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Portuguese Communist Party

On 06 March 1921, a Conference was held that founded the Portuguese Communist Party. Held in Lisbon at the headquarters of the Association of Office Workers, it brought together those who, influenced by communist ideas and the victorious October Revolution, where then to take the first steps along a road that would soon be strewn with battles and sacrifices. The first Party Congress took place on 12 November 1923 in Lisbon. There, some 90 delegates representing 27 organisations participated. The Congress Theses, published previously in The Communist, had been discussed in theses organisations. The General Secretary at the time, Jos Carlos Rates, presented the Report of the Executive Committee, and the Congress passed a resolution on the Agrarian Question.

The Second Congress was convened on 29 May 1926 in Lisbon, but was forced to interrupt its work even though 100 delegates are present. On 28 May a reactionary military coup installs the dictatorship that led to fascism. Repression against communists was not long in coming and, in 1927, the Party headquarters were closed down. It is during the first reorganisation of the Party, in 1929, that the figure of Bento Gonalves comes to the fore, who is later to become the Party's General Secretary.

Far-left groups, most importantly the Portuguese Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrtico Portugus--MDP), had considerable influence in the early part of the revolution. Consisting mostly of students and intellectuals, these groups were augmented by leftists from all over the world who flocked to Portugal to witness and participate in the revolution. They often engaged in guerrilla tactics, street demonstrations, and takeovers of private lands and industries. On their own, these groups could mount major demonstrations; in alliance with the PCP, they could be even more formidable. Since the heady revolutionary days of the mid-1970s, however, most of these groups have been absorbed into the larger parties or dissolved. As of the beginning of 1990s, some far-left groups were still active at the universities and in intellectual circles, but they were seen as a fringe phenomenon and lacked their former disruptive capacity.

The main party on the revolutionary left in Portugal was the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Portugus--PCP). The PCP had a long history of defiance to the Salazar dictatorship, and many of the party's leaders had spent long years in jail or in exile. Party members who remained in Portugal worked underground where they formed associations and organized the labor union Intersindical. The party was strongly Stalinist and Moscow-oriented.

Returning from exile in 1974, the PCP's leaders, many of whom were reputed to be capable and formidable politicians, tried to seize power by means of a coup, allying themselves with revolutionary elements in the Armed Forces Movement (Movimento das Foras Armadas--MFA). The party came close to seizing power in 1975 but failed because moderate elements within the armed forces and the political parties to the right of it were committed to Western democracy. Extensive financial aid from Western countries to these parties also contributed to the PCP's ultimate defeat.

Both the bonds of unity within the Communist movement and Moscows authority came under strain in 1975 and 1976 because of developments in Portugal. The conspicuously anti-democratic actions of the Portuguese Communist Party weakened the credibility of the newly minted democratic credos of the Eurocommunist parties and impelled them to distance themselves from the PCP and its Soviet mentors. Moscow itsclfcontributed to the breach as its vocally aggressive support for the actions of the PCP met with increasingly strident disclaimers from the Eurocomnnmist parties. Moscows support for the militant tactics of the PCP in particular contributed to the conversion of the French party which had been relatively docile since 1969, but which once again became an outspoken critic of Soviet actions.

Beginning with the Portuguese crisis of 1975 - which coincided with the rise in the political fortunes of the PCI and PCF - the Eurocommunist parties became more and more outspoken and sweeping in their criticisms of the Soviet system. By the end of 1976, it had become almost routine for the Italian Communists to decry the lack of political democracy in the USSR, for the French Communists to denounce the persecution of dissident luminaries, and for the Spanish Communists to dismiss the Soviet system as having more in common with Russian traditions than with Marxist teaching.

The PCP, along with its far-left allies, got 17 percent of the vote in the first democratic election in Portugal in 1975, and for several elections after that it held its position at approximately 12 to 19 percent of the vote. But during the 1980s, as Portugal moved away from the radical politics of the mid-1970s and began to prosper economically, the PCP's popularity declined to less than 10 percent of the vote. The party remained strong in the trade unions, but younger members of the party challenged the old leadership and questioned the party's hard-line Stalinist positions. Some of these young challengers were expelled from the party.

The collapse of the communism in Europe, the aging of the party's leadership (the party had been headed by lvaro Cunhal since 1941) and of its membership, and the party's poor showing in elections indicated that the party would either have to transform itself fundamentally or fade away as a political force. On 4, 5 and 6 December 1992, the XIV Congress meets in Almada. The International situation is completely new following the disappearance of the USSR and the defeat suffered by Socialism in the East of Europe. Cavaquism ruled over Portugal and the rebuilding of monopoly was being extended. The PCP resisted and commited itself to the course of struggles that will put an end to the domination of the PSD in the Government. lvaro Cunhal was elected President of a new organ - the National Council. Carlos Carvalhas was elected as the Party's General-Secretary.

The 15th Congress was held on 6th-8th December 1996, in Oporto (Pavilho Rosa Mota), with the participation of 1655 delegates. Along with a solid and renewed connection to the identity and communist ideals which is the foundation of its own existence and the PCP struggle heritage, the PCP delineated important guide-lines and working orientations aimed at a stronger PCP in the threshold of the 21st Century, at its increasing affirmation as an agglutinating pole of the Left and a democratic alternative to the right-wing politics imposed previously by the PSD [Social Democratic Party] government and promoted by the PS [Socialist Party] since 1995 and aiming at a new way in the affirmation of its project for Democracy and Socialism in Portugal.

Culminating a sprightly and interested debate previously accomplished in all the PCPs organisations, the 16th Congress, in the framework of the renewed reaffirmation of the identity and project of a communist party, carried out a large reflection and defined important guide-lines before the main problems and issues arisen by the national and international situation which are, at the threshold of a new Century and a new Millenium, of great complexity and exigency.

The PCP 17th Congress under the lemma "With the PCP, Democracy and Socialism in a Portugal with future" took place on the 26th-28th November, 2004, in the city of Almada. The 17th Congress analysed the Partys activity since the 16th Congress (December, 2000) and the partys and the worlds evolution, and adopted the Political Resolution (with 10 votes against and ? abstentions) which enshrines the guide-lines for the Partys activity, and effected alterations to the its Constitution (adopted with 3 votes against and 8 abstentions).

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) used to be a major political force but is a shadow of its former self. The Socialists' abandonment of the extreme left, however, gave the PCP a new lease on life, and it is polling at its former numbers, despite having no good leaders.





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