COMBATE: 'Against the stream' ... or against the ICC?

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In a recent letter, the Contra-a-Corrente bookshops of the group Combate in Portugal informed us of their decision to stop selling publications of the ICC. It's not the usual practice of the ICC to go into such details in its publications, although we don't share the contempt displayed by the 'modernists' for what they call 'a concern for political merchandise'. On the contrary, we think that the widest possible dissemination of the revolutionary press is an important contribution to clarification and thus constitutes an elementary political preoccupation. Moreover, as long as revolutionary groups remain as a small minority, it would be difficult for them to carry on publishing unless they maintain some level of sales.

But the reason why we are discussing Combatels letter here is to publicly raise the question: why has Combate decided to close its bookshops to us? In their letter, we find only a refusal, not an explanation.

On a purely practical level we can say that with the reflux in class struggle in Portugal, revolutionary publications are not selling as well as they did between 1974-5. Therefore it had seemed necessary to reduce the number of copies being sent to the bookshops (a decision taken in common between Combate and the ICC comrades who went to Portugal last summer). But it's quite another thing to ban all sales. Only a bourgeois bookshop can use as its one criterion the idea that if publications don't sell quickly enough and in sufficient quantities, they and their contents are a waste of time. But the Contra-a-Corrente bookshops in Oporto and Lisbon belong to a group which claims to be revolutionary, to be interested in making the ideas of communist tendencies more accesible to workers. Thus we think we should drop any 'practical' hypothesis as an explanation for this decision.

On a political level, the ICC has never hidden its criticisms of Combate - either verbally when we met with these comrades, or in our press. Despite all the weaknesses and confusions which we pointed out in the article on Combate in International Review no.71, we have always considered Combate as one of the only groups in Portugal which defends class positions: the denunciation of the mystifications of the Armed Forces Movement, of the trade union and left-wing apparatus of capital, and the defence of autonomous workers' struggles and of proletarian internationalism. This is why we made contact with Combate and put militants from other countries in contact with them. But the main weakness of Combate - its lack of clarity on the need to constitute an organization on the basis of a coherent political platform - has inevitably led it into a certain localism, an ambiguous support for 'self-management' experiences, a growing confusion about the orientation of revolutionary activity. Indeed we have said that if Combate continues to theorize its errors, they will be unable to:

" … put up much resistance against the terrible contradiction between their own revolutionary principles and the immense pressure of bourgeois ideology, which they have allowed to penetrate their ranks by refusing to give these principles a clear and coherent basis founded on the historic experience of the class." (International Review no.7)

Our criticisms of Combate are part of an effort to contribute to the clarification of revolutionary positions within the working class. Is Combate so 'sensitive' that these criticisms have made it close the door to the ICC? The ICC only engages in a confrontation of ideas with groups which belong to the proletarian camp, despite all the confusions they may have. We don't polemicize with Stalinism, Trotskyism, or Maoism; we simply denounce them as ideological arms of capital. And we are not surprised when bookshops directly or indirectly under the control of Stalinists or Trotskyists refuse to take our publications or - as happened with a bookshop in Boston - the Trotskyists send our magazines back to us after tearing up the articles on Vietnam. It's a waste of time asking the bourgeoisie to be 'democratic'. But has Combate also begun to use administrative measures in order to settle political accounts?

In the discussions we had with Combate, Combate reproached the ICC for being fixated on the need to create an international organization on the basis of clear, tested class positions. According to some of its members, we are a vestige of the 'old conception' of a revolutionary organization, obsessed with ourselves, sectarian, unable to “open ourselves up to the new gains of the struggle", especially in Portugal. We regret that our intransigence about political class positions and our concern for the regroupment of revolutionaries has found no echo in Combate. We also regret that Combate seems to be much more interested in groups whose main characteristic is a political fluidity and a search for 'novelties' like the 'self-management' ideas of Solidarity in Britain, or of other libertarians without a clear political definition. Maybe we must draw the conclusion that there are no worse demagogues than those claiming to be 'libertarian', until differences lead them to take repressive measures? To accuse us of being the sectarians seems to be too easy an alibi.

It should be pointed out that the Contra-a-Corrente bookshops don't only distribute revolutionary publications. One can understand that in the capitalist world today it's impossible to run a bookshop which only sells communist publications. Consequently, Contra-a-Corrente sells publications of all kinds: psychology, novels, books by Stalin and Mao, texts by Trotsky, as well as the publications of Solidarity, the Communist Workers Organization, and the ICC, in Portuguese and in other languages. Are we to understand that the working class in Portugal needs to read the sophistries of the counter-revolution written by Stalinists or Trotskyists, but that it has to be 'protected' from the ICC? That the rabble of Stalinism are given the means to disseminate their mystifications but that a revolutionary voice must be silenced? Then you would have to put a sign on the doors of the Contra-a-Corrente bookshops saying: "There is no greater enemy of the working class than the ICC and that's why you won't find its press here!"

What's at stake in this discussion is not simply the distribution of ICC material. Whatever happens, our press will get distributed in Portugal. But the kind of attitude shown by Combate is not worthy of people who are attempting to rediscover the path of revolution. It is repugnant that Combate should take such decisions without any explanation. There are too many groups today who claim to be revolutionary but who set themselves up as the judges and censors of the revolutionary movement: the CWO is a flagrant example of this with their unfortunate conviction that all those who don't agree with them are part of the counter-revolution. We have to fight against this tendency for everyone to establish their 'own' class frontiers in order to defend the interests of their little sect. Today, when the working class must have a clear political orientation if it is to act in time in the face of the crisis, when after fifty years of the barbarism of the counter-revolution there is at last an opening in history, it is lamentable that groups like Combate should remain content with confused political positions and fall so easily into taking repressive measures against other political tendencies, measures which recall the 'good old days' of Stalinism.

We thus openly ask Combate to reconsider this ban on our press and repudiate this aberrant decision.

30 November 1976



Letter from Combate

Dear Comrades,

In a meeting a few days ago the Contra-a-Corrente bookshops (in Oporto and in Lisbon) decided that they would no longer sell RI or any other publications of your Current; in future we only want to receive two copies of RI for the archives; we will try to pay you for what we have sold as soon as possible. Until the next time. (A bientot)

Oporto, 9 September 1976

1 This article, 'Combate: the Peaceful Road to Self-Management', was written in the summer before the letter from Combate had arrived, and published after it had been received. It thus plays no particular role in the bookshop affair except as a general resume of discussion and criticism.