Amílcar Cabral and the African Revolution - Part One

amilcar cabral-credit public domain casacomum dot orgThe winds of revolution are once again blowing over the African continent. From Burkina Faso to South Africa, from Burundi to Nigeria, we have seen a radicalisation of the workers and the youth and the rise of mass movements that have challenged corrupt capitalist regimes in one country after another.

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As part of this revolutionary reawakening, there is also a seeking out of revolutionary theory, and in this context historical figures such as Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankara, Chris Hani and Amílcar Cabral are making a comeback. Cabral was an important anti-imperialist figure to emerge from the convulsive decades of decolonisation in Africa, and as Africa is entering a new period of revolutionary upheaval it is important for Marxists to understand what these historical figures really stood for.

As we will see, although Cabral played an important role in the revolutionary movement of Guinea-Bissau, in the last analysis the isolation of the revolution to one small extremely underdeveloped country, combined with the nefarious influence of Stalinism, meant that the movement he lead was doomed to failure. Today’s generation of revolutionary workers and youth in Africa need to learn the lessons, both positive and negative, from those historical experiences, as they prepare for a new wave of revolution in the coming period.

The Portuguese empire and Guinea-Bissau

amilcar cabral-credit public domain casacomum dot orgPhoto: Public DomainAmílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral was born to a middle-class family on September 24, 1924, in the town of Bafatá, in the small Portuguese colony of Guinea-Bissau, in West Africa. His parents were Cape Verdeans who had moved to the mainland, where his father, Juvenal Cabral, worked as a primary school teacher and his mother as a shopkeeper. 

Portugal was the most backward and despotic of the European imperial powers. Despite having entered a prolonged decline after the sixteenth century, this small country still held on to large swathes of land in Africa and Asia. But Portugal was not a classical imperial power like Britain or France. While controlling numerous colonies on two continents, it was simultaneously dominated by British imperialism, which saw in Lisbon a pliable underling that administrated its colonies in the interest of British capital. The Portuguese empire, both dominator and dominated, was thus held together with the invaluable help of London. As Lenin explained: 

Portugal is an independent sovereign state, but actually, for more than two hundred years, since the war of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), it has been a British protectorate. Great Britain has protected Portugal and her colonies in order to fortify her own positions in the fight against her rivals, Spain and France. In return Great Britain has received commercial privileges, preferential conditions for importing goods and especially capital into Portugal and the Portuguese colonies, the right to use the ports and islands of Portugal, her telegraph cables, etc., etc. Relations of this kind have always existed between big and little states, but in the epoch of capitalist imperialism they become a general system, they form part of the sum total of “divide the world” relations and become links in the chain of operations of world finance capital.[1]

In later years, Cabral makes a similar appraisal of the Portuguese empire:

Faced with the power of the main imperialist nations, one is forced to wonder how it was possible for Portugal, an underdeveloped and backward country, to retain its colonies in spite of the redistribution to which the world was subjected. Portuguese colonialism managed to survive despite the sharing-out of Africa made by the imperialist powers at the end of the 19th century because England supported the ambitions of Portugal which, since the treaty of Metwen in 1703 had become a semi-colony of England. England had every interest in using the Portuguese colonies, not only to exploit their economic resources, but also to occupy them as support bases on the route to the Orient, and thus to maintain absolute domination in the Indian Ocean. To counter the greed of the other colonialist powers and to defend its interests in the Portuguese colonies, England found the best solution: it defended the 'rights' of its semi-colony.[2]

Guinea-Bissau was one of the most underdeveloped of the Portuguese possessions. Lacking the raw materials of Angola and Mozambique and the strategic and commercial importance of Cape Verde, Macau, Timor, or Goa, it was a backwater in the decrepit Portuguese empire. An outpost in the slave trade until its abolition in the nineteenth century, the province had been languishing. At the time of Cabral’s birth it had a population of around half a million, with the presence of some 15-20,000 Europeans, principally Portuguese soldiers. A brutal system of racism and apartheid prevailed in the towns where the white minority dominated and blacks were divided between “assimilated” and “non-assimilated”, while in the countryside Portuguese power rested on relations of tribal oppression.

Much of Guinea-Bissau were marshy lowlands where cultivation was difficult; arable land comprised only 12.2% of the province. Around 99% of the native population (according to Cabral’s estimates) was illiterate. Whatever education was available to the indigenous community was monopolised by the Catholic church. The rural population comprised two main groups. On the one hand were the Fula, who were Muslim and who Cabral classed as “semi-feudal”, owing to the degree of class differentiations that existed among this community, dominated by a layer of wealthy chiefs that were closely connected to the Portuguese imperialists. These chiefs ruled over the peasants, who had to pay tribute in kind, and also owned slaves. There was a middle layer of artisans that were subordinated to the chiefs. The Fulas also oppressed other, less advanced tribes, a relationship of oppression that the Portuguese exploited. The other major ethnicity was the Balanta, animists who Cabral defined as primitive communists by token of their rudimentary egalitarianism. Off the coast, the situation on the islands of Cape Verde was not much better. Lack of investment by the Portuguese and the poverty of the soil resulted in devastating famines. Between 1941 and 1948, as many as 50,000 people died of starvation.

In the 1960s the province only had 14 native university graduates (including Cabral). Lacking any industry, the working class of the province was virtually non-existent, and was limited to a few hundred wageworkers in the transports and construction sectors. These workers, who Cabral hesitated to refer to as a proletariat, had recently migrated from the countryside and maintained close connections with their villages. Despite their political rawness, this budding working class played an important role in the revolutionary movement, especially the youth that had recently transferred to the towns. It “proved extremely dynamic in the struggle. Many of these people joined the struggle right from the beginning and it is among this group that we found many of the cadres whom we have since trained”, commented Cabral in 1969.[3] In the towns there was also a mass of déclassé and lumpen elements living on the margins of society, always ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder and who became “a great help to the Portuguese police in giving them information”.[4]

However, even Guinea-Bissau was exposed to the revolutionary convulsions that were shaking the world in Cabral’s formative years. A stratum of native intellectuals and educated professionals, who staffed the colonial administration and the service sector, was beginning to emerge that became particularly receptive to radical ideas. While a layer of the petty bourgeoisie was conservative and supportive of the imperialists, another sector, particularly the more poorly-paid strata, were hospitable to revolutionary ideas. In themselves, petty bourgeois intellectuals cannot become a driving force of revolution; their position in society as a small middle layer and their detachment from production prevents them from playing an independent role. Their alienation from society also implies that, when isolated, petty bourgeois intellectuals tend towards impatience, eclecticism, and vacillation. “The vast majority of the petty bourgeoisie”, said Cabral in 1960, “were undecided and are certainly still undecided today”. However, in the context of a mass movement of the workers, the peasants, and the oppressed, as individuals they can provide the most revolutionary elements as organisers and ideologists. Cabral acknowledged this, and observed that the petty bourgeoisie of the colonial countries was torn between continued subjection to imperialist domination, its aspiration to displace the colonialists and become a national “pseudo-bourgeoisie”, and rejecting bourgeois inclinations and organising the revolutionary struggle of the masses.

First steps as a revolutionary

amilcar cabral portrait-credit public domain casacomum dot orgPhoto: Public DomainCabral belonged to this radicalised stratum of petty bourgeois intellectuals. As he said, “We were just group of petty bourgeois who were driven by the reality of life in Guinea, by the sufferings we had to endure, and also by the influence events in Africa and elsewhere had on us, in particular the experiences some of us acquired in Portugal and other countries in Europe, to try and do something”.[6]

Cabral studied at a secondary school in Cape Verde, and then, in the 1940s, went to study agronomy in Lisbon, where he mingled with nationalist African students and circles of Portuguese anti-fascists. He involved himself in the activities of the youth wing of the Movement for Democratic Unity (MUD), where the Communist Party had a strong presence. Cabral started to become influenced by Marxism in this period, when he began to read the classics by Marx, Engels, and Lenin that were published by the underground press. It must be noted, and we will return to this later, that the type of Marxism Cabral was exposed to while in Portugal, was, unfortunately, the rigid and mechanic Marxism of the Stalinist parties. They showed contempt for the national liberation struggles; the Communist Party of Portugal, echoing its French counterpart’s line towards Algeria, did not support the independence of the colonies until the 1960s. For these reasons, Cabral felt lukewarm towards official communism, although he was able to gain an understanding of the fundamentals of Marxism and began to imbibe the materialist and dialectical worldview that would influence his writings.[7]

In Lisbon, Cabral befriended Eduardo Mondlane and Agostinho Neto, who would lead the anti-imperialist struggle in Mozambique and Angola. At the same time, he cut his teeth as a poet and a writer, always conscious of the importance of culture in revolution. Cabral’s thesis was on soil erosion in the poor, rural province of the Alentejo, in south-western Portugal, where a handful of rich landowners owned massive estates while the peasantry suffered in misery and hunger. This experience convinced Cabral of the revolutionary potential of Portuguese society and of the interest of the Portuguese working class and peasantry to overthrow the dictatorship. 

In 1951 he returned to Guinea-Bissau, where he worked as an agronomist, compiling lengthy surveys of the local economy, society, and geography. He also travelled to Angola on research missions. These travels familiarised him with the problems of colonial society and with the inability of imperialism to genuinely develop these countries. He became increasingly radicalised as he witnessed the poverty and backwardness of the countryside, but also the ingenuity and creativity of the peasants, and was appalled at the plundering schemes of the Portuguese empire. His interest in revolutionary theory began to take shape in this period as an agronomist.

The ferment that existed in the colonial world after the Second World War, with the outbreak of revolutionary movements and wars of independence in China, Korea, Cuba, Algeria, Vietnam, etc., had a catalysing effect in the Portuguese colonies, and influenced Cabral’s increasingly militant stance. The disappointment after the first round of decolonisation in the aftermath of World War Two, where colonial administrations in a whole series of countries were replaced with bourgeois, pro-imperialist governments, drove the anti-colonial movement further to the left, highlighting that formal independence was not synonymous with genuine emancipation.

Some African leaders, like Ghana’s Nkrumah, French Guinea’s Touré, and Congo’s Lumumba, veered sharply to the left. The Soviet Union, despite its Stalinist degeneration and the pernicious role it played in the international socialist movement, continued to be seen as a beacon for many in the colonies, who saw how the planned economy had developed the former Tsarist empire, a backward, mainly agricultural country, into an advanced superpower, which in 1961 launched the first expedition to space. Influenced by all this, Cabral soon began to involve himself in the protests against the Lisbon dictatorship that were taking place in the colony.

The creation of the PAIGC

flag of paigc-public domainPhoto: Public DomainAfter several failed attempts to set up anti-imperialist organisations, the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) was founded in September 1956 under the leadership of Cabral and his brother, Luiz. They initially tried to mobilise the working class of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and to challenge Lisbon through mass protests rather than through clandestine or guerrilla methods. The PAIGC scored some successes and won the support of the colony’s urban workers. The 1950s had been a decade of industrial strife in Guinea-Bissau where an embryonic workers’ movement had begun to crystallise, and the PAIGC was initially able to tap into this agitation, leading several strikes and demonstrations for better working conditions and democratic rights. As Cabral explained:

And so this little group [the PAIGC] began. We first thought of a general movement of national liberation, but this immediately proved unfeasible. We decided to extend our activity to the workers in the towns, and we had some success with this; we launched moves for higher wages, better working conditions and so on. I do not want to go into details here, the only point I want to make is that we obviously did not have a proletariat. We quite clearly lacked revolutionary intellectuals, so we had to start searching, given that we - rightly - did not believe in the revolutionary capacity of the peasantry.
One important group in the towns were the dockworkers; another important group were the people working in the boats carrying merchandise, who mostly live in Bissao itself and travel up and down the rivers. These people proved highly conscious of their position and of their economic importance and they took the initiative of launching strikes without any trade union leadership at all. We therefore decided to concentrate all our work on this group. This gave excellent results and this group soon came to form a kind of nucleus which influenced the attitudes of other wage-earning groups in the towns - workers proper and drivers, who form two other important groups. If I may put it this way, we thus found our little proletariat.[8]

However, the orientation towards the labour movement was contested after the “massacre of Pijiguiti” on August 3, 1959, where 50 dockworkers who were striking under the leadership of the PAIGC were killed by the Portuguese police.

The programme of the PAIGC 

The PAIGC had a hybrid programme, that combined socialist and bourgeois-nationalist features. This was not an accident, but reflected the problems of revolution in a country like Guinea-Bissau, which will be discussed in depth later. The main stress of the programme was on national unification and modernisation: to bring together the country socially and economically through education, culture, language, and literature; with the development of industry, communications, and infrastructure; with a land reform to modernise the countryside; and through the creation a strong, modern democratic state. In short, the aim was to create an advanced, secular, sovereign democratic republic. The PAIGC also envisaged the ever-greater cooperation of the country with other African states and with the socialist bloc, and the unification of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. In a country like Guinea-Bissau, populated by isolated and backward peasant communities and dominated by tribal and localist sentiments, and which had been trampled and brutalised by a racist, oppressive empire, this programme for national unification and national independence was entirely progressive. It corresponded to the national-democratic tasks of the revolution that had been accomplished by the bourgeoisie in the West.

However, the programme also included socialist, proletarian elements, albeit in a confused and muddled form. As we will explain later, a genuine bourgeois-democratic revolution in the colonial world could not be carried out on the basis of capitalism, of bourgeois rule. It required the socialist transformation of society, and the combination of national-democratic reforms with socialist measures. The PAIGC called for the nationalisation of all major enterprises and for the establishment of a planned economy. Small private enterprise would be allowed and the creation of cooperatives encouraged. The ultimate aim of the PAIGC was communism (although it never referred to itself explicitly as a Marxist party): the “progressive liquidation of the exploitation of man by man, of all forms of subordination of the human being to degrading interests for the profit of individuals, groups, or classes”.[9]

The planned economy would be “directed according to the principles of democratic centralism”.[10] This is an odd use of the term democratic centralism, which was developed by the Bolsheviks to refer to the unified work of the revolutionary party. The confused use of the term here in reality envisages the management of the economy by an enlightened bureaucracy that runs the country’s wealth in the interest of the people, which in a nutshell sums up the problems of revolution in Guinea-Bissau: the need to carry out a socialist revolution without a genuine working-class movement and under a petty bourgeois leadership. We will return to this question below. 

The turn to the countryside

The repression against the workers in the towns impelled the PAIGC to turn to a guerrilla struggle based in the countryside. This coincided with the success of the Cuban Revolution, which increased the appeal of guerrilla warfare as a means to seize power (few remembered the importance of the mass mobilisations and strikes of the Cuban working class and the insurrections that shook Cuban cities in the late 1950s and which were vital to the overthrow of Batista). Cabral and his men set up a cadre school in Conakry, in neighbouring Guinea, which had won independence from France in 1958. Worker-activists and intellectuals that had become steeled in the first years of struggle in the towns were sent to Conakry to receive political training and then transferred to the interior of Guinea-Bissau to organise the guerrillas. The PAIGC was rapid to establish a foothold in the woodlands south of the Geba River, and began a successful attrition war against the imperialists. 

The road to revolution differs depending on the economic and social composition of each country. Marxists in general reject guerrilla warfare, and base themselves on the mass struggle of the workers in the cities. However, this is a general premise that says little about concrete struggles. The essence of Bolshevism is the flexibility of its tactics and its adaptation to the real needs and the real march of the revolutionary process. As Lenin put it:

Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim what ever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers” in the seclusion of their studies.[11] 

In an overwhelmingly agrarian society like Guinea-Bissau, controlled militarily by a foreign oppressor, the peasantry was bound to play a central role in the movement, and the use of guerrilla tactics was indispensable. The Guinea-Bissauan peasants, especially the classless Balanta, had a long tradition of struggle against Portuguese imperialism, which had been unable to fully pacify the countryside. Lisbon had launched a series of campaigns into the hinterland to crush the rebellious natives, the last one being as late as 1936. The problem with these early forms of peasant resistance was that they were kneejerk risings against the oppressor that lacked a programme and a strategy to overthrow the imperialists and transform society. It was correct for the PAIGC to try to give a conscious expression to the inchoate rebelliousness of the peasants, bringing a socialist, anti-imperialist programme and organising and unifying the spontaneous risings of the peasants into a nationwide movement.

As Lenin explained, even if guerrilla tactics and terrorism can under certain conditions become a useful auxiliary for the socialist movement, it should prioritise the movement of the workers in the towns, and at all times subordinate the military struggle to political considerations. It should not pander to the prejudices of the masses, particularly the peasants, but always strive to raise the political level and instil a comprehensive, many-sided view of the struggle, shaking selfishness, narrow-mindedness, and localism from revolutionaries. In conditions where the guerrilla struggle becomes necessary, Lenin said, “it must be ennobled by the enlightening and organising influence of socialism”. Under Cabral’s leadership, the PAIGC attempted to do this, and with some success.

It must be pointed out, however, that although the PAIGC’s efforts to mobilise the peasantry were correct, its turn to the countryside after the “massacre of Pijiguiti” was too categorical. The turn had elements of impatience and of impressionism after the defeat of the dockworkers. The PAIGC threw all its weight behind the guerrilla, turning their backs to the towns, where “the Party organisation remains underground, in general under the leadership of a very small number of individuals”.[12] The correct approach should have been to combine the two tactics, the urban and the rural struggle, and to prioritise the clandestine struggle in the towns. A general strike of the dockworkers as the one of 1959, for example, was much more damaging for the imperialists and a greater and less costly propaganda success for the movement than a series of armed raids. As admitted by Cabral itself, the small working class of the province was much more receptive to radical ideas than the peasantry and was more consistent and bold in its commitment to the revolution.

Furthermore, and we will expand on this later, because of the position it occupies in society and the collective character of its exploitation, the working class is the only class in society which can developed a socialist consciousness. 

Revolutionary war

amilcar cabral mural-credit-balou46Photo: Balou46The Guinea-Bissauan revolutionaries faced daunting problems: “economic under-development, the consequent social and cultural backwardness of the popular masses, tribalism and other contradictions of lesser importance”.[13] The PAIGC set itself the task of combatting these problems. The organisation set up schools teach the masses to read and write, Portuguese was taught, basic culture and literature were promoted. By 1968, 127 primary schools were being operated by the PAIGC in liberated areas. Cabral’s men set up medical clinics and tried to improve the hygiene of the villages; in 1968 four hospitals were in operation. Doctors who had deserted the Portuguese army and volunteers from other African countries and Cuba staffed the hospitals and clinics. Armazéns do povo (people’s stores) were set up as trading centres to substitute the old Portuguese markets.

Cadre schools were created, and worker-activists and intellectuals were brought in from the towns. Fighters, despite the backwardness of the province and their heterogeneous social background, were inculcated a socialist, working-class mentality:

We were faced with another difficult problem: we realised that we needed to have people with a mentality which could transcend the context of the national liberation struggle, and so we prepared a number of cadres from the group I have just mentioned, some from the people employed in commerce and other wage-earners, and even some peasants. So that they could acquire what you might call a working class mentality. You may think this is absurd - in any case it is very difficult; in order for there to be a working class mentality the material conditions of the working class should exist, a working class should exist. In fact we managed to inculcate these ideas into a large number of people - the kind of ideas which there would be if there were a working class.[14] 

Elsewhere, Cabral wrote:

Educate ourselves, educate other people, the population in general, to fight fear and ignorance, to eliminate little by little the subjugation to nature and natural forces which our economy has not yet mastered. Convince little by little, in particular the militants of the Party, that we shall end by conquering the fear of nature, and that man is the strongest force in nature. Demand from responsible Party members that they dedicate themselves seriously to study, that they interest themselves in the things and problems of our daily life and struggle in their fundamental and essential aspect, and not simply in their appearance. Learn from life, learn from our people, learn from books, learn from the experience of others. Never stop learning.[15]

Strict equality between men and women was propounded. Initially, sexism was a blight in the movement, but it was steadily combatted through patient propaganda and discipline: “At the start, the men did not want meetings with women. We did not force the pace, while in some areas women soon came to the meetings without difficulties”.[16] In the course of the struggle, sexist prejudices were gradually overcome and women began to play a prominent role in the movement: “We want to emphasise in particular that the women of our country are winning an independence for which so many have fought unsuccessfully. You saw, surely, how there were women in charge of the committees in tabancas and the zones and even of inter-regional committees”.[17]

Liberated areas were administrated by democratic village committees, where the local population elected new representatives. Although PAIGC cadres often played an active role in the committees, the choice of the villagers was generally respected. It was often young members of the community and women, who had been traditionally held back by the elders, who took a leading role. The committees organised the war effort, propaganda activities, and the management of the new social services that were being set up by the guerrillas. By 1970, there were some 400 village committees in liberated areas. As historian Patrick Chabal from King’s College London observed:

There is little doubt that at the village level itself the system devised by the PAIGC worked satisfactorily and with the support of the population. This was largely due to the way in which the party, the armed forces, and the village committees were able to work together. Cabral’s writings and speeches constantly re-emphasised the necessity to develop and maintain this harmony. Party political control over the armed forces, and the PAIGC policy of ‘respecting’ the villagers and of seeking to improve their living conditions, did much to ensure cooperation between the population and the party.[18]

Although religious freedom was enshrined by the PAIGC, all forms of religious discrimination were forbidden, and superstition and backwardness were contested with scientific, secular education: “we avoid all hostility towards these religions, towards the type of relationships our people still have with nature because of their economic underdevelopment. But we have resolutely opposed anything going against human dignity”.[19]

The rejection of tribalism was an important element in the line of the PAIGC: tribal politics were correctly seen as an element of backwardness that had been used by the Portuguese to divide the people. “They [the Portuguese imperialists] exploited tribal contradictions. They even exploited racism on the basis of lighter and darker people. They exploited the question of the civilised and the uncivilised, etc., as well as the privileged position of the traditional chiefs”.[20] The rule of the tribal leaders, particularly among the more advanced Fula people, was a rudimentary form of class exploitation that had become enmeshed in the colonialist system. A struggle against the imperialists was also a struggle against the tribal chiefs; “even while the struggle is going on we must begin to exploit the contradiction between the Fula people and their chiefs, who are very close to the Portuguese”.[21] However, the PAIGC was careful to respect local customs and languages, insofar as they did not divide the people or contribute to its exploitation: “we would not impose on the Balantes the customs of the Fulas or the Mandingas. We defended these cultural differences with all our strength, but we also fought with all our strength all divisions on a political level”.[22]

Cabral’s overall line to culture was balanced and flexible. He based himself on the most dynamic and progressive aspects of local culture, and combatted its oppressive and backward elements, while trying to draw from and adapt Western culture and science, in a way that recalls Lenin’s approach. Proud of Guinea-Bissauan and African culture, he never fetishized it, and approached it from a dialectical and materialist standpoint. It is worth quoting Cabral at length on this question:

But we must consider our culture carefully; it is dictated by our economic condition, by our situation of economic underdevelopment. We must enjoy our African culture, we must cherish it, our dances, our songs, our style of making statues, canoes, our cloths. All this is magnificent, but if we rely only on our cloths to clothe all our folk, we are wrong. We have to be realists. Our land is very beautiful, but if we do not struggle to change our land, we are wrong. […] We must have the courage to state this clearly. No one should think that the culture of Africa, what is really African and so must be preserved for all time, for us to be Africans, is our weakness in the face of nature. Any people in the world, of whatever status, has gone through the stage of these weaknesses or has to go through them. […] We cannot believe that to be African is to think that man has no mastery over the flooding of rivers. Anyone who leads a struggle like ours, who bears responsibility in a struggle like ours, has to understand gradually what concrete reality is. […] On the cultural plane, our party has tried to derive the best possible result, the best possible benefit from our cultural reality. It does so by not banning what is possible not to ban without prejudicing the struggle, or by creating new ideas in the comrades’ spirit, new ways of seeing reality. And further by making the best possible use of those who already have a little more education, both to lead the struggle itself and to be sent to study how to train cadres for the future.

Political considerations were given priority over military ones; as Cabral put it, “the political and military leadership of the struggle is one: the political leadership. In our struggle we have avoided the creation of anything military. We are political people, and our Party, a political organisation, leads the struggle in the civilian political, administrative, technical, and therefore also military spheres. Our fighters are defined as armed activists”.[23] Political commissars were deployed to oversee the functioning of the different armed detachments. To back the struggle with “the weapon of theory” and to adapt the line of the party to the existing social conditions, “to start from the reality of our land – to be realists” and “not to confuse the reality you live in with the ideas you have in your head”, were the main tenets of Cabral.[24] As will be discussed below, the party also engaged in a constant battle with careerism, opportunism, and isolationism and to raise the level of the cadres: “this vanguard we are creating, this instrument we have forged to build the independence of our land, as a man builds his house, must be constantly more honed, more sharpened, more perfect, and our people must constantly embellish it”.[25] Cabral summarised the tasks and tactics of the movement in 1968 thus:

a) constantly improve and develop political work among the popular masses and the armed forces, and preserve at all costs our national unity;

b) further strengthen organisation, discipline and democracy within our Party, continually adapt it to the evolution of the struggle, correct mistakes and demand from leaders and militants rigorous application of the principles guiding our actions;

c) improve the organisation of the armed forces, intensify our action on all fronts and develop the co-ordination of our military activities;

d) increase the isolation of the enemy forces, subject them to decisive blows and destroy the remnants of tranquility which they still enjoy in certain urban centres;

e) defend our liberated areas against the enemy's terrorist attacks, guarantee for our people the tranquillity which is indispensable for productive work;

f) study and find the best solutions to the economic, administrative, social and cultural problems of the liberated areas, increase industrial production, however rudimentary, and continually improve health and education facilities;

g) accelerate the training of cadres;

h) fight and eliminate tendencies towards opportunism, parasitism, careerism and deviation of our action from the general line laid down by our Party, at the service of our people;

i) strengthen and develop our relations with the peoples, states and organisations of Africa, and tighten the fraternal links which join us with the neighbouring countries and with the peoples of the other Portuguese colonies;

j) strengthen our relations of sincere collaboration with the anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist forces, for useful cooperation in the common struggle against colonialism, imperialism and racism.[26]

Using these tactics, the PAIGC won the sympathy of tens of thousands of peasants and townspeople. “Our mountains”, said Cabral, referring to the difficulties of waging a guerrilla war in the Guinea-Bissauan lowlands, “are the people”. “The liberated regions of the country, where we are developing a new society, are a constant propaganda force for the liberation of other parts of our country”.[27] This is a correct approach to this form of struggle that separates it from Blanquism, where impatient minorities throw themselves into armed expeditions without taking into consideration the mood of the masses and the concrete historical situation. Elsewhere in Lusophone Africa the national liberation movement displayed elements of Blanquism: in Mozambique the FRELIMO, in the belief that the masses would rally behind them, threw itself into several reckless offensives in 1961, of which it only recovered in the early 1970s.

On this basis, the PAIGC made rapid gains, and by the early 1970s controlled as much as 60% of the country, leaving the occupiers trapped in their compounds and in the main towns. And this despite the brutal tactics used by the Portuguese, who were provided with the most advanced and deadly weaponry by the Americans. “The areas of rebel control”, commented worryingly the US ambassador to Dakar, “like inkblots, spread over the country and ever closer to the Bissau region itself”.[28]

[To be continued...]

[1] Lenin, ‘Division of the world among the great powers’, Imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, 1916.

[2] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Guinea and Cabo Verde against Portuguese imperialism’, 1961.

[3] Amílcar Cabral, ‘A brief analysis of the social structure in Guinea’, 1969.

[4] Amílcar Cabral, ‘A brief analysis of the social structure in Guinea’, 1969.

[5] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Party principles and political tactic’, 1960.

[6] Amílcar Cabral, ‘A brief analysis of the social structure in Guinea’, 1969.

[7] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: revolutionary struggle and people’s war, 1983, pp.39-41.

[8] Amílcar Cabral, ‘A brief analysis of the social structure in Guinea’, 1969.

[9] PAIGC, Statuts et programme, 1962.

[10] PAIGC, Statuts et programme, 1962.

[11] Lenin, ‘Guerrilla warfare’, 1906.

[12] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Practical problems and tactics’, 1968.

[13] Amílcar Cabral, ‘The weapon of theory’, 1966.

[14] Amílcar Cabral, ‘A brief analysis of the social structure in Guinea’, 1969.

[15] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Tell no lies, claim no easy victories’, 1965.

[16] Amílcar Cabral, ‘To start from the reality of our land – to be realists’, 1960.

[17] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Practical problems and tactics’, 1968.

[18] See: Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, pp.108-09.

[19] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Towards final victory’, 1969.

[20] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Practical problems and tactics’, 1968.

[21] Amílcar Cabral, ‘A brief analysis of the social structure in Guinea’, 1969.

[22] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Towards final victory’, 1969.

[23] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Practical problems and tactics’, 1968.

[24] Amílcar Cabral, ‘To start from the reality of our land – to be realists’, 1960.

[25] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Not everyone is of the Party’, 1960.

[26] Amílcar Cabral, ‘The development of the struggle’, 1968.

[27] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Practical problems and tactics’, 1968.

[28] Quoted in: Pietro Gljeises, Conflicting missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976, p.192.