Communist reformists: anarchy or necessity?

The eternal arm-wrestling between the Orthodox and Reformist elements within the Portuguese Communist Party comes to a head this weekend at the meeting of the PCP Central Committee.

The PCP again lost votes in the recent parliamentary elections, representing some 7% of the electorate whereas in 1976, the figure was around 25%. As the Orthodox block, dominant in the Central Committee, refuse to change, the Reformists appeal for a change of discourse, if not change of direction.

PCP General Secretary Carlos Carvalhas, who succeeded historic leader Dr. Alvaro Cunhal, is in favour of dialogue, “a diversity of opinion” as he terms it. However, his voice does not represent the majority in the Central Committee.

On the eve of the meeting, two senior figures in the PCP, Domingos Abrantes and former Presidential candidate Jeronimo de Sousa, have published articles in the PCP press organ, Avante! (Forward!) claiming that the Reformists should be sanctioned and any deviation from the original path would spell political suicide for the Communist Party.

Domingos Abrantes states in his article that the main duty of the party is “the need to respect the normal functioning of the Party, within the framework of the rules voluntarily accepted by all (members when they joined)”. He accuses the Reformists of “cohesive organisation, with precise rules, with an uncharacteristic, anarchic amalgam which obliges the liquidation of a programme and will sacrifice the strategic objectives of the Party”.

The Reformists are accused of appealing to the electorate to boycott the PCP in favour of the Socialist Party (PS) in the last elections. The PS in the event came within 2 percentage points of the victors, the Social Democratic Party, currently in a coalition government with the Conservative Christian Democrats/People’s Party (CDS/PP).

Domingos Abrantes quotes a phrase by Lenin, who referred to the “petit-bourgeois opportunism” within the Communist Party, hijacking the Party for their own political agenda and ignoring the Party Statutes which they accepted when they joined.

Jeronimo de Sousa made a similar attack in his two-page article, which will serve as a guideline for the PCP during the meeting. He denounced “anticommunist concepts” among the Reformists and backed sanctions against those who work against the directives of the Central Committee, exposing a “systematic violation of the (Party) norms”.

One of the main challenges facing the Communist Party is its origins. It was founded as the Party which represented the interests of the Portuguese working class against the totalitarian and oligarchic tendencies of the Fascist Estado Novo (New State) of Dr. Oliveira Salazar. Before, during and after the revolution of 25th April, 1974, the PCP discourse has been, naturally, relative to revolutionary concepts.

The question is that a large part of the Portuguese population nowadays does not hold the Revolution in its memory as being of particular political significance. Indeed, many young people do not even know what it was, which speaks volumes about how successive right-wing governments have handled the education system in the last three decades.

On the other hand, if one is not a Communist, one is what? As European Socialist Parties move inexorably towards the centre, which in modern times is identified with right-wing policies, devoid of social protection schemes, where the law of the jungle sees an ever-increasing percentage of the populations dropping below the poverty line, there is a valid space on the political left for a Communist Party.

The need is there for this Party to adapt its discourse to the times, to gauge popular feeling not only among the party faithful but also among crucially needed future voters. Only then will the PCP, and other Communist Parties, see their vote rising, instead of reaching depressingly constant new lows.

To be a Communist should not be envisaged as having a social cancer. It should be seen as a badge, worn with pride, which embodies respect for the community, responsibility, an example of model social behaviour and a constant quest towards the embettering of the living conditions of the citizens of the world.