Keynesian reformism, mixed here and there with protectionist elements. The electoral programme proposes the:

“Creation of a mixed economy with a strong public sector... Creation of jobs with a view to full employment and an increase in wages, in order to increase the value of work and the income of workers and boost the internal market... Development of national production, as the engine of economic growth and the full use of national capacities and resources....”

If these miracles materialised, they would set the reinvigorated Portuguese capitalism on a totally different path to the rest of the world, which is currently in a deep crisis. But how are they to be achieved?  By “limiting the deficit to three percent”, taxing “those with the highest incomes”, putting an end to “the loss of tax revenue to tax havens”, improving “efficiency in public spending” and stopping “the loss of national resources abroad”!

In other words, the leaders of the PCP think that the capitalist nightmare would end with a few fiscal and administrative tricks. The crisis of overproduction, the explosion of debt, the anarchy of the market, the division of the world between the imperialists, etc., all remain outside the calculations of the PCP’s central committee. The programme is so timid that it doesn't even include bold reformist measures such as cancelling public debt. On the contrary, the PCP leaders seek to “reduce public debt by increasing GDP”, statements that any social democrat could endorse!

Paulo Raimundo, General Secretary of the PCP, denounces the demagoguery of the PS and PSD, but in reality, the PCP’s own fantastical promises can only be called demagoguery. The problem, however, is that, unlike Pedro Nuno Santos (PS) or Luís Montenegro (PSD), the leaders of the PCP have a certain political authority among the advanced layer of the working class, which they confuse and mislead with reformist illusions. The Socialist Party’s “neoliberal dogmas” are not responsible for the capitalist crisis; on the contrary, its “neoliberal dogmas” are the ideological expression of the crisis of the system, which cannot afford the reforms of the past.

AV Image Duke of Winterfell Wikimedia CommonsEven the right-wing Chega programme contains numerous demands about wages, pensions, etc. / Image: Duke of Winterfell, Wikimedia Commons

The PCP’s electoral programme criticises “monopoly capital”, “foreign capital”, and “financial speculation”, which it seeks to combat with new laws and taxes (there is never any mention of expropriating the big capitalists). These are simply expressions of big capitalist property in general. Without doing away with bourgeois private property, the laws of capitalism inexorably impose themselves upon any society: exploitation, inequality, crises, the concentration of the economy in large monopolies and, ultimately, the profiteering of a minority, which undermines the livelihoods of the majority. The laws of capitalism dictate the policies of reformist governments, not the other way around. You only have to look at the example of Greece under Syriza to see this.

The PCP is looking for different ways to control capitalism through state interventionism, but you can’t control what you don’t own. In its programme, the PCP never raises the issue of property. Now, as Marx and Engels already explained, “the theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.”  This is not just an empty slogan, but expresses the fact that none of humanity’s fundamental problems, from the climate crisis to war, from inequality to debt, can be solved without undermining capitalist property relations, and this is even truer today than it was in 1847.

The PCP’s programme contains positive demands, which we support, about improving wages and working conditions, pensions, strengthening the health service and public education, etc. But it’s very easy to make promises. On the eve of the elections, all the parties promise all sorts of things. Even the right-wing Chega programme contains numerous demands about wages, pensions, etc.

What is needed to give the PCP credibility, is to explain why life is so unfair in this system, and how this desperate situation can be brought to an end. We need to move from narrow economic agitation to political agitation against the capitalist system, which awakens the class consciousness of the proletariat.

Any party can offer miracles in an election, but only a truly revolutionary party can explain the causes of the crisis and offer a revolutionary solution. The leaders of the PCP think they are ‘practical’ and ‘reasonable’ by limiting their propaganda to immediate economic proposals and moving away from political agitation against the system and the bourgeoisie. But the majority of workers, tired of the empty promises of all the parties, accustomed to false prophets with their miraculous formulas, and aware of the depth of the system's crisis, pay no attention to the repetitive and boring demands for more wages and better conditions. In the elections, many workers, rightly frustrated, tried to express their anger at the entire system through the ballot box. Unfortunately, this was not to the benefit of the PCP.

The nation

The PCP’s programme is full of references to “national development”, the “defence of national interests” and protectionist measures to strengthen “national production”. Without raising the question of workers’ ownership – which is only hinted at in vague references to “public control of strategic sectors such as banking and energy” – such a programme can only aspire to achieve a national capitalism. This is an impossible and reactionary fantasy in the case of Portugal – a small, weak country in a corner of Europe. As Marx and Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto:

“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations.”

PR Image PCP FacebookThe PCP leadership forget that Portuguese society is divided into classes with conflicting and irreconcilable interests / Image: PCP, Facebook

These words are more accurate today than when they were written! Capitalism first unified the national markets and then established an international division of labour. This integration of the world market has been a driving force behind the growth of the productive forces. In fact, one of the main obstacles to further development is the bourgeois nation state, which is capitalism’s basic form of political organisation.

The explosive growth of the productive forces rebels against narrow national borders. The most powerful bourgeoisies have tried to overcome the limits of the national state through wars, protectionism and the division of the world through imperialism, which, as Lenin explained, reflects in a distorted and perverse way the obsolescence of the nation state (an in-depth critique of the leadership of the PCP’s understanding of imperialism can be found here).

The return to a progressive national capitalism advocated by the PCP is absolutely antithetical to the policy of communists, who advocate the global planning of a socialist economy. In this sense, it is no coincidence that we are internationalists. Communist internationalism reflects the global character of the division of labour and the productive forces that the proletariat is called upon to conquer.

The desire for national capitalism is not only utopian, it is also reactionary. By talking about the “national interests” of the Portuguese people, the comrades of the PCP leadership forget that Portuguese society is divided into classes with conflicting and irreconcilable interests. This nationalist language suggests that there may be an identity of interests between the exploiters and the exploited!

This ‘patriotism’ numbs the class consciousness of the Portuguese proletariat and paves the way for the chauvinist poison of Chega. Let’s be clear: for years the PCP has miseducated the Portuguese proletariat with nationalist prejudices that André Ventura – leader of Chega – is now exploiting. The main enemy of the Portuguese proletariat is in Portugal, and they are not hard to find: they are the bosses and their loyal lackeys in parliament.


Carnation Revolution Image Hemeroteca Digital FlickrThe Revolution was undoubtedly a unique moment, but the PCP comrades forget the most important lesson / Image: Hemeroteca Digital, Flickr

The other side of the PCP's nationalist policy is its defence of the bourgeois state. Its electoral programme begins by praising the April Revolution of 1974: “this unique moment in national history continues to be a benchmark for the future that must be built.” The Revolution was undoubtedly a unique moment, but the PCP comrades forget the most important lesson – the Revolution was derailed after the failure of the workers to take power on 25 November!

The tasks of social transformation remained unfulfilled, because the capitalist economic base of the dictatorship remained intact. The same parasites continued to exploit the working class, now under a different political superstructure: bourgeois democracy. By defending Portuguese democracy, the PCP is identified with the existing regime in the eyes of the workers. The most advanced layer, who are looking for nothing less than to do away with the whole system, will look for an alternative.

By exalting the constitution “born of April”, the PCP programme celebrates the Portuguese capitalist state. The constitution was not born of the Revolution but of its defeat after 25 November 1975. The Constitution says some very nice things indeed, but this grandiloquence is a rhetorical concession to hide the counter-revolutionary course of events in 1976.

The constitution’s socialist verbiage doesn’t deny the bourgeois character of the Portuguese state, but rather camouflages it to deceive the working class. Lenin had already explained that “wage slavery is the lot of the people even in the most democratic bourgeois republic.” That’s why Lenin, following Marx and Engels, wrote that “all previous revolutions perfected the state machine, whereas it must be broken, smashed”, and replaced with a workers’ state, where the exploited and oppressed hold the reins.

It is the class struggle, not the constitution, that determines the rights that are enjoyed by the proletariat. The PCP blinds the working class to the true character of the Third Portuguese Republic, which is a corrupt and rotten state at the service of the bourgeoisie. The PCP numbs their fighting spirit by creating the illusion that the dead letter of the constitution – interpreted by well-paid judges and enforced by the police – guarantees their rights. What really guarantees them, however, is the working class’ collective action and their distrust of the state and its laws!

For a revolutionary Communist Party

While capitalism continues to spiral downwards, the leaders of the PCP are clinging on to it for dear life! The task of communists in our time is to organise ourselves to overthrow this outdated system. Some sceptical bureaucrats will reply: “but then we’ll only lose (even more) votes, the people aren’t ready for a revolution!” In fact, the capitalist crisis is generating a great deal of discontent around the world which, however, has not found a clear political expression, mainly due to the lack of alternatives on the left. Various right-wing demagogues have taken advantage of this vacuum, perversely exploiting the people’s anger.

World School banner

The communists’ strategy cannot be dictated by immediate electoral considerations, but by our perspectives, which indicate a deepening of the system’s crisis and growing instability and radicalisation. The PCP itself talks in its programme about the “deepening structural crisis of capitalism”. But the current leadership of the PCP does nothing to act on this observation!

Comrades of the PCP, your party is in danger. The reformist policy of your leaders is driving you into the abyss! Particularly worrying is the lack of self-criticism after the recent electoral catastrophe, which was presented by Paulo Raimundo as an “expression of resistance[!]” This complacency is symptomatic of the lack of perspectives and the bureaucratisation of the party’s current leadership.

But it’s not too late to correct this course! Comrades, reflect on the policy of your leaders, on your programme, study the ideas of Marx and Lenin that gave life to your organisation more than a century ago, and use them to analyse the situation and the line of the party. The Colectivo Marxista – the International Marxist Tendency in Portugal – invites revolutionary members of the PCP and the Portuguese Communist Youth to fight shoulder to shoulder to regenerate communism in Portugal, for a truly revolutionary communist party, on the basis of Lenin’s Communist International and the principles of Marx and Engels:

“The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the World, Unite!”

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