O Jornal Combate

A reflection on the journal, O Jornal Combate by its participants 30 years later. O Journal Combats was a journal published during the Portuguese Revolution which assisted the working class in reflecting on their struggles

  After the military Coup of the 25th of April 1974, in Portugal, and the overthrow of nearly 50 years of fascism and right-wing repressive regimes there followed a year and a half of profound social transformation, which just about challenged every aspect of Portuguese society. What started off as a military coup turned into a profound attempt at social change from the bottom up, involving all aspects of Portuguese society and became headline news, on a daily basis, in the world media. This was due both to the intensity of the struggle as well as the fact that the right-wing Francoist regime was still in power in neighbouring Spain and there was uncertainty as to how these struggles were to pan out and what effect they could have on Spain and Europe in general. In the aftermath of the coup, workers began to question the authority inside the factories, an authority that had always been structurally related to the fascist regime and it was in this vacuum that the Workers' Committees came into being. Depending on the balance of forces inside the factories these Committees either limited themselves to exerting pressure on the bosses or else set up a parallel management structure alongside the boss's administration, in many cases substituting it. In working-class areas Neighbourhood Committees were set up and Committees ran almost all factories and neighbourhoods for the period up to November 1975 when another military coup reinforced liberal parliamentary democracy and brought Portugal into the mainstream of European capitalism.

In 2006, very few people outside Portugal can even remember these events given that Portugal was quickly recuperated into the European Union and the so-called democratic fold and the whole experience was deemed a storm in a teacup and is barely mentioned these days. However, recent events in Latin America where there is the experience of going from fascism to 'liberation' has revived an interest in Portugal in the 1970s. These involve the splits in the army where some army battalions throughout Latin America assist in factory and land takeovers etc and  parallel to some degree the Copcon experience and there is a huge potential for a direct democratic movement of the base.  Indeed some of the main institutions, the army and the cops are split  - all of which point to Portugal as some early indication of the process and the potential disintegration of the ultra-repressive state apparatus. So, in putting up this website, which reproduces all the issues of Combate we are not just interested in some eccentric experience of mulling over the past but it is meant to put that experience out there as something to be learned from.

 In 1974, after the initial experiences of such companies like Sogantal and Charminha where factories were occupied by the workers and self-managed, the workers taking on all tasks inside the factory, the experience spread to hundreds if not thousands of factories. Actually, many bosses afraid of the boldness of the popular wave fled the country, leaving the factories abandoned and the staff without pay. The occupations started off as a survival mechanism for the workers. It was in this way that in industry and commerce self-managed companies came into being, from tiny units to large enterprises. Large estates (latifundios) in the south were occupied and cultivated collectively. By mid 1975, a huge part of the Portuguese economy and society were directly in the hands of the workers and run by the workers.

It was in this background that the newspaper Combate was published in Portugal. The first issue of Combate, along with the inaugural Manifesto is dated 21st June, 1974 and the last number, N. 51 is dated February 1978. The first 10 numbers of Combate [1] were published weekly. N. 11,  (Nov 22 1974) to N. 47 (Oct 22, 1976) was almost fortnightly with some gaps. The counter coup of Nov 1976 which sought to establish constitutional representative democracy brought in policies which made occupations more difficult and the last four issues N. 48 (dated Feb 1977) to N. 51 (Feb 1978) became more and more difficult to organise and therefore more irregular.

 The idea was to produce a non-ideological newspaper that would publish reports about these occupations and experiences of self-management. Many of the occupied factories at this time, were producing their own bulletins and broadsheets telling and discussing the issues that were at stake inside the factory and it was thought that these bulletins could be reproduced in their entirety (and not just quoting certain sections, as other newspapers were doing, in keeping with their own ideologies). Workers' Committees were interviewed and could tell their own stories in their own words. As well as that round table discussions by members of various Committees were organised and taped and these discussions transcribed and reproduced in full.

The aim of Combate was to publicize the struggles of the workers and their forms of struggle, whether in industry or commerce as well as the struggles in agriculture, both north and south of the country, as well as the Neighbourhood struggles. Also, Combate focused in on all struggles against military discipline which was especially important given the context that the armed forces were directly involved in the government and enjoyed enormous prestige for having overthrown the fascist regime. Combate also focused in on worker's struggles in other countries and almost all issues contained news of these struggles. Those producing Combate hoped that by publishing these articles and by reproducing the factory bulletins, as well as organising discussions amongst various workers that workers in similar situations could learn from their comrades and contribute their experiences and that the most advanced experiences could unite them in a common front or at least stimulate relations between the various workers' groups.

The problems of Workers' Committees were highlighted in all issues. An example from Combate no 13 (Dec 1974) quoted a worker from Setenave, the big ship building company from Setubal, south of Lisbon as saying 'The last General Assembly had no interest for me. It just discussed a load of matters that had nothing to do with the problems at hand. Parties attacked parties, you're MRPP, you're PRP and so on 'It shouldn't be as a member of a political party that one attacks the Committee but as a worker.' Another worker interviewed pointed out that that the Committee was recalled for 'fraternising' with the management and said, 'More members of the base committee must go on the Workers' Committee. Everyone should know someone on the Workers' Committee'. These were some of the nitty-gritty problems which faced the Committees and which Combate tried to call attention to.

This movement, in any case, owed nothing to the leftist political parties which on the whole were taken totally by surprise by events. The Communist Party, very influential in the militarary governments of 1974-75, tried to build up the embryonic trade union bureaucracies at the expense of the Worker's Committees and tried to halt the self-management movements in a way that wanted to promote its own brand of State Capitalism based on nationalisations. Even in the large estates in the south where workers were generally supportive of the Communist Party the collective occupations of land came from the initiative of the farm-workers themselves. The Communist Party slogans were 'for an increase in wages' and where direct repression couldn't work they tried to use the nationalised banking system to run the companies and estates in self-management through the granting of credit facilities and in this way control them. None of the other extreme left parties (like UDP, PRP, MES or MRPP) had any preponderant role in the self-management movement at the time. In reality, these leftist parties were the political arm of certain military factions, and this relation to the armed forces showed that they had not really separated themselves from the Capitalist State and were really only interested in their own brands of State Capitalism. Certainly the militants of these parties in the factories where they were present were very active and played a role in the Workers' Committees. But at long as the Base Movement remained strong these militants were confined to carry out the directives of the General Assemblies and not those dictated by the parties. Party banners were forbidden in many Assemblies and on demonstrations by 1975 and the parties were regulated to a secondary position. And, of course, when the base movement began to decline and the workers' committees became more isolated, after November 1976, these parties too lost their usefulness to become mini-leftist organisations on the margins of society.

For Combate, it was the actual forms of spontaneous organisation of the workers that  more important rather than the particular demands made by the workers' committees since we saw this as the basis of workers' democracy and the means to destroy the hierarchies of State capitalism. Some of the strike bulletins reproduced in Combate were written in a language and logic that put the problems of Capital in a nutshell and spontaneously expressed it. An Efacec Inel strike bulletin wrote, 'Our struggles are just and if we strike we shall be heard. This is why we must organise not only against this or that boss, in this or that factory, but against the capitalist system as a whole. Comrades often ask: 'If there were no bosses, who would give us work?' We all know that to work we need a factory, machines and raw materials. We also know that other workers made the factory and the machine, just as it was other workers who sowed the cotton, worked the wool or dug up the iron ore. It therefore isn't the boss, who gives us work, but the miner, the metalworker, the farmhand. Where did the boss get his money to have his factory? Very easy comrades!. We gave it to him. It is the only way to make a fortune. Those who did the work only get what is necessary to survive. It is the workers who produce the surplus, which the boss uses to buy machines. Since it is workers like us who run the factory, why are the bosses needed?' Such was the quality and clear-headed writing of workers at the time. Combate, the newspaper, is full of such gems. In many ways, what was valuable here was the way in which workers could just talk truthfully about life, about the quality of life and about aspirations and not feel under pressure to say the 'right thing'. What was characteristic about Combate, as many workers at the time pointed out, was that it was 'believable', you got what you read and that was that. In some ways we became a mirror to the anti-capitalist movement organised by workers, who were the vanguard, not us, and they were workers who for the first time in their lives felt some power and dignity and were given the means to express it.

The fundamental split in Portuguese society, for Combate, after the 1974 coup was between the various modalities of State capitalism and the attempt to increase the direct power of the workers from the bottom up, without recourse to the state apparatus, while developing organisational autonomy and economic self management. The Communist Party through successive military governments had installed State Capitalism and the various extreme leftist parties either actively collaborated with this project or at least went along with it. The Socialist Party, on the other hand, was divided between those who wanted to go along with the military governments and the Communist Party and those who wanted a European style liberal capitalism and thus conspired with the right and extreme right and with the United States Embassy. The Social Democrats (the PPD) while situated to the right of the Socialist Party did not raise huge obstacles to the successive military governments or the Communists. Combate, at this time, considered State capitalism to be a bigger danger than private capitalism and this was the main emphasis in terms of its practical activity as well as its political analysis. This was the situation at the time and while, in hindsight, neo-liberalism and market economics have become the dominant ideology in the Portuguese ( and world) ruling class, this was not the situation in 1974-75.

Combate did not have any paid up members; it was open for anyone to attend as long as they adhered to the general principals of the manifesto and while there were a core group[2] which met at least once a week, there were others who drifted in and out or came along when certain struggles were being discussed. There was a group in the south (in Lisbon) as well as a group in the north (Oporto). Sometimes workers from a particular factory would turn up to discuss their struggle and these would get involved in preparing the next issue,  Sometimes and the meeting were large, especially in the height of the struggle, and sometimes there would be the usual people, perhaps a core group, which varied, of 5 to 8 people.        

Seven of the eight pages of Combate dealt with the ongoing struggles in the factories, the land, in the Army barracks and in the neighbourhoods and one page was used to analyse the current situation as discussed by those present. The seven pages were devoted to interviews, factory and neighbourhood bulletins, interviews which were transcribed in full and while this led to certain repetitions and sometimes long-windedness as people repeated points already made, it was considered useful since it was not up to us to make cuts or omit things that we didn't agree with. There were never any complaints from workers' committees about misrepresentation.

One page was devoted to an editorial and although this was discussed by all present there probably could have been more there democracy here, generally it was written bu one person. Of course the heat of the moment, the need to get something out, deadlines etc, meant that someone (usually Joao) took on this task. It might have been better, in retrospect, had we asked some of the workers groups to participate more and possibly write their own editorials on what was happening. In any case, if the experience is ever repeated in some form or another this is something worth considering. When the workers' movement collapsed Combate also collapsed amidst internal recriminations which is usual in these matters and a certain amount (though not much) of bitterness followed. However, it can be said that on the collapse of Combate, the members all went our separate ways and followed separate paths. What is important here is not to dwell on this collective failure, (a collective failure which was probably inevitable anyway, given the pressure of world capitalism) but to dwell on the positive aspects of the experience which was a rich one and one which we offer here in retrospect. It is the workers' movement which is important and not some hurt egos of a few of its members, it was one of the first and richest oral history experiences, as well as being active participants in it.

Combate was a product of its time, there was no internet, no mobile phones, and in many respects it seems old-fashioned. And of course, it is.  In today's world video and Internet and SMS may be a better means of communications (as in the French struggles in 2006) but in the Portugal of the 1970s this was not available. However, it should be said that from the first issue (and the last one was a stencilled effort) Combate would not survived without the help of the self-managed workers in the printing press where it was published. Many thanks to them.

At the start of 1975 the northern members opened up a bookshop called Contra A Corente and started editing small pamphlets , either printed or stencilled. The bookshop was a meeting place for members of Combate but was also used by other groups of a libertarian or autonomist tendency without conditions. In October 1975 the Lisbon members opened a bookshop, also called Contra a Corrente with the same objectives. Some 31 pamphlets were in Portuguese as well as some in English and French.

            What is certain is that in the pages of the 51 issues of Combate there is a repotrary of all that happened within the workers' movement in 1974-75.  It is a goldmine for researchers and for anyone interested in the workers' movement of this time, probably one of the great experiences of the end of the 20th century. It is in this vein that we put out these issues, in Portuguese only at the moment. A collection of essays, called  (Capitalismo Privado ou Capitalismo de Estado N'o ' Escolha!, Porto: Afrontamento, 1975). And it is worth noting that the book Portugal. The Impossible Revolution? (Londres: Solidarity, 1977; also available on the internet, which was translated into Portuguese as Portugal: A Revoluao Impossivel?, Porto: Afrontamento, 1978), by Phil Meyler, one of the various foreigners who were directly involved in Combate right up to the end., contains many  references and quotes from Combate.

Lisbon 2006: Joao Bernardo, Rita Delgado, Jose Elesio Melo e Silva, Phil Mailer.


[1] The initial initiative to set up Combate came from Joao Bernardo, Rita Delgado e Joao Crisestomo, the latter since deceased. Joao Bernardo e Rita Delgado had been members of a clandestine Marxist Leninist group, the Revolutionary Communist Committees (CCR)  which resulted from a split in 1969 of a Maoist organisation, the Portuguese Marist Leninist Committee.

[2] Certain people can be mentioned here and apologies to anyone left out. Antonio Leitao, Julio Henriqies, Diogo..... Julio..


Jul 8 2015 12:58

A must read - "Portugal, The Unfinished Revolution" by Phil Mailer

Jul 8 2015 19:13

Hey, thanks for this. One small comment: with your contributions could you please put in a short introductory paragraph explaining what the article is about? Many thanks!

Jul 30 2015 17:23

Thanks for adding this text to the library. During my involvement with the old UK 'Social Revolution' group (subsequently part of the UK SOLIDARITY- for social revolution group) I wrote a short introduction to the Combate paper and we published a translation of their editorial from Combate No 34 in our poorly duplicated journal 'Libertarian Communism'. We also followed this up with a translation of a critical background text on that period of class struggle in Portugal by the french group GLAT in their paper 'Lutte de Classe' which we titled 'Portugal: between two stools'. This later was also rather better duplicated so might get digitised at some point. Edit: actually already here: