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Socialist Party (Partido Socialista--PS)

The history of the Socialist Party (Partido Socialista--PS) in Portugal dates back to the late nineteenth century. On January 10, 1875, there was a meeting of the "Association of March 18th" (the Commune anniversary), which was then the center of the labor movement of Lisbon. On motion of Comrade Azedo Guecco, the Socialist Party was organized, thus carrying out what had been projected since 1873, in accordance with the deliberations of the congress of the International Workingmen's Association held at The Hague in 1872. The program prepared by Guecco was adopted. Finally, in 1877, at the congress of Lisbon, the first one organized by the Portuguese Socialists, the program was adopted unanimously by the delgates of all the political labor associations existing at that time.

After four years of vexatious delays the organization was begun. It was still necessary to overcome many difficulties which at every moment arose across the path. From the congress at Lisbon to that of Porto all went well. The associations visibly increased in strength. But after a few months some began to deliberate in secret meetings and the result was that at the congress of Lisbon, in 1879, it was necessary to start the organization of the Socialist Party over again. The moment was unpropitious. The Republican party was working hard to gain control, and to that end it developed a powerful current against the Socialists. In 1880 the two parties were constantly in conflict, so that the congress at Lisbon in 1882 took place under the worst possible conditions. This relentless conflict lasted until 1885, at which time the Socialist Party succeeded in consolidating and developing itself.

In 1884 a group of "new" elements were formed; it struggled unsuccessfully against the "old"; Guecco was obliged to give up the struggle on account of his health and the "new" comrades soon withdrew, disheartened by the indignities they had to undergo. A new period of conflicts opened for the Socialist Party, and certain important results ensued, among others the disorganization of the Republican Party, the development of the Anarchist force's, the baptism of the dissolving elements to which the name of possibilities was given, opposition to the freedom of laborers, the congress at Paris, and many others. After this difficult period the Socialist Party again reasserted its activity and its importance at the time of the conference of Thomer, in 1895. But this revival was not lasting. New dissolving elements, under the pretext of another "method," brought disunion into the Socialist organizations. The result was still another standstill in the organization of the working class party.

Years passed by. In 1901 the "Confusionists" were routed, and a few months later the conference at Coimbre gave unity and energy to the Socialist Party. It is now twenty-nine years that the party has existed in this country, enduring many vexations, struggling against numberless difficulties, overcome more than once by treason, but always pressing forward. It had to struggle against the thoughtlessness which was a characteristic of the Portuguese. Time brought to it the mental discipline which it lacked, and the necessary firmness in action and harmony throughout the movement. But it was very difficult to enlighten the mind of this population which had slumbered for more than seven centuries.

Like the PCP, it was persecuted and forced into exile by Salazar. The party was reestablished in 1973 in the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) under the leadership of Mrio Soares, who had opposed the regime as a young man and had been imprisoned for his political activities. Soares returned to Portugal a few days after the coup of April 25, 1974, and the PS began to function openly as a political party. It had both a moderate and a militant wing, but the militancy was tempered by the articulate and politically shrewd Soares.

The PS, as one of the two largest parties in Portugal, has often formed governments. In the revolutionary situation in 1974- 75, the socialists were looked on as the most viable moderate opposition to the PCP. The PS therefore received considerable foreign support, as well as domestic votes, that it might not otherwise have had. It regularly received about 28 to 35 percent of the vote and was in power from 1976 to 1978 and in a governing coalition with the PSD from 1983 to 1985.

In power the PS followed a moderate, centrist program. As the Portuguese electorate became more conservative in the 1980s, however, the party lost support. In the 1985 election, it got only 20.8 percent of the vote, although this percentage improved slightly in the 1987 national elections. The party won the 1989 municipal elections, but despite an impressive improvement in the 1991 national election when it polled 29.3 percent of the vote, it still lagged far behind the PSD. Persistent leadership problems since Soares left the party when he was elected president in 1986 and inept campaigns were seen as causes of the party's secondary position in Portuguese politics. At times the disputes between the moderate and Marxist factions were renewed, but the party as a whole had moved far enough to the right that in the 1991 national election the PS had difficulty distinguishing itself from the PSD on most major issues.

Prime Minister Socrates took over a dysfunctional government apparatus and an economy in poor shape when the PS won parliament in 2005. Socrates presided over an austerity budget and significant internal reforms that largely got Portugal's economic problems under control, meeting EU benchmarks two years in advance. Socrates overcame opposition from the trade unions that traditionally form the PS base in order to enact labor reforms, raising the retirement age and cutting benefits to address what he termed, "a demographic time bomb." Having fought -- and won -- those battles early in his tenure, Socrates was able to offer tax cuts and civil service pay increases this election year.

Socrates and his pragmatists have shifted the party to the center. While this emasculated the opposition parties on the center-right and right, it invigorated the smaller leftist parties and frustrated the vocal left wing of the PS itself. Socrates was betting that he can steal more support from the center than he would lose on the extreme left. While shifting the party in regard to the political spectrum, Socrates was also looking at changing demographics throughout the country. The PS promotes itself as the party of Europe (and Socrates was midwife to the Lisbon Treaty in late 2007). On social issues like abortion, divorce, and gay marriage, PS policies were in line with European norms, but alienated the country's socially conservative Catholics, a key voting bloc.

One of the old lions of the left wing of the Socialist Party, Manuel Alegre, is often said to want to form his own party in rebellion against the centrist-drifting PS. Alegre ran as an independent for the Portuguese Presidency in 2006, outpolling the PS candidate, but falling just short of the center-right PSD President Cavaco Silva. Rather than try to present a unified front now, PS International Secretary Jose Lello (presumably with Socrates' consent) took to attacking Alegre in the media on a regular basis, attacks that dominate coverage of the PS at the expense of any programmatic ideas they might wish to put forward. Even though the PS needed to augment the number of women on its legislative list to meet the one third requirement, party leaders dumped three sitting female parliamentarians who were perceived to be Alegre supporters. Much media coverage of the party reflected leftist frustration that the Socialist Party "isn't Socialist anymore."

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