TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

Dead and Buried Utopia? Communicating Communism’s Identity in 21st Century: The Portuguese Communist Party’s Role Today

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2011 Telos Conference, “Rituals of Exchange and States of Exception: Continuity and Crisis in Politics and Economics.”

This work results from the development of a Master’s thesis for the Master in Communication Sciences, at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Porto. My thesis was under the theme “The Communication of Communist Ideology after the Fall of the Berlin Wall: Limitations, Disruptions and Opportunities. The Portuguese Case: The Image of the Portuguese Communist Party in the 21st century.”

Our main question is whether communism is recognized as being valid today. The thesis is based on a theoretical and methodological approach on the identity, historical background, and validity of certain vectors related to communist ideology in today’s society. The object of the work is the communist ideology, mainly the European communism and the Portuguese Communist Party. A second part of this research work is complemented with a study of the party’s image made after conducting a survey of 600 students from the University of Porto.

On the thesis I try to walk through the identity of this political ideology, bringing it closer to its current reality and taking as a study object the Portuguese Communist Party’s image, making use of political communication tools that determine the notoriety, reputation, association, recognition, attitude, and adherence to a specific political party.

Before moving on, and regarding the Portuguese Communist Party, let us take some time to clarify the political direction underlying the PCP. In conversations with foreign colleagues, or even reading literature on the subject, we realized the diversity of views around the word Communism, and also the different ways in which the various communist parties in Europe are understood.

First, a little bit of history. Between 1933 and 1974 there was a dictatorship in Portugal, obviously considered authoritarian, corporatist, and having fascist contours, according to some Portuguese historians. During the years in which the authoritarian regime was in effect in Portugal, the main opposition was from the Portuguese communists. The Communists then fought for the democratization of the Portuguese society and, among other things, for the end of the colonial war—which lasted between 1961 and 1974, opposing to the independence of Portuguese colonies in Africa.

The Portuguese dictatorship, also known as “New State,” ended in April 25, 1974, with a military coup supported by various political factions, including the Portuguese Communist Party, which thus became the first legally constituted political party after the revolution. This revolution had strong socialist contours, seeking to end all angles of authoritarian politics in Portugal and to establish a full democracy. Whether or not this was achieved is still a subject for a lively debate, even after 35 years. But what is certain is that, from the political parties at that time, PCP remains as a bastion of the values of the revolution, including the construction of a socialist democratic society in Portugal.

Consequently, unlike other European communist parties, the PCP placed itself, due to the circumstances, on democracy’s side. Its current program is complete with references to the democratization of Portuguese society.

PCP is identified clearly as

political party of the working class and of all workers, entirely serving the Portuguese and Portugal, its primary objectives being the construction of Socialism and Communism. These are, according to the party, the assumptions of a society free from exploitation of man by man, as well as from oppression, inequality, injustice and social problems. The PCP aims to build a society in which the development of productive forces, the scientific and technological progress and the deepening of economic, social, political and cultural democracy ensure citizens’ freedom, equality, high living standards, culture, an ecologically balanced environment as well as respect for human dignity.

In its program, the party makes an analysis of this quest throughout its history, taking the fight for democracy as the main target of action, as well as the fight for freedom, peace, culture, social progress, and independence and national sovereignty: “The fight with immediate targets and the fight for an advanced democracy are part of the struggle for socialism.”

Finally, in the introduction to its political program, PCP confirms its formation as a party of the masses, “the working class and all workers,” proposing to fight for a “socialist society” and feeding off Marxism-Leninism and democratic centralism, with a strong internationalist vector.

In the people and the country’s interest, the consolidation, deepening and construction of a democratic regime, the struggle for a new society liberated from the exploitation of man by man, the PCP plays a role in Portuguese society which is necessary, indispensable and irreplaceable.

It would be too exhausting and outside the scope of this text to analyze all the eighty pages of the PCP’s political program. The first part of the party’s program is dedicated to the memory of the Revolution of April 25, 1974, and this “historic achievement of the Portuguese people,” an achievement the PCP thinks is unfinished, claiming that “despite its historic achievements, many of its major accomplishments were destroyed.”

Then, the PCP Program identifies those which are the basic principles of an “advanced democracy on the Threshold of 21st Century.” In the opinion of the Portuguese Communist Party, democracy rests on four main factors: political, economic, social, and cultural: political democracy; economic democracy; social democracy; and democracy based on the effective access of the masses to the creation and enjoyment of culture, and freedom and support to cultural production.

Having eliminated any confusion that might persist about the democratic and democratizing character of the Communist Party, we now begin to explain the results achieved by our study. Our study sample consists of 600 students randomly picked from a population of around 38 thousand, this number reporting to students from the University of Porto. The sample number hence makes for about 1.57 per cent of the total universe.

We conducted a survey on these students with 41 questions, aimed at assessing the current image of the PCP in terms of notoriety, reputation, association, attitude, recognition, and adherence. Taking into account our sample’s profile, we now summarize the main conclusions inferred from our empirical study.

PCP is not a political brand considered “top of mind,” since it is not mentioned by the majority of our respondents in the first place but in third place. However, the level of spontaneous recognition lies near 90 percent, and its assisted notoriety around 99 percent. Wherefore subjects in our sample spontaneously recognize this political brand, being aware of its existence and knowing the generic category it corresponds to. Whether spontaneous recognition or assisted notoriety, there are high levels of reference among the respondents.

PCP branding (logo) has an excellent notoriety, reaching 90 percent recognition among the respondents. The slogan that we asked the respondents to identify is mostly associated as belonging to the PCP, but a large part of the students also attribute it to the Left Bloc (a party recently created in the line of German “Die Linke,” which brings together various political forces of the left, from Marxist, Trotskyist, among others, and is recognized as a strong opposition to the government policies, as well as a bet on media coverage and on divisive issues. This party, unlike PCP, has seen a dramatic increase in votes and in parliamentary representation).

Respondents confuse PCP’s communication material with the Left Bloc’s: about 80 percent of the respondents attribute a certain degree of similarity to both parties regarding the level of communication. The justification for this similarity has to do mainly with the same ideology that shows up in the advertising material, as well as the use of similar messages and graphics.

Based on the average levels of response to questions about PCP’s image, we concluded that the respondents do not have a markedly positive or negative opinion about the party when it comes to its overall image or contemporary relevance. Likewise, the semantic content of the adjective “communist” seems to have no effect on our respondents’ panel. The respondents’ perception is not significant enough for us to infer on a good or bad level of the party’s reputation in this field.

Therefore, the excellent levels of PCP’s notoriety do not have a direct influence on forming a significant opinion on the image and relevance of the party.

The attributes most related to the level of PCP’s overall image are those that relate directly to the party’s external communication: the attractiveness, as measured by the communist leader’s levels of communication skills during campaign; modernity, as measured by the ideology’s timeliness; and assertiveness, as measured by parliamentary interventions. It is true that respondents also significantly associate the party’s overall image with the question of the principles, values and beliefs, and the influence on national decisions. However, it seems important for this study to highlight the relationship between external communication and the assignment of high or low levels to the party’s overall image, assuming an essential role in the study, to define the party’s reputation.

The results demonstrate a clear connection between the allocation of a good image to the party and the allocation of its contemporary relevance. Also demonstrated that voters who attach high value to those parameters vote mainly to the left: not in PCP but in the Left Bloc.

The highest levels of association of the PCP to certain values have to do with the independence of the party in its policy choices, the experience gained over the years, and the party’s principles, beliefs and values. On the other hand, lower levels of association of the PCP with certain values relate to the modernity of the ideology, the influence on national decisions, and the fulfillment of the program proposed during campaign. The combination of PCP’s good levels in certain values, such as honor, consistency, experience, or independence, is not translatable into votes on the party.

Students mostly agree with the PCP’s program principles outlined in the survey. Apart from the question of attributing the global financial crisis to capitalism and the nationalization policy, all other program lines win major agreement from our respondents, regardless of their political affiliation. This has lead us to consider the importance of communication as a way to enlighten voters about the party that proposes the contents with which they agree and seek to give the party’s programmatic lines a special highlight on its political communication, thus contributing to the deposition of votes in PCP.

There is no relation in our sample of students allowing us to infer that the knowledge of the history of the communist movement has an essential role in assigning a global image to the party, in the same way that it does not influence the direction of the votes.

There is a considerable lack of knowledge (more than 50 percent) from students about the reaction of the PCP to the events that led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. Therefore, we shall conclude that communications carried out by the party in this direction do not contribute, twenty years later, to our sample’s opinion about the party in terms of its relevance and overall image.

Among our respondents and in the last legislative elections, the vote in PCP is limited to the last among the five main Portuguese political parties. This place is different from the place obtained in the degree of awareness of the party (third place) and distinct also in the level of reputation (average levels) assigned to the party. Respondents unanimously accept that there should be a political party in Portugal based on communist ideology, with more than 80 percent of respondents answering in this sense. Thus, the fact that the PCP embraces the communist ideology does not seem to cause a reason for exclusion. The first level of adherence, in which the existence of the brand is perceived and accepted by consumers, is therefore almost unanimously completed.

Comments are closed.