A leader of Portugal’s Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda) since its formation in 1999, Jorge Costa launched into political activism in 1991 at the age of 15, taking part in the protest movement against the first Gulf War. Subsequently elected as an MP for the Left Bloc between 2009-2011 and 2015-19, Costa is today a member of the party’s permanent leadership.
[Extract from a wide-ranging interview, in whch Costa covers developments in Portuguese politics since the Socialist Party (PS) was returned to government in 2015, the Left Bloc’s changing relation to it, the rise of the far right in the form of Chega! (Enough!), the Bloc’s relations with the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), and the challenges facing the party as it returns to growth with an influx of a generation of younger activists. Read the full interview at Portugal’s Left Bloc: ‘We provide a solid political reference point to the workers and social movements’ | Links
Majority motion A, now Left Bloc policy, states: “The existence of global US hegemony does not change the imperialist nature of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which the Bloc condemned with the same clarity with which it has condemned the Putin regime over the years. The left can’t expect anything else from an oligarchic dictatorship and militarist adventurism”. It calls for “a Ukraine Peace conference under the aegis of the UN and the European Union (EU)” and an end to the arms race. The motion is silent on Portugal providing arms to Ukraine, and does not call for an immediate ceasefire.
Motion E, by contrast, while “vehemently” condemning Russian aggression, demands an immediate ceasefire and refers to European Parliament resolutions on Ukraine for which Left Bloc MEPs voted, stating: “The Left Bloc cannot remain tied to any decision that whitewashes this subordination [of the EU to US policy]”.
What is the policy of the Left Bloc on a ceasefire in the war and on Portugal supplying arms to Ukraine?
From the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine, the main issue for the Left Bloc was the right of self-determination of the Ukrainian people. That was the principal problem on the table. On the day after the invasion, on February 25, the Left Bloc issued a statement calling for the Portuguese government to demand of the EU that it define in concrete terms its conditions for a ceasefire in the region of Donbas and for negotiations aimed at establishing peaceful coexistence for all peoples in the region.
At the same time, the Left Bloc said that the demand for a ceasefire had to be linked to the demand for withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory invaded in February 2022 and that it also had to be linked to a concrete proposal for negotiations aimed at achieving a peace agreement. It is not possible to separate these three elements: withdrawal of troops, ceasefire and the opening of negotiations; they must be simultaneous.
As far as Ukraine’s access to defensive weapons is concerned, what is at stake is the sovereignty of the Ukrainian state and respect for the integrity of its territory. Ukrainian military defence is legitimate to expel the invader. Thus, the guns that have been supplied to Ukraine by the imperialist countries from the West are mainly defensive weapons which are needed for Ukraine’s national resistance effort.
The protection that is being provided by NATO to the government in Kyiv does not change the nature of the national resistance of Ukraine. It has never been the case that the national struggle for the liberation against an invader or colonial power changes nature according to the kind of imperialist forces that might, at one moment or the other, support those national struggles.
So, we think this theory applies in the Ukrainian case; that we are dealing with a struggle for national liberation, and we should not only be actively supporting a ceasefire based on the withdrawal of Russian forces and finding the way to a peaceful agreement with Russia, but also that we should not oppose the supply of defensive — I stress defensive — weaponry to Ukraine.
Recent polling shows the Left Bloc recovering support to its historical 9-10% levels, while the Communist Party (PCP) is still to recover from the 4-5% level. What explains this apparent gap? Is the PCP’s position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine part of the cause?
Ukraine was a very dramatic moment and a bad year for the PCP, because they very openly identified with Russia’s stance and narrative justifying the invasion. It was very badly received, including by parts of its own membership and voting base.
The PCP also paid a certain price, maybe in more activist circles, for its hostility towards the Left Bloc and for its authoritarian methods in the trade union movement. All the minority currents in the General Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP, controlled by the PCP) are publicly protesting at being prevented from presenting and discussing their own proposals at the level of the CGTP leadership. This is inconceivable in a healthy trade union movement. But it is happening right now in the leadership of the CGTP, and that is public news.
The PCP’s hostility towards the Left Bloc, a party with which the Communists share many proposals and views on economic and social issues, taken with its authoritarian practice in the trade union movement, are the reason for a certain scepticism towards the party that is growing in parts of the left and also lies at the root of its inability to expand its influence in recent years