Here we publish part two of our article about the African revolutionary, Amílcar Cabral.

<< part one |

Internationalism and the Portuguese Revolution

“We have always clearly proclaimed that we never confuse the people of Portugal with Portuguese colonialism”, said Cabral.[29] Undoubtedly, one of the most important aspects of Cabral’s approach to the revolution were his constant appeals to the Portuguese soldiery, workers, and peasants, and the attempts to build bridges of solidarity with the people of the metropole. Cabral understood that Portugal was a class society, and one that was also ripe with revolutionary ferment. Portugal was oppressed by a brutal dictatorship that was sending tens of thousands of young men to their death in a war against their class brothers and sisters in the African colonies, waged not in their interest but in the interest of the capitalists and the imperialists. Unlike other anti-imperialist thinkers like Frantz Fanon, for whom the European working classes were inescapably reactionary, Cabral had an internationalist approach to the struggle, and saw the peoples of Europe as an ally in the revolution:

amilcar cabral credit public domain casacomum dot org

If, as would seem from all the evidence, imperialism exists and is trying simultaneously to dominate the working class in all the advanced countries and smother the national liberation movements in all the underdeveloped countries, then there is only one enemy against whom we are fighting. If we are fighting together, then I think the main aspect of our solidarity is extremely simple: it is to fight.[30]

For the PAIGC, internationalism was not simply a question of words but of deeds. The guerrillas avoided any form of unnecessary brutality against Portuguese soldiers. Prisoners of war were treated with respect, and they were often released soon after being captured, having had the aims of the revolution and the need to struggle together against the dictatorship explained to them. No systematic attacks against the white civilian population were made. Agitation was carried out among the Portuguese soldiers. A significant number of Portuguese soldiers deserted to the rebels and fought in their ranks, and some anti-imperialist white settlers joined the PAIGC. It is useful to reproduce one of the pamphlets Cabral addressed to the Portuguese soldiery:

Portuguese soldiers, NCOs and officers!
Why did your comrades and so many others die? Why is there mourning and misfortune for so many homes, above all so many poor homes? Why? Because your government and your military chiefs act against the interests of your people and force you to take up arms against our desire for freedom and to destroy our people, who like all peoples want to be owners of their own land and masters of their own destiny. Because – the truth must be told – you have accepted and go on accepting the shameful and unworthy role as unconscious tools in the service of colonial oppression and repression instead of being with bravery conscious being in the service of the true interests of your people. For what did your compatriots die, for what do you go on running the constant risk of dying in our land? For what? To serve the criminal interests of the CUF [industrial company union], of the Overseas Commercial Society, of the Overseas National Bank – of the Portuguese colonialists and their imperialist bosses. In order to serve, in point of fact, the interests of some rich families in Portugal, which have nothing to do with the true interests of your families and people.
Portuguese soldiers, NCOs and officers!
You know that your people, who must struggle for freedom and democracy in their own land, need your help. Your families, who mostly belong to the poor classes of Portugal, are longing for your return in order to ensure their future – the future of your fathers, mothers, sisters, brides, sons and daughters. It is essential to act. As young men, you have the sacred duty to fulfil in your country, namely to struggle to be able to build a worthy future for your people, who are still living in misery, ignorance, and suffering. As conscious human beings you have the duty to do everything to keep safe the potential for friendly co-operation between the African peoples and the peoples of Portugal, between our people and yours, on the basis of equality of rights, duties, and advantages.
Give up serving as tools of colonialism, refuse to take up arms against the freedom and independence of a peaceful people!
Bravely refuse to fight against our people!
Do not seek to serve as watchdogs of the unjust interests of the CUF and other colonial companies, which are not your interests nor those of your people!
Do not seek the wretched fate of your people who fell ingloriously in the service of an unjust and irreparably lost cause!
Rise in revolt against your Fascist and colonialist chiefs who are sending you to death!
Show that you are conscious beings determined to serve the true interests of your people!
Follow the example of your brave companions who refuse to fight in our land, who rose in revolt against the criminal orders of your chiefs, who have co-operated with our Party or who have deserted the colonial army and found in our midst the finest welcome and fraternal assistance!
Demand the immediate return to be with your families in Portugal!
Long live the peace, friendship and co-operation between all peoples!
Long live the struggle for national and social liberation of all oppressed peoples!
Long live the African Independence Party!
Down with Portuguese colonialism and its lackeys![31]

This propaganda had a powerful effect over the Portuguese soldiery. According to Patrick Chabal:

The Portuguese armed forces, especially towards the end of the war, were particularly impressed by the ‘PAIGC professional military conduct’ which contrasted so markedly with their own. The fact that wounded or deserting soldiers were well treated and ultimately released filtered back to the barracks in Guinea. Carlos Fabiao, who was appointed Governor of Guinea after the April revolution, recounted the story of a Portuguese soldier who had been left for dead by his own unit. The PAIGC found him, transported him to safety and provided medical assistance which saved his life. He was later released by the nationalists. Such stories and the statements made by Portuguese deserters who had been well treated by the PAIGC had an enormous influence over the Portuguese conscripts. […] Colonel Fabiao added that the Portuguese army were in the process of losing the war not so much because of strictly military factors, but because of the PAIGC’s ‘psychological victory’.[32]

“We are certain that the elimination of Portuguese colonialism will bring about the destruction of Portuguese fascism”, said Cabral.[33] It is a pity that Cabral did not live to see his internationalist vision play out. In April 1974, a year after Cabral was killed by the Portuguese imperialists, left-wing army officers, organised under the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), staged an uprising in Portugal, starting the Carnation Revolution, one of the greatest revolutionary experiences in the twentieth century. The revolution in Portugal ended the colonial war and ensured the independence of the colonies. The officers’ uprising was not only the product of war weariness, but also drew inspiration from the revolution in the colonial countries, whose emancipatory ideas had infected many Portuguese soldiers and officers. It is no coincidence that the most radical, left-wing officers in the MFA had served in Guinea-Bissau. Most of them acknowledged the influence that Cabral had had over them. It was the Guinea-Bissauan wing of the MFA that had the most radical line. Officer Otelo de Carvalho, possibly the most revolutionary and anti-capitalist of the figures that emerged from the MFA, at times referred to as “the Portuguese Fidel Castro”, claimed to have been radicalised as an official in the information and propaganda bureau of Portuguese Guinea-Bissau, when he had to read the propaganda of the PAIGC and the writings of Cabral.[34]

Sadly, despite the weakness of the Portuguese bourgeoisie in 1974-75 and the drive towards socialism of the masses, the Carnation Revolution was kept in check by the leadership of the left-wing parties, which ensured the survival of capitalism in the country. Had Portugal moved towards socialism, it could have provided an additional impetus and point of support to the socialist transformation of the former colonies.

The PAIGC also built connections with revolutionary movements across the world. They participated in the Tricontinental conference in Havana in 1966, where Cabral delivered one of his most famous speeches. Together with the MPLA and FRELIMO, they set up an international body to coordinate the struggle in the three Portuguese colonies in Africa, the Conference of Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies (CONCP).

The role of Cuba in the war of liberation and the fraternal relations between the Guinea-Bissauan and Cuban revolutionaries should be stressed. Although the Soviet bloc, China, and other left-wing African governments did send weapons and material aid to the PAIGC, their backing was overshadowed by the enthusiastic support provided by Havana: it sent hundreds of fighters, doctors, mechanics, and advisors as well as weapons and material. Guinea-Bissauan and Capeverdian revolutionaries were given training and medical treatment in Cuba.[35] Cabral befriended Fidel Castro, who referred to him as “one of the most lucid and brilliant leaders in Africa, who instilled in us tremendous confidence in the future and the success of his struggle for liberation”.[36]

This was in the initial period after the victory of the Cuban revolution in 1959, when the Cuban leadership pursued a policy of spreading the revolution internationally, even coming into conflict with the policy of “peaceful coexistence” of the Soviet leadership. Later this was to change of course.

Obstacles to the revolution

Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde were poor, underdeveloped rural economies, a feature they shared with most of Africa at the time of decolonisation. Colonial capitalism, particularly under the retrograde and nefarious Portuguese empire, had failed to harmoniously develop these economies, turning them into providers of cheap raw materials. They invested into a few export-oriented sectors and disregarded the rest of the economy, failing to raise the standard of living of the peasants, which represented the overwhelming majority of the population. The villages subsisted on a rudimentary agriculture, with a low cultural level and dominated by age-old traditions and superstitions, and with deficient or non-existent infrastructures and communications. Moreover, unlike the rural labourers of the Angolan and Mozambican commercial estates, the Guinea-Bissauan peasants, as in much of Africa, were small landowners to whom it was difficult to appeal on the basis of collectivist, socialist slogans, and who inevitably tended to have an individualistic, narrow vision of politics. As Cabral conceded, contrary to the workers, the main desire of the small peasants was to see their taxes reduced and to have better prices for their products and a better access to the markets, not to build socialism:

[In Guinea-Bissau] it must be said at once that the peasantry is not a revolutionary force - which may seem strange, particularly as we have based the whole of our armed liberation struggle on the peasantry. A distinction must be drawn between a physical force and a revolutionary force; physically, the peasantry is a great force in Guinea: it is almost the whole of the population, it controls the nation's wealth, it is the peasantry which produces; but we know from experience what trouble we had convincing the peasantry to fight. […] In Guinea the peasants are subjected to a kind of exploitation equivalent to slavery; but even if you try and explain to them that they are being exploited and robbed, it is difficult to convince them by means of an inexperienced explanation of a technico-economic kind that they are the most exploited people; whereas it is easier to convince the workers and the people employed in the towns who earn, say, 10 escudos a day for a job in which a European earns between 30 and 50 that they are being subjected to massive exploitation and injustice, because they can see.[37]

The peasants’ support for the revolution is more muddled and irresolute than that of the working class. The working class in countries like Guinea-Bissau was minuscule – even smaller than in Russia in 1917. On this basis it was difficult to build a healthy socialist system. This can only be attained on the basis of the urban working class, with its collectivist instincts, its geographic concentration, its higher cultural level, and, especially, with its central role in industrial production and distribution, which allows it to overthrow the capitalists through mass struggles and later to run the economy democratically in the interest of the whole of society.

The peasantry, particularly in backward countries like those of the former Portuguese empire, is too fragmented, divided, and formless to spearhead a democratic, socialist revolution. It can become a powerful force in the revolution, but always under the guidance of another class in the urban areas. In Cabral’s Guinea as in much of the post-colonial world that was gripped by social upheaval, the absence of a proletariat left the peasantry without genuine revolutionary guidance. Leadership was provided instead by militarised organisations headed by radicalised petty-bourgeois intellectuals, like the PAIGC, the MPLA, the FRELIMO, or ZANU. As Cabral admitted in the late 1960s, foreshadowing the problems that would arise after liberation:

Our problem is to see who is capable of taking control of the state apparatus when the colonial power is destroyed. In Guinea the peasants cannot read or write, they have almost no relations with the colonial forces during the colonial period except for paying taxes, which is done indirectly. The working class hardly exists as a defined class, it is just an embryo. There is no economically viable bourgeoisie because imperialism prevented it being created. What there is, is a stratum of people in the service of imperialism who have learned how to manipulate the apparatus of the state - the African petty bourgeoisie: this is the only stratum capable of controlling or even utilising the instruments which the colonial state used against our people. So we come to the conclusion that in colonial conditions it is the petty bourgeoisie which is the inheritor of state power (though I wish we could be wrong).[38]

Waging protracted guerrilla wars, these guerrilla organisations with petty bourgeois leaderships were inevitably hierarchical and undemocratic, and had nothing to do with the workers’ councils and soviets of proletarian revolutions, which are democratic organs for discussion and decision-making. Even the democratic ethos of Cabral’s PAIGC was unable to overcome the need for top-down centralisation of military organisations. This was inevitable to coordinate the struggle organisationally and politically and to avoid isolationist tendencies and the emergence of rogue elements. Indeed, in some areas, guerrilla leaders operated autonomously and even used their authority to enrich themselves. Therefore, the PAIGC had to carry out frequent purges: “certain tendencies towards isolation developed, tendencies to disregard other groups and not to co-ordinate action. In view of this, we decided to hold our Congress in 1964, and this marked a crucial turning-point in our struggle. At this Congress we took a series of disciplinary measures, among these being the detention, trial and condemnation of certain guerrilla leaders”.[39]

Proletarian Bonapartism

In other post-colonial African countries, such as in Burkina Faso with Thomas Sankara, in Somalia under Siad Barre, in Ethiopia with Mengistu, the abolition of capitalism was carried out from above by the army, under the leadership of left-wing putschist officers. What we see again, however, is the absence of the mass, democratic impetus of the proletariat. All these revolutions also tended to display a tendency towards the centralisation of power and influence in the hands of single individuals. Some introduced despotic, tyrannical regimes, such as Mengistu in Ethiopia or Mugabe in Zimbabwe; others, like Sankara in Burkina Faso or Amílcar Cabral in Guinea, played a more heroic role and that is why they remain a source of inspiration for many today. However, be they heroes or villains, the emergence of dictatorial charismatic leaders reflects the absence of an organised labour movement that could have replaced or subsumed these figures. Indeed, the disunity of the peasantry and the heterogeneity and vacillation of the petty bourgeois intellectuals and army officers resulted in disunited, heterogeneous, and vacillating revolutionary movements that opened the door for the centralisation of power in the hands of Bonapartist individuals.

It is no accident that all these revolutionary processes ultimately failed. Radical left governments were either overthrown, as in Burkina Faso, Somalia, or in Ethiopia, or rapidly became bureaucratised and corrupt, and ended up reintroducing capitalism, as in French Guinea, Mozambique, or Angola. What Cabral referred to as the “cancer of betrayal”, after the toppling of left-wing Ghanaian president Nkrumah, spread rapidly. The absence of the solid social basis for the revolution that could have been provided by the working class, and the petty bourgeois leadership of the anti-imperialist movements, ensured their rapid degeneration or overthrow. The failure of the first wave of socialist revolutions after decolonisation in the 1960s-1980s paved the way for a long counterrevolution, characterised by civil wars, the collapse or fragmentation of the new states, the thriving of tribalism and fundamentalism, the rise of brutal dictatorships, and the continued domination of Africa by imperialism.

Amílcar Cabral was assassinated in January 1973 in Conakry by rogue elements of his own movement, led by disgruntled guerrilla leader Inocencio Kani, who had been demoted under charges of gross misconduct. They had attempted to stage a coup within the PAIGC with the active help of the Portuguese. Although tragically Amílcar Cabral was killed, the coup failed and his brother Luiz Cabral took over and oversaw the liberation of the country. He tried to carry out the PAIGC’s programme, nationalising the commanding heights of the economy and launching an ambitious programme for development and national unification. However, Luiz’s attempts to industrialise the country required the heavy taxation of the peasantry and a concentration of investments in the towns, leading to a drop in agricultural production and to food scarcity in urban areas. Thus the villagers became disenchanted with the PAIGC and the party became increasingly ossified and centralised in Luiz’s hands. In 1980 he was overthrown in a military coup d’état that brought to power the regime of Joao Vieira that gradually reintroduced capitalism.[40] In the 1990s the country was devastated by civil war as ambitious petty bourgeois factions within the state apparatus tried to topple the ruling clique. Today, Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world, and is defined by many as a “narco-state”, since it has become, with the connivance of the ruling elite, a central hub for global drug trafficking.  

It was clear that capitalism was unable to develop these countries and bring them out of their backwardness. Not only that, it was also clear that on the basis of capitalism no genuine national sovereignty could be attained. The national bourgeoisies of these colonial regions, insofar as it existed, could not play an independent role and would become a corrupt crutch for imperialism, which would continue to dominate indirectly. Only a socialist planned economy could modernise these countries; therefore, a genuine anti-colonial revolution for national liberation had to be socialist in character. At the same time, the working class in these countries was extremely small (in some places virtually non-existent), and the material basis to build socialism was very feeble. This gave rise to a phenomenon that South African Marxist Ted Grant referred to as “proletarian Bonapartism”: the overthrow of capitalism was carried out under the leadership of radicalised sectors of the petty bourgeoisie, who, however, would not be able to build healthy socialist democracies.[41]

Cabral was well aware of the problems of proletarian Bonapartism, and much of his writings are devoted to these questions. He was well aware that: “In our present historical situation […] there are only two possible paths for an independent nation: to return to imperialist domination (neo-colonialism, capitalism, state capitalism), or to take the way of socialism”. However, only the working class could build socialism on the basis of its control over the commanding heights of the economy; either imperialist capital dominated, or the working class took over: “political control (the state) is based on the economic capacity of the ruling class, and in the conditions of colonial and neo-colonial society this capacity is retained by two entities: imperialist capital and the native working classes”. The revolution needed “the existence of significant vanguard classes (a working class conscious of its existence and rural proletariat) which could ensure the vigilance of the popular masses over the evolution of the liberation movement.” However, Cabral was confronted with the absence of a genuine working class and the subsequent centrality of the petty bourgeoisie in the revolutionary movement:

The petty bourgeoisie, as a service class (that is to say, a class not directly involved in the process of production) does not possess the economic base to guarantee the taking over of power. In fact history has shown that whatever the role — sometimes important — played by individuals coming from the petty bourgeoisie in the process of a revolution, this class has never possessed political control. And it never could possess it […].

Cabral foreshadowed the fate of many African revolutionary movements:

To retain the power which national liberation puts in its hands, the petty bourgeoisie has only one path: to give free rein to its natural tendencies to become more bourgeois, to permit the development of a bureaucratic and intermediary bourgeoisie in the commercial cycle, in order to transform itself into a national pseudo-bourgeoisie.[42]

Elsewhere, he noted: 

We must, however, take into consideration the fact that, faced with the prospect of political independence, the ambition and opportunism from which the liberation movement generally suffers may draw into the struggle individuals who have not been reconverted [i.e., who have not shaken off their petty bourgeois mind-set]. The latter, on the basis of their level of education, their scientific or technical knowledge, may attain the highest positions in the liberation movement. On the cultural level as well as the political level vigilance is therefore vital.[43]

Not only did the risk of opportunist tendencies exist among the assimilated, Portuguese-speaking petty bourgeoisie that had been spawned by the colonialists, but also among the traditional tribal elites:

Several traditional and religious leaders join the struggle from the start or in the course of its unfolding, making an enthusiastic contribution to the cause of liberation. But there again vigilance is vital: holding strongly onto their class cultural prejudices, individuals in this category generally see in the liberation movement the only valid means for using the sacrifices of the mass of the people to eliminate colonial oppression of their own class and hence to re-establish their complete cultural and economic domination over the people.[44]

Indeed, Cabral augured the use of tribalism by opportunist bourgeois leaders that would lead to so much bloodshed in subsequent decades:

Only political opportunists are tribalists: individuals who even attended European universities; who frequented the cafés of Brussels, Paris, Lisbon, and other capitals; who are completely removed from the problems of their own people - they may be called tribal, these individuals who at times even look down on their own people but who, out of political ambition, take advantage of attitudes still existing in the minds of our people to try to achieve their opportunist aims, their political goals, to try to quench their thirst for power and political domination.[45]

In his view, the survival and consolidation of revolutions that in the absence of a genuine labour movement were led by the radicalised petty bourgeoisie depended on the “suicide” of the petty bourgeoisie as a class after having taken power: “to betray the revolution or to commit suicide as a class — constitutes the dilemma of the petty bourgeoisie in the general framework of the national liberation struggle”.[46] As became clear with hindsight, this suicide did not happen. Particularly as the mass movements ebbed after independence, the opportunist elements that had made themselves strong in the liberation movement were able to assert themselves and displace the honest revolutionaries. Control over the state produces the danger of bureaucratic degeneration that can only be curbed through the democratic control of the working class and through the revolutionary vigilance of the leadership. In underdeveloped countries with a small or non-existent working class, where the general cultural and material level is low and poverty is widespread, bureaucratic degenerations emerge faster and more destructively, since there is an unchecked temptation among petty bourgeois officials to exploit their positions of power.  

Cabral and the permanent revolution

Cabral understood many of the challenges of revolution in a country like Guinea-Bissau. On the one hand, he knew that the national bourgeoisie, which he referred to as a “pseudo-bourgeoisie” owing to its weakness and backwardness, could not play the progressive role the European bourgeoisies had played in the Early Modern period, developing, unifying, and modernising the country: “the local pseudo-bourgeoisie, however nationalist it may be, cannot effectively fulfill its historical function; it cannot freely direct the development of the productive forces; in brief it cannot be a national bourgeoisie”.[47]

The indigenous bourgeoisie would fall under the influence of the old imperial masters and become a middleman for the continued plundering of the imperialists – independence under capitalism would only give rise to “neocolonialism”. Cabral shared Lenin’s understanding of imperialism: it was “the monopolistic stage of capitalism”, produced by the objective need for the productive forces to break through the fetters of the nation-state.[48] To truly combat imperialism one had to combat capitalism. Indeed, Cabral correctly believed that the independence of the colonies did not contradict the aims of the imperialists, and they were content to give power to local bourgeoisies to administrate their interests. What the imperialists were concerned about was that the national liberation struggle could mutate into anti-capitalist, socialist revolution:

[…] We think there is something wrong with the simple interpretation of the national liberation movement as a revolutionary trend. The objective of the imperialist countries was to prevent the enlargement of the socialist camp, to liberate the reactionary forces in our countries which were being stifled by colonialism and to enable these forces to ally themselves with the international bourgeoisie. The fundamental objective was to create a bourgeoisie where one did not exist, in order specifically to strengthen the imperialist and the capitalist camp. This rise of the bourgeoisie in the new countries, far from being at all surprising, should be considered absolutely normal, it is something that has to be faced by all those struggling against imperialism.[49] 

Consequently, the PAIGC adopted a socialist programme for the expropriation of the commanding heights of the economy, the only means to genuinely develop the country. Cabral, says his biographer, “sought to establish a state structure which would pursue socialist policies effectively and without recourse to political oppression. His ambition was to give life to a regime which would be less repressive and more democratic than in most of Africa. The viability of such a project, however, must depend essentially on the gap between the country’s intended social and political objectives and its available political and economic resources.”[50] Indeed, Cabral was haunted by the absence of a working class on which to base the revolution, and the subsequent dependence of the revolution on the petty bourgeoisie. Indeed, he tacitly predicted the rapid restoration of capitalism in countries like Angola, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, or his native Guinea-Bissau:

Likewise, we have to face the question whether or not socialism can be established immediately after the liberation. This depends on the instruments used to effect the transition to socialism; the essential factor is the nature of the state, bearing in mind that after the liberation there will be people controlling the police, the prisons, the army and so on, and a great deal depends on who they are and what they try to do with these instruments. Thus we return again to the problem of which class is the agent of history and who are the inheritors of the colonial state in our specific conditions.[51]

This made him hesitate about the character of the revolution and the feasibility of socialism in non industrialised, colonial countries. Indeed, although his socio-economic analysis of Guinea-Bissau was based on a Marxist interpretation, and his general philosophical standpoint was close to a Marxist outlook, believing in the ultimate victory of socialist revolution, he refused to label the PAIGC a communist or a Marxist-Leninist organisation. Cabral was in fact influenced by Stalinism and Maoism, and that explains why he flirted with the two-stage theory of class collaboration: 

We are therefore faced with the problem of deciding whether to engage in an out and out struggle against the bourgeoisie right from the start or whether to try and make an alliance with the national bourgeoisie, to try to deepen the absolutely necessary contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the international bourgeoisie which has promoted the national bourgeoisie to the position it holds.[52] 

However, the corruption and weakness of the national bourgeoisie made him sceptical of this idea. Despite his doubts and unresolved questions about the nature of the revolution, Cabral came to a key conclusion: the ultimate success of socialism in the underdeveloped colonial countries was connected to the overthrow of capitalism in the advanced countries, and the national liberation movements could stimulate and accelerate revolution in the industrialised world:

As we see it, neocolonialism (which we may call rationalised imperialism) is more a defeat for the international working class than for the colonised peoples. Neocolonialism is at work on two fronts - in Europe as well as in the underdeveloped countries. Its current framework in the underdeveloped countries is the policy of aid, and one of the essential aims of this policy is to create a false bourgeoisie to put a brake on the revolution and to enlarge the possibilities of the petty bourgeoisie as a neutraliser of the revolution; at the same time it invests capital in France, Italy, Belgium, England and so on. In our opinion the aim of this is to stimulate the growth of a workers' aristocracy, to enlarge the field of action of the petty bourgeoisie so as to block the revolution. In our opinion it is under this aspect that neocolonialism and the relations between the international working class movement and our movements must be analysed. If there have ever been any doubts about the close relations between our struggle and the struggle of the international working class movement, neocolonialism has proved that there need not be any.[53]

Cabral saw that the combined and uneven development of capitalism allowed backward countries to leap the bourgeois stage of development making use of the enormous technology and wealth that existed in the more advanced countries. The emergence of a socialist camp potentially allowed states to pool resources and for poorer countries to benefit from the help of richer ones. His views on the uneven development of humanity and the capacity to skip historical stages is outlined here:

At the level of humanity or of part of humanity (human groups within one area, of one or several continents) these three stages [primitive communism, capitalism and socialism] can be simultaneous, as is shown as much by the present as by the past. This is a result of the uneven development of human societies, whether caused by internal reasons or by one or more external factors exerting an accelerating or slowing-down influence on their evolution. On the other hand, in the historical process of a given socio-economic whole each of the above-mentioned stages contains, once a certain level of transformation is reached, the seeds of the following stage.
We should also note that in the present phase of the life of humanity, and for a given socio-economic whole, the time sequence of the three characteristic stages is not indispensable. Whatever its level of productive forces and present social structure, a society can pass rapidly through the defined stages appropriate to the concrete local realities (both historical and human) and reach a higher stage of existence. This progress depends on the concrete possibilities of development of the society’s productive forces and is governed mainly by the nature of the political power ruling the society, that is to say, by the type of state or, if one likes, by the character of the dominant class or classes within the society.
A more detailed analysis would show that the possibility of such a jump in the historical process arises mainly, in the economic field, from the power of the means available to man at the time for dominating nature, and, in the political field, from the new event which has radically clanged the face of the world and the development of history, the creation of socialist states.[54]

It is unclear what influence Amílcar Cabral might have had had he lived to see the success of the PAIGC. He would undoubtedly have had a major influence not only on the revolution in Guinea-Bissau, but across the world. He had a more balanced view of the path to socialism than his brother Luiz, who was in power from 1974-1980. He understood that industrialisation had to go hand in hand with the raising of the economic level of the peasants.[55] However, as Ted Grant pointed out, in a colonial country like Guinea-Bissau, even under the most far-sighted Marxist leadership,

The conquest of power by the proletariat and the firm establishment of a workers’ democracy could only be an episode, to be followed by deformation or counter-revolution in the Stalinist form, if it were not followed, in a relatively short historical period, by the victory of the revolution in the advanced capitalist countries. It would, of course, even as an ‘episode’ be of enormous historical significance for the proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries as well as the peoples of the underdeveloped areas of the world. But even the greatest revolutionary theory cannot solve the problem without the necessary material base.[56]  

In a confused and hesitant manner, Cabral was approaching the theory of the permanent revolution, developed by Trotsky to study the revolution in backward Tsarist Russia. Undoubtedly, the negative influence of Stalinism held back Cabral’s ideas. The Stalinists’ distortion of Marxism and Leninism, the obliteration of Trotsky’s legacy, their class-collaborationist policies, their opportunist volte-faces, their bloody record, dictated by the interests of the bureaucracy; and the corruption of the systems they defended, created a thick ideological and organisational crust that honest revolutionaries like Cabral had to try to painstakingly break through. Cabral hesitated to identify openly with the “Marxist-Leninist” doctrines of the Soviet bloc; according to his biographer, bourgeois historian Patrick Chabal, “he came to view Marxism as a methodology rather than an ideology. […] Although the main thrust of his argument is undoubtedly Marxist, what is more interesting are the qualifications and innovations which Cabral makes”.[57]

The Sino-Soviet split and the squabbles between the bureaucracies only added to the confusion and the distortions, and made it difficult to envisage the solidarity and harmonious integration of the socialist camp. This was compounded with the delay of revolution in the industrialised countries of the West with the post-World War Two economic boom, and the conservatism of the working-class organisations in these countries, which stopped these countries from playing the leading role in world revolution they should have played. The delay of revolution in the West helped give rise to proletarian Bonapartist movements in the colonial world.

In light of all this, it is unsurprising that the main theoretical limitation of Cabral was to try to resolve the problems of the anti-colonial revolution within the narrow confines of Guinea-Bissau, within which they could not be fundamentally overcome. Echoing the Stalinist regimes, he tended to see internationalism as a loose form of solidarity rather than as the interlinking of revolutionary movements and the genuine and harmonious integration of the socialist countries that was envisaged by the Third International in its early years. But this attitude was undoubtedly shaped by the conservatism and opportunism of the Stalinist parties in Europe and the governments of the Soviet bloc. It also reflected the conditions of a national liberation struggle, when the priority is to expel the imperialists from the country. Yet as Ted Grant explained in 1964, talking about the socialist national liberation movements in Africa and Asia:

Internationalism was not conceived as a holiday or sentimental phrase, but as an organic part of the socialist revolution. Internationalism is a consequence of the unity of the world economy, which was capitalism’s historical task to develop into a single economic whole. If Russia, with all her immense resources, and a most highly-conscious proletariat, with the finest Marxist leadership, could not solve its problems despite its continental basis and resources, it is ludicrous for Marxists even to think that in the present world conjuncture it would be possible in any of these backward countries, in isolation from any healthy workers’ state to maintain anything but a Bonapartist state of a more or less repressive character.
Internationalism and conscious leadership—the two go together — are an organic part of Marxism. Without them, it is impossible to take the necessary steps in the direction of socialist society. Not one of these states is, in proportion to population, even as industrially developed as was Russia at the time of the revolution. Industrial development of a backward economy with the pressure of imperialism and Soviet and Chinese Bonapartism, the pressure of internal contradictions which a developing economy would mean, inevitably, in an economy of scarcity, would lead to the rise of privileged layers.[58]   

For Trotsky, the Russian bourgeoisie could not play the progressive role its counterparts had played in Western Europe. A historical latecomer, it had entered the world at a time when an organised labour movement, with ideas and a programme of its own, was already in existence, throwing the bourgeoisie into an unholy alliance with the feudal elites and the autocracy. Moreover, with the rise of financial and monopoly capitalism, the old, feudal order was subsumed into the capitalist system: the landlords invested in industry and the factory owners invested in landed property; the Church mortgaged its estates; the imperial armies struck lucrative contracts with industrialists; the old dynasties accumulated massive debts. Therefore the sharp divide between bourgeois and feudal classes that had existed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries became blurred. The tasks of the bourgeois revolution (dismantling the feudal order, unifying the country, democratisation and secularisation, land redistribution, developing the country and overcoming backwardness, etc.) fell on the shoulders of the small labour movement, which would be able to rally the peasantry behind it. However, it would not be able to stop at the bourgeois stage of the revolution, but, spurred by the opposition of the propertied classes and the incapacity to carry out basic reforms on the basis of capitalism, would have to overthrow the bourgeoisie and move towards socialism. Of course, the material basis for socialism in a country like Tsarist Russia was insufficient, and the long-term survival of the revolution and the consolidation of genuine socialism depended on the revolution in the advanced countries on the West. Revolution in backward countries could provide a powerful push to revolution in the industrialised world. 

In the former Portuguese empire, socialist revolutions spearheaded by the petty bourgeoisie could survive and take root if they spread to more advanced countries, that could have provided the technology, guidance, and expertise to modernise and develop less developed societies. The revolutions in the colonial world had a radicalising effect in the whole of Europe and North America. In Portugal, they contributed to create a revolutionary situation that could have toppled capitalism. Perhaps more importantly was the impact of these revolutions on the African continent. In these years the role of spearheading the African revolution undoubtedly fell on the shoulders of South Africa, the most industrialised, modern, and urbanised country on the continent, with a powerful and well-organised working class. If Cuba, a small, poor island on the other side of the Atlantic, was able to provide an extraordinary political, material, and military stimulus to the revolutionary liberation movements in Africa, the role of a healthy socialist South Africa could have been decisive for the building of socialism across the continent. In the 1980s South Africa was ablaze with revolutionary agitation, partly under the inspiration of other revolutionary movements in the region and the world. In the early 1990s the South African working class could easily have taken power peacefully. It was the betrayal of the leaders of the ANC and the SACP that prevented this from happening.

The potential for a socialist Portugal to spearhead the socialist transformation of Lusophone Africa should also be pointed out. As said above, in 1974-1975 capitalism was hanging from a thread in Portugal, and it was only the treacherous role of the socialist and communist leaderships that saved the system. Cabral believed that after fascism had been overthrown in Portugal, the country could play a powerful, constructive role in the former colonies, helping develop the former colonies on a fraternal basis.[59] However, this could only have been done by asocialist Portugal, where the economy is democratically planned for the general interest. Capitalist Portugal has continued to play an imperialist role in its former colonies: today, Guinea-Bissau imports most of its manufactured goods from Portugal (20% of its imports come from the former metropole), while it remains an exporter of groundnuts, as was the case in the days of the empire.

The African Revolution today

Much has changed since the days of Cabral and the PAIGC. In 1966, Cabral foreshadowed that, if the first round of socialist revolution were to fail in Africa, and if the new independent states were to fall once again under the boot of imperialism and capitalism, the gradual industrialisation of these countries would spawn a working class that would rally the other oppressed layers of society behind it and spearhead a new, more powerful revolutionary wave:

[…] The necessarily repressive nature of the neo-colonial state against the national liberation forces, the sharpening of contradictions between classes, the objective permanence of signs and agents of foreign domination (settlers who retain their privileges, armed forces, racial discrimination), the growing poverty of the peasantry and the more or less notorious influence of external factors all contribute towards keeping the flame of nationalism alive, towards progressively raising the consciousness of wide popular sectors and towards reuniting the majority of the population, on the very basis of awareness of neo-colonialist frustration, around the ideal of national liberation. In addition, while the native ruling class becomes progressively more bourgeois, the development of a working class composed of urban workers and agricultural proletarians, all exploited by the indirect domination of imperialism, opens up new perspectives for the evolution of national liberation. This working class, whatever the level of its political consciousness (given a certain minimum, namely the awareness of its own needs), seems to constitute the true popular vanguard of the national liberation struggle in the neo-colonial case. However it will not be able to completely fulfill its mission in this struggle (which does not end with the gaining of independence) unless it firmly unites with the other exploited strata, the peasants in general (hired men, sharecroppers, tenants and small farmers) and the nationalist petty bourgeoisie. The creation of this alliance demands the mobilization and organization of the nationalist forces within the framework (or by the action) of a strong and well-structured political organization.[60]

Cabral was right. In recent decades most African countries have undergone processes of industrialisation and urbanisation, and a powerful working class has come into being in many formerly peasant countries, particularly in places like Nigeria and Ethiopia. Even in Guinea-Bissau, which remains one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, 50% of the population now lives in the cities, and 40% is now literate. Spasmodic capitalist industrialisation has also exacerbated class contradictions, increasing inequality, unemployment, and throwing entire sectors of the population into marginality and destitution. It has done little to resolve the fundamental problems of African societies, but has rather exacerbated them. These contradictions are now being aggravated by the capitalist crisis and by the slowdown of China. Africa is ripe for revolution. The conditions exist for the overthrow of capitalism which would open the way for the rapid transformation  of African societies, and would send shockwaves across the world. Indeed, a successful socialist revolution in Nigeria or South Africa would undoubtedly have a domino effect not only in the region but across the world. We have seen the example of the Burkinabe masses effortlessly bringing down the stooges of French and American imperialism. After the Burkinabe Revolution of 2014, the prestigious bourgeois newspaper The Financial Times spoke about the perspectives for revolution in Africa in these words:

But the events in Ouagadougou should give them pause for thought, for two reasons. First, sub Saharan Africa’s young and urban population, suffering from high unemployment, could be a force for change, through violent protests if necessary. In recent months, they have taken to the streets in Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan on an unprecedented scale. The spread of mobile phones, and the easy access to social media, is helping to increase mobilisation. (…)
The black spring of Burkina Faso shows how the demands of an impatient young population, by 2020 three out of four people in Africa will be 20 years old or younger, are growing. After a decade of strong economic growth enthusiastically branded “Africa rising” most young city dwellers feel left behind. It is hardly surprising that some are following the advice of Thomas Sankara, the late Burkinabè leader killed during the 1987 coup that propelled Mr Compaoré to power: “The future is revolutionary”. The future belongs to those who struggle.[61]

This new wave of the revolution in the African continent comes at a time of global crisis of capitalism and the beginning of the revolutionary stirring of the masses of working people and the youth in the advanced capitalist countries. The weak, rotten, and dependent “national” bourgeoisie in the African continent has proven to be completely unable to develop any of these countries on a progressive basis. The lesson to be learnt is clear: only with the abolition of capitalism, led by the young working class which has developed in recent decades, and linking up with the revolutionary movement in advanced capitalist countries can any perspective for the future be offered.

Armed with the ideas of revolutionary Marxism and the legacy of Amílcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara, and other revolutionaries, it is time to hoist the flag of the African revolution once again and to struggle until victory. A luta continua!


[29] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Message to the people of Portugal’, 1969.

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

[31] Amílcar Cabral, ‘Message to the soldiers,  officers, and NCOs of the Portuguese colonial army’, 1970.

[32] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.148.

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

[34] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.149-150.

[35] See: Pietro Gljeises, Conflicting missions: Havana, Washington and Africa, 1959-1976, 2010.

[36] Quoted in: Carlos Martinez, ‘The revolutionary legacy of Amílcar Cabral’, 2014.

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

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

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

[40] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.164-165.

[41] Ted Grant, ‘The colonial revolution and the Sino-Soviet dispute’, 1964.

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

[43] Amílcar Cabral, ‘National culture’, 1970.

[44] Amílcar Cabral, ‘National culture’, 1970.

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

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

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

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

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

[50] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.154.

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

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

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

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

[55] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.155.

[56] Ted Grant, ‘The colonial revolution and the Sino-Soviet dispute’, 1964.

[57] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.169.

[58] Ted Grant, ‘The colonial revolution and the Sino-Soviet dispute’, 1964.

[59] Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral: Revolutionary Leadership and People’s War, 1983, p.144.

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

[61] ‘Africa’s leaders wake up to the “Black Spring” in Burkina Faso’, The Financial Times (03/11/2014).

Source: Amilcar Cabral and the African Revolution - Part Two

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