Daniel Finn in New Left Review:
Since the end of 2015, Portugal has been the scene of an unusual political drama. After failing to win a majority in parliament, the country’s long-established centre-left machine rejected the offer of a ‘grand coalition’ with its conservative rival to implement the demands of Brussels and Frankfurt. Straying from the beaten path of European social democracy, the Portuguese Socialist Party came to an arrangement instead with radical-left forces of the kind ostracized everywhere else in the EU. The Socialist Prime Minister António Costa governs with the support of two groups that lie well outside the bounds of respectable opinion: the Portuguese Communist Party, which never had any truck with Eurocommunism or its post-Soviet afterlives, and the Left Bloc, which traces its origins back to the revolutionary movement of the 1970s. On taking office, Costa pledged to ‘turn the page’ on austerity and roll back measures imposed by the Troika. European voters have often heard such promises on the campaign trail, but Costa’s government has broken with convention by following through on the initial rhetoric under pressure from its left-wing allies, reversing wage and pension cuts, halting privatizations and restoring collective-bargaining agreements. In defiance of conventional wisdom, these reforms have been followed by an upswing in economic growth. Dismissed by hostile critics as a rickety geringonça (‘contraption’), the alliance between the Socialists and Portugal’s radical left has confounded predictions that it would collapse in a matter of months. Costa’s own approval ratings have soared, along with those for his party, in pointed contrast with the fiasco of Hollande, the bubble of Renzi and the capitulation of Tsipras. What conditions—long- and short-term—have made this exception possible, and how long can it endure?
For a brief period in the mid 1970s, Portugal was a focus of international attention in the West, for fear that it might go Communist. Once that danger had passed, the development of the country attracted much less interest than the rest of Europe’s southern tier, and knowledge of it abroad has been much more limited. Perhaps the best way of sketching its founding coordinates is through a comparison with Spain. Both countries were ruled by long-standing dictatorships of clerico-fascist stamp—Franco’s regime lasting some forty years, Salazar’s nearly fifty—which came to an end at virtually the same time in 1974–75. But the origins and trajectories of the two regimes were very different. Franco was the military victor of a bloody civil war, won with the help of Mussolini and Hitler, and sealed with systematic extermination of those who had resisted him. Salazar was a civilian at the head of a police state that had been installed with scarcely a shot fired; although his regime crushed its opponents with iron determination, it never had to carry out baptismal massacres of the kind that consecrated Franco’s authority.