Combate: The peaceful road to self-management

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The Portuguese group, Combate, was formed in 1974 in the re-emergence of the workers’ struggles in Portugal after the overthrow of the Caetano dictatorship. Like similar groups in other countries, Combate’s appear­ance was symptomatic of the general awaken­ing of the workers’ movement after fifty years of world counter-revolution, an awake­ning which has been on the rise since 1968. During and after the May days in France, many groups emerged promising to contribute to the generalization of the lessons the proletariat has so painfully acquired since the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 was engul­fed by the growing counter-revolution.

The present revitalization of the international class struggle can be traced to the deepening world crisis of capitalism, caused by the end of the post-war reconstruction. Thus the crisis also lays the social and political preconditions for the emergence of groups which attempt to place their activity within the camp of the working class in oppo­sition to the mystifications of the left-wing of capital and its ideological pimps (Trotskyists, Maoists, populists, anarchists, etc). When it first appeared, Combate was not only a genuine and refreshing emanation of the struggles of the Portuguese workers -- it promised to become much more. Indeed, Combate was the only group in Portugal -- apart from the chronically crippled anarch­ist and councilist sects -- which rallied around certain revolutionary positions. Combate boldly attacked the mystifications of the Portuguese Armed Forces Movement (AFM) and the trade unions and leftist apparatus of the bourgeoisie. The group defended the autonomous struggles f Portuguese workers and claimed to stand firmly for internationalism. In the repugnant climate of triumphalism created by the lef­tist carnival in Portugal from April 1974 to November 1975, the stance of Combate offered a glimmer of hope. It was as if in the very midst of the ‘Portuguese Revolution’ -- the ‘carnation revolution’ which ruthlessly confronted workers’ struggles at TAP, Timex, the Post Office, etc -- a proletarian voice had finally been raised.

The limitations of Combate

In issue no.5 of World Revolution, the publication of the ICC in Britain, it was The main weaknesses of (Combate) appear to be its lack of clarity about organi­zation combined with a certain localism. (Their) article, seems to argue for an abstract opposition to ‘parties’, rather than seeing the reactionary policies of the leftist parties as a function of their capitalist nature. This attitude is lin­ked to a failure on Combate’s part to see the need to organize in a coherent and centralized way, around a definite plat­form. The article also reveals a tend­ency to see the present crisis in Portu­gal as a Portuguese phenomenon rather than as a manifestation of the world capi­talist crisis; and furthermore, there seems to be a limited awareness of the fact that the problems facing the Portu­guese working class can only be solved at an international level.” (Introduction in World Revolution no.5 to Combate’s article: ‘Portugal -- What Workers’ Councils?’)

These words were confirmed by the subse­quent evolution of Combate. Comrades of the International Communist Current met and dis­cussed with Combate extensively in 1975. But, unfortunately, these fraternal discus­sions only brought to light a propensity in Combate to localism, theoretical stagnation, and eclecticism. In the Portuguese situa­tion, where revolutionaries with very clear heads were and are urgently needed, these negative features rapidly disclosed the widening gap between Combate’s activities and the needs of the working class.

Combate’s limitations had existed within it from its beginning, but they became a real brake on the group’s development when they began to be ‘theorized’. As the class struggle in Portugal entered a temporary lull (during and after the summer of 1975), Com­bate clearly entered into a state of regres­sion. Confused perhaps by the temporary retreat of the proletariat after the Novem­ber events, Combate began to exhibit a mar­ked tendency to defend the ideology of self-management, including the defence of populist and marginal struggles. This was paralleled by Combate’s almost complete dis­regard and abstention from broader political issues confronting the Portuguese and world proletariat over the past few months. Responding to the recent elections in Portugal, Combate printed a front-page headline proclaiming: “No to Otelo, No to Eanes -- for Direct Democracy!”. With this banality, supplemented by an editorial in which ‘dir­ect democracy’ was transformed into ‘wor­kers’ democracy’, Combate then proceeded to submerge its readers in a flood of articles eulogizing workers’ and peasants ‘control’ of Portuguese enterprises (Combate, no.43, June/July 1976) (1). Combate’s evolution is not accidental nor exceptional. It shows the immense weight that the counter-revolu­tion still exerts over emerging revolutionary forces; a weight that is so great that it can easily curtail the positive development of a group, particularly in a situation where in the group is cut off from organic and theoretical continuity with the historic workers’ movement. The evolution of Combate is important, therefore, because it helps revolutionaries to assess the difficulties faced today by the working class in its permanent search for clarity and deeper understanding.

Combate’s origins

The tasks that Combate attempted to fulfill in the Portuguese class struggle were never defined very clearly. Combate began in 1974 as a sort of self-managed ‘collective’, centred around a bookshop in Lisbon. This bookshop in turn, was open to workers in struggle and ‘autonomous revolutionary groups’ as a place to hold meetings. The premises were also offered to ‘self-managed’ enterprises -- which are a common feature of Portuguese light industry since 1974 -- as an outlet for their sales. In answer to a reader’s letter, Combate affirmed in one of its issues that the reason for the paper’s existence was to contribute to the working class’s “self-organization and self-leader­ship, helping to create conditions that favour and accelerate that self-organization” (Combate, no.29). Although this was correct in itself, the task of ‘helping’ the workers was approached in a purely academic way in the sense of ‘demystifying’ the state capi­talist ideology held by the supposed ‘techno­cratic class’ which was said to be taking over society (a notion culled perhaps from the writings of James Burnham or perhaps Paul Cardan). Otherwise, Combate saw its task as one of intervention within the wor­kers’ commissions which arose during wor­kers’ struggles in Portugal to ‘unify’ them. These commissions have now become, in the downturn of the class struggle, vehicles for self-management ideology within the proletariat.

To these tasks of ideological ‘demystifica­tion’ and ‘practical unification’ of the class in Portugal, a weak and incoherent call for internationalism was appended. But this call was understood by Combate only in terms of the “international solidar­ity” of workers in other countries -- pref­erably those similarly engaged in ‘self-management’ activities -- with the workers in Portugal. Combate was completely uninter­ested in the fight to create an international organization, politically defined by its defence of class positions within the inter­national class struggle. Apparently the creation of a body of communists regrouped around a platform with a clear internatio­nal framework, based on the past and present lessons coming from the struggles of the class, was a bit too ‘theoretical’ for Com­bate. Over and over again, Combate insisted that it wasn’t “Leninist or anarchist”, as if the question of revolutionary organiza­tion could be reduced to such a simplistic level. Combate remained, however, willing to enter into ‘common work’ with anybody -- including Stalinists -- provided a fuzzy common denominator of confusion was respec­ted by the participants. Such frontism was candidly admitted in a manifesto produced by Combate:

“All our work has as its only point of reference, the practical positions assu­med in the workers’ struggle. And it has as its only objective to contribute to the unification of the various struggles in a general struggle of the masses of the working class and remaining workers. We are not a party and we do not intend to constitute any party based on the work linked to this paper. Elements or groups coming from any party, or coming indepen­dently, are collaborators in this work with the condition that they develop in the workers’ struggle practical revolutionary positions.” (Manifesto of Combate, London, 1975)

Exactly what was meant by developing “prac­tical revolutionary positions” was not made clear, but one is led to suspect that it is the cuckoo’s egg of self-management. Thus, for Combate, the whole question of revolu­tionary organization was but a vague ‘pro­ject’ rooted in localism and buttressed by self-management conceptions -- an effort neatly combining the features of both anar­chism and leftist vanguardism. The task of organizing and fermenting the class struggle and with it the struggle within the army and navy was boldly asserted by Combate as the following passage makes clear:

This paper intends to be an active agent in the linkage of various particu­lar struggles and the organizational experience resulting from them and accelera­ting in that way the development of the workers’ general struggles. It is from these struggles and the development of the general struggle that the whole elaboration of the paper will be based and will result in the deepening of the positions taken by us. This paper is the first axis of our work.”

Let us note that Combate bases its existence as a newspaper on contingencies, on the existence of “various particular struggles” upon which all its elaboration will be foun­ded. By writing this Combate therefore pro­claims its own disappearance at the first sign of a reflux in the struggle, which means that either Combate is completely igno­rant of the way the proletarian struggle develops, with all its pauses, refluxes, and sudden upsurges, or that it will refuse to engage in any activity as soon as the class goes into a temporary retreat. In both cases we are dealing with an irresponsible atti­tude. It shows a grave lack of any sense of responsibility to try to influence a move­ment as crucial in the destiny of humanity as that of the proletariat without having any understanding of its basic essentials and with the intention of deserting that movement as soon as it meets the slightest setback.

Intimately connected with the paper, is the work to ferment the organization of mass meetings among workers, soldiers and sailors, or workers with soldiers and sailors located in specific struggles. We know that this is difficult work, which demands not only the preparation of num­erous material conditions such as defence against the repression of the bourgeoisie. But there can be no development and gene­ralization of our struggle without the realization of mass meetings among wor­kers who have different particular expe­riences of struggle. This is the second axis of our work ...” (Ibid)

Although it is true that a revolutionary group intervenes and participates in the struggles of the working class, especially when the entire proletariat is entering a new period of combativity as it is today, the revolutionary organization does not (for that matter cannot) prepare the ‘material conditions’ for the revolutionary struggle of the class (the creation of mass links be­tween workers in struggle, and the launching of class action against the repression of the bourgeoisie and its state, etc). Depar­ting from its previously humble role as a welfare organization offering services to the working class, Combate quite imaginat­ively adopted the star-billing of majordomo of the revolution -- a transition equivalent to Clark Kent’s transformation into Superman!

The revolutionary minorities of the prole­tariat defend the final general goal of the proletarian movement: communism. Their task is not to ‘organize’, ‘unify’, or ‘ferment’ the struggle of the proletariat. Only the class as a whole can steel its own battalions, temper them in struggle for the assault on the bastion of bourgeois power, the state, since only the revolutionary proletariat as a whole can become the ruling class of society, not a minority of self-appointed leaders and ‘tacticians’. Combate’s concep­tions of its own function not only lack a sense of proportion, owing to the fact that they are not based on a clear definition of the political principles of a revolutionary organization and of the responsibilities of the militants of such an organization; they also lead Combate to invite the class enemy to participate fully with it in “practical revolutionary projects”. Stalinists, popu­lists of the COPCON-PRP variety, isolated Trotskyists, etc, all have their contribution to make as long as they bow their heads to the mysteries of ‘workers’ control’ and ‘self-management’. Their contributions would surely gain Combate’s approval if they chose to add resolute phrases against the creation of ‘political parties’ since for Combate their creation automatically spells Leninism -- indeed there is no reason why Otelo himself might not have some contribu­tion to make to Combate’s efforts.

The Portuguese experience, along with many others, has shown that behind the slogan “No political parties!” you will often find the light artillery, the snipers of capital, those who instead of openly confronting the class movement try to flatter its gropings towards clarification in order to divert them into an impasse. When the workers begin to revolt against bourgeois parties, the ‘non­party’ specialists try to turn it against all parties, including the organizations which the class has historically engendered in its struggle for consciousness. Unable to elimi­nate the distrust that the working class has towards the traditional parties and forms of mystification, capital tries to extend this distrust to those revolutionary organizations who defend the historic programme of the proletariat, in order to deprive the class of one of the fundamental weapons of its struggle. In Portugal, as elsewhere where the bourgeoisie has been gasping for breath, this hoary phrase of “No political parties!” in fact expresses the interests of the state machine in its attempts to drown the autonomy of the class struggle under the ‘non-political’ hegemony of Portuguese state capitalism.

Internationalism – Combate style

To explain the Portuguese events, Combate wrote:

The unsustainable situation of the Portu­guese bourgeoisie in the colonies, the incapacity of militarily defeating the colonial peoples, was one of the factors which made extremely urgent for the bour­geoisie the ‘detournement’ of its politics and led it to search, through military peace, for political and economic neo­colonial solutions.

The multiplicity of strikes and struggles that the Portuguese workers were develop­ing were showing to the bourgeoisie that the repressive apparatus of the Caetano regime was already completely inadequate to try to contain and repress these strikes. The bourgeoisie wanted, then, to allow the ‘freedom to strike’ at the same time appointing to the head of the union apparatus reactionary elements con­trary to the strike practice.

The exploiting classes and layers needed also to adapt the state apparatus for the resolution of grave economic problems which were accumulating without the Cae­tano administration being able to find any solution. Inflation, the necessity to expand industrial development relations with the Common Market, emigration, was all urging a rapid and large-scale reorganization of the state institutions.” (Manifesto of Combate, p.1)

As can be seen from the above, Combate’s explanation for the coup of April 1974, did not transcend the narrow framework of loca­lism -- a view of the coup strictly contained within the Portuguese context. Rampant inflation (today at 50per cent), the need to integrate the Portuguese economy more fully into the EEC, the rising wave of class strug­gle in Portugal, are all aspects of the rea­lity of Portuguese capital as part of the international capitalist system. The Portu­guese crisis has been, in other words, an expression, a moment, of the world crisis of capital which has marked the end of the post-­war ‘boom’. Combate, however, considered the class struggle in Portugal as an essentially ‘Portuguese’ phenomenon. It was if the whole world revolved around Portugal and around the Portuguese proletariat. The heavy in­flux of leftists arriving in Portugal gave substance to this illusion and contributed to the euphoric atmosphere generated by the ‘carnation revolution’. Just as Allende’s Chile became a great laboratory for diffe­rent leftist experiments in ‘socialism’, Portugal too was transformed into a vital centre of leftist mystifications. Portugal, unlike Chile, is in Western Europe and there­fore that much more relevant to leftism. As an important link in NATO’s umbrella and a country firmly integrated into the European economy, Portugal became a veritable El Dorado for leftist entrepreneurs.

In such a relatively backward country, where the workers’ movement has suffered immense atomization in the course of the last fifty years, where a strong, coherent tradi­tion of revolutionary politics has never existed, the emergence of pitched class stru­ggle was destined to give revolutionaries in that country a false sense of triumph, espe­cially when their enthusiasm was not temper­ed by a sober and rigorous understanding of the international class struggle and its perspectives. This false sense of optimism, this naive triumphalism, was to find its accompaniment on the practical level in imme­diatist activity and local prejudice when confronted with the implications of the development of the international crisis of capitalism and struggle of the proletariat. In January 1976, a member of Combate could write: “I would say that the class struggle in Portugal is ideal, pure: the producers find themselves in struggle against the expropriators, a struggle almost without insti­tutional mediations integrated into the appa­ratus of exploitation.” The writer could go on to refer to the new Portuguese regime as a “degenerated capitalist state”, degene­rated presumably by a working class with “strong consciousness and political ability” (Joao Bernardo, Portugal, Economy and Policy of the Dominant Class, London 1976, p.20). In fact this delirious conception is nothing more than the mindless ‘enthusiasm’ which always characterizes leftist demagogues.

For the localist the whole universe revolves around him, and his dilettantish little ‘projects’. Localism sees the proletarian struggle only from a day-to-day perspective; it gets lost when it attempts to generalize such experiences to a more global level. Localism is thus always inherently nationa­list in outlook, incapable of gauging the weight and significance of the immediate situation in relation to wider questions and events. Localists only find renewed ‘sustenance’ in their native and immediate surroundings -- from a chat with an individual worker, a letter by a self-managed enter­prise in the vicinity, or the hearsay of everyday life. A certain ‘physical presence’ in the ‘daily struggles’ of the workers gives localists an inflated opinion of themselves causing them to assume the role of interpreters of the local aspirations and cons­ciousness of the proletariat. If a struggle deepens, localists (who tend to become super-activists in such conditions) have their field day. The extent of the struggle is blown out of all proportion and mindless enthusiasm and messianic predictions grip the heart and fall from the tongue of the localist. But when the struggle goes into reflux, the localist is left high and dry, feeling ‘betrayed’ by the class struggle. Pessimism, the deadening ‘theorization’ of individual isolation or a cynical surrender to the goals of leftism follow. In short the political durability of localists is always minimal and unstable and of no posi­tive value to the proletarian struggle at all.

For Combate too, optimism based on a super­ficial analysis of local events melted away to be replaced by pessimism, when the class struggle in Portugal entered into a phase of retreat. At the beginning of 1976 Combate began to draw up a balance-sheet of its international work:

We note that for the groups who claim to defend the autonomous struggles of the workers and which sometimes write to Com­bate there is almost only one worry: the discussion of theoretical concepts in general in an idealistic way and indepen­dent of the real experiences of the pro­letarian struggles, above all, with the object not of publicizing the new forms of social organization which the prole­tariat in struggle has created, but of publicizing their own political group, considered to be the trustees of theore­tical recipes without the knowledge and the study of which the proletariat cannot be saved.

When these groups publish texts from Com­bate they are, with a few exceptions, the editorials, groups abroad who publish the texts of the workers, or interviews, hardly exist and this is, for us, the part of the newspaper which is more important to know the state of organization, the forms of struggle and the conscious­ness of the Portuguese workers, for deve­loping these forms of struggle internat­ionally. Almost two years of correspon­dence has convinced us that these organi­zations confuse the gigantic world of class struggle with the microscopic world of the struggles of organizations.” (‘Internationalism, the Communist Struggle and Political Organization’, supplement to Combate, no.36)

Preferring telescopes to microscopes, Combate shows us what it means by the “gigantic world of class struggle”:

From the beginning of this newspaper we have sought that groups and comrades in other countries who have similar prac­tice to ours should unite their forces in order to set up relationships between the workers. (One example, very recently workers of TIMEX said that it was diffi­cult to enter into contact with workers of that multinational in other countries because by telephone they didn’t receive workers at the other end of the line but the bosses who boycotted such a contact). Would it not be easier for the groups who attempt to dynamize the struggles of the workers to work in the sense of making these contacts possible?” (Ibid).

Poor proletariat: It’s gigantic: world is so vast; that it requires the ‘dynamism’ of such groups as Combate to transcend the open spaces. How can the working class unify its struggles if it doesn’t have the correct com­munications network established for it by the resourceful elves of ‘revolutionary’ organizations working overtime at dialing the right numbers? But Combate doesn’t want to be considered merely as a handy telephone exchange. Its role of revolutionary major­domo can’t stop there -- there has to be some room somewhere for ‘theory’:

We don’t want to say that we don’t con­sider the discussion of theoretical pro­blems important, or that these couldn’t be enriched by different practices of struggle in different countries. But in our understanding of it, the platform for the unity of the revolutionary proletariat lies in the forms of organization which are developed by the autonomous struggle and the consciousness which arises from this, and not in one or another indivi­dual ideological systems dealing with theoretical disputes. For us, it is more important to contribute to practical forms of struggle, which break down the fron­tiers and which allow the workers to esta­blish direct relations in the common struggle against capitalism.” (Ibid)

Indeed for Combate, ‘theory’ bears a purely immediate, subordinate and mechanical rela­tion to the fragmented ‘practical forms of struggle’ of the present moment, without any consideration being given to the historical aspect of class consciousness, bound as it is to the whole experience of the internat­ional proletariat, gained from more than 130 years of struggle.

These confusions of Combate stem from a to­tal incoherence as to what is the communist goal of the working class, what is the role of the party and the mass proletarian organs, the workers’ councils. Combate fails to understand the present period of capitalist decadence the impossibility of reformism, the reactionary nature of leftist parties (reactionary not because they ‘curtail’ self-management, but owing to their defence of capital over the last fifty years of counter-revolution), and what internationa­lism for the working class truly implies. In sum, Combate shows under the pretext of rejecting what it calls “theoretical squab­bles” a complete disregard for clarity with­in the revolutionary struggle of the class and the need for a coherent platform within the class struggle. Class consciousness is the historic element in the struggle of the proletariat -- it doesn’t arise anew from scratch every day, generated by each frag­mented act of working class individuals. Internationalism is not a random, ad hoc exchange of the ‘practical experiences’ of such individuals or sects operating under an implicitly federalist conception of ‘I'll help you it you help me’. Such ‘practical experiences’ don’t break any frontiers ex­cept in tide minds of their advocates.

In fact behind this attitude of abasing one­self in front of every ‘concrete’ struggle and of distrusting past experience, behind this ‘practical’ vision of internationalism, there lies a narrow and distrustful vision of the proletariat. Such a vision no longer sees the class as a social being with a historical and geographical unity: the class has become a simple agglomeration of worker or of enterprises, whose historic movement towards communism can be reduced to the daily accumulation of ‘practical experiences’ and ‘new forms of organization’ which ‘prefigure’ the emergence of new social relations. In this way we arrive unintentionally at a gradualist world-view which believes that communism can be established step by step in capitalism while the bourgeois state continues to hold sway over the whole of social life.

Such nonsense is similar to Bernstein’s theory, but glossed over with the charming, additive of self-management and other ideo­logical trinkets of the last fifty years of counter-revolution, such as the defence of marginalist struggles, the defence of ‘opp­ressed peoples’, etc. The idea of ‘socialism in one country’ coined by Stalinism, is not inimical to this vague theorizing. Thus we are told by Combate that “communist social forms can be created for a while in certain particular cases, without the soc­iety as a whole having reached them and having transformed the mere social forms into effective communist economical organi­zations” (Ibid). Combate doesn’t seem to have noticed the role played by self-management ideology within the class struggle in Portugal in terms of helping to salvage capitalist production. Instead, workers’ self-management, ‘communist forms’ of running capitalist firms are presented by Com­bate as the “solidarity of the workers” in struggle. The Titoist, Ben-Bellaist recipes dished up by Combate in its usual ‘non-doctrinaire’ way seeks to avoid confusing the workers struggles with the ‘microscopic’ world of struggle between organizations, by simply drowning the class struggle in the macroscopic swamp of the counter-revolution. When Combate demands ‘autonomy’ for the masses, in fact its appeals have nothing to do with the masses – it’s simply the demand of Combate to be allowed to continue to de­base the meaning of communism in its own so practical, so concrete, so ‘apolitical’ and ‘autonomous’ way. It’s a cry for organizational autonomy that demands to be spared the searching and principled criticism of communist organizations who recognize the absolutely vital importance of clarification and not confusionism within the class struggle.

The further evolution of Combate

Combate’s fate is the fate of a group which attempted to place itself on the terrain of working class struggle, but failed to recog­nize that this involved breaking with all the ideological muck of decadent capitalism. No group can last today in the no-man’s land between vague leftist-councilist political positions and the communist positions of the proletariat. In the last analysis, a class frontier separates the one from the other. For Combate to have evolved positively, it would have had to break with its past conceptions and activities completely, and realized the need to regroup with an international organization defending class positions, clarified by the historical struggle of the international proletariat. This did not (and perhaps given the confu­sions generated by the ‘carnation revolution’ could not have) happened. After a certain point Combate’s evolution became overwhelm­ingly negative and the group became the mouthpiece of many leftist mystifications, all the while pretending to be the ‘reporter’ of the activities of the workers. The stan­dard bete noire concerns of libertarian poli­tics became increasingly fashionable in the pages of Combate with articles on abortion, reprints from foreign publications such as International Socialism in Britain on women’s problems, or articles on racial iss­ues uncritically reproduced from Race Today, etc. Vital issues confronting the proleta­rian struggle fared less well in Combate. The need for internationalism in the class struggle, for example, was met with equivo­cations by Combate, whose half-truths and truisms on the subject seek to evade any organizational responsibility towards this fundamental of working class struggle. Com­bate, like most confusionist elements, can agree on almost anything with a communist group provided agreement can be given with­out conviction and thus carries no political consequences. This kind of attitude can only end up in a spineless opportunism.

The difficulties confronted by revolutionaries in Portugal and Spain

The objective limitations of today originate in the disarray, demoralization, and confu­sion within two generations of the world proletariat who suffered the worst batter­ings of the counter-revolution. While the present rising level of class struggle creates the conditions necessary for the formation of revolutionary groups, this per­iod is still afflicted by the ideological aberrations and debris of the previous one. Today, if emerging groups do not firmly base their activity within the context of a coh­erent international framework, sooner or later they will enter into the path of theo­retical and practical decomposition. Marx used to say that the ideas of dead genera­tions weigh like a nightmare on the brains of the living. The negative evolutions of Combate poignantly illustrates this truth.

Portugal and Spain today present specific examples of the difficult situation faced by revolutionaries. The economic and political backwardness of these two weak links of European capitalism has meant that the proleta­riat of these countries has tended to be propelled onto the political arena at the onset of the economic crisis. In order to deflect the proletariat’s struggle, the lef­tist forces in Portugal and Spain have also appeared on the political stage, announcing to the whole world that the proletariat is to be drowned amidst the whole ‘revolutionary people’. The attempts of leftism to sub­merge the working class into the common front of ‘the people’ opens the way to a whole barrage of mystifications the left uses to marshal the proletariat behind the needs of the national capital.

A whole mythology was brought into being by the leftists in Portugal in 1974 about the ‘Portuguese revolution’. The same will hap­pen in Spain tomorrow. From every rooftop in Lisbon and Porto, the leftists proclaimed the need to ‘defend’ the fraudulent ‘revolu­tion’ at the same time as they were systema­tically setting about derailing the autono­mous struggles of the workers into the dead ends of ‘national defence’ and ‘workers’ self-management’. The entire revolting campaign for ‘popular committees’, ‘popular democracy’, ‘grass-roots democracy’, ‘wor­kers' councils’ (sic!), ‘inter-empresas’, was used by the leftists in Portugal for all those wretched lies were worth. In Portugal, it was almost impossible to swim against this tide of lies, confusions, and false hopes generated so hysterically by leftism. Initially, Combate seemed to be capable of doing so. But Combate’s mistake was to as­sume that the rising class struggle in Port­ugal was a direct harbinger of total social transformation in Portugal. It didn’t rea­lize that the struggles of the Portuguese workers were a growing link in the chain of international class struggle, and that the promise of the Portuguese proletariat was to be seen in terms of the lessons gained in to­day’s struggle finding their consummation in the revolutionary struggle of the interna­tional working class in the years to come.

Combate, however, over-estimated events in Portugal and later proved unable to put for­ward a communist analysis of what was actu­ally going on. Its emphasis was on self-management and the ‘day-to-day’ struggles of the Portuguese working class. And indeed there was an immediate upsurge of working class militancy in Portugal which demanded the intervention of any revolutionary group to the best of its abilities. But such an intervention could have been fruitful and systematic only if it had been based on a clear international conception of the global class struggle. Combate naively dismissed the need for such clarification. It belie­ved that political clarity would spontane­ously flow from the ‘daily struggles’ of the Portuguese working class. There was, there­fore, no fundamental need for them to relate to anything outside Portugal beyond ascri­bing to some vague notion of ‘internationa­lism’, which at best amounted to a vague sense of moral solidarity between dispersed sectors of the class. Their advocacy of permanent ‘links’ between workers boiled down to a fear that the workers themselves were incapable of establishing class solidarity in a revolutionary upsurge and, in fact, was nothing less that a political defence of the ideas of self-management carried to an ‘international’ level. Different sectors of the class joined together with permanent ‘links’, could apparently struggle better for the fight for reforms. But reformism is impossible today in a world beset by the historical crisis of capitalism. For revolutionaries to advocate ‘links’ or ‘rela­tionships’ based on the reformist illusions of the proletariat is to confuse and lower the level of class consciousness coming out of the sharp battles of the class such as took place in Portugal itself in 1974 and 1975.

The political decomposition of Combate is, in some respects, a loss for the revolutio­nary movement today. But it is a loss only when one thinks what Combate, and similar groups, could have become had they evolved positively. In their present state such groups act as a barrier to consciousness in the proletariat: they become obstacles to organizational coherence and principled regroupment of revolutionaries. Hencefor­ward, in the absence of any rectification -- which becomes less and less possible the more they settle into their errors and what’s more into theorizing those errors – these groups cannot 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. The choice before them is thus a simple one: either they res­olve the contradictions, cross the Rubicon, and join the camp of the bourgeoisie by abandoning principles which have become more and more of an embarrassment to them; or they simply disappear, dislocated by their own inner contradictions. This is probably what will happen to Combat whose disappearance is, as we have seen, already inscribed in the platform on which it bases its existence. If, as is very likely, such a group does not succeed in overcoming its confu­sions, this is in the final analysis the only outcome which corresponds to the vital necessity for clear communist positions within the workers’ movement.


August 1976

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