The Politics of Amilcar Cabral
“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.”
– Amilcar Cabral.
Cabral founded the African Party for independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) in 1956. The core members of PAIGC were petty-bourgeoisie, civil servants, salaried employees and student intelligentsia. But his radical politics led him into conflict with a minority of politically conservative leaders of the PAIGC. In the run up to Guinea Bissau’s impending nationalist independence from Portugal, they sought to silence him. In January 1973, with the assistance of Portugal, they tried to arrest Cabral in an attempted party coup. When he refused to surrender to them, they shot him dead.
Amilcar Cabral is not the figure that some claim him to be. To quote Cabral himself, “Our peoples have the concrete possibility of going from their present situation of exploitation and under-development to a new stage of their historical process which can lead them to a higher from of existence.” and “The colonial situation is not resolved by a nationalist solution; it demands the destruction of the capitalist structure and correctly postulates a socialist solution.”
He accepted the Marxist argument of permanent revolution. There are two critical points that apply in the case of Guinea Bissau (amongst others.)
The class nature of the middle class and petty bourgeoisie means that they seek to rise above the masses. They show more extreme tendencies towards elitism.
Firstly, a new bourgeoisie cannot solve the problems of the past. Factory owners and business people cannot lead any thorough-going revolution. The bourgeoisie are terrified of workers militancy and will side with the old order.
Secondly, the decisive revolutionary role falls to the working class. Workers will not limit their demands but raise socialist slogans.
The first point was proved positively in the case of Guinea. The leadership of PAIGC did not share the aspirations of the workers of an egalitarian society. The class nature of the middle class and petty bourgeoisie means that they seek to rise above the masses. They show more extreme tendencies towards elitism.
It was precisely this group of leaders in the PAIGC that eventually murdered Cabral – just as it was with Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.
The second point however was not proved. The decisive revolutionary role in fact did not fall to the working class. There are two main reasons for this.
Where worker organisations existed, typically in the form of trade unions, these were led by radical middle-class or petty-bourgeoisie elements who ultimately sought to restrain movements from developing into revolutionary movements.
Guinea’s working class was young and inexperienced. It lacked organisation (unlike the petty-bourgeoisie) and experience. Like the working classes in many parts of colonial Africa, the working class only began to seriously grow in the 20th Century. Where worker organisations existed, typically in the form of trade unions, these were led by radical middle-class or petty-bourgeoisie elements who ultimately sought to restrain movements from developing into revolutionary movements.
It was not only the lack of a confident and organised working class but also the lack of a visionary and strategic labour leadership. Without such a leadership the working class could play a central role at best but not a leading role in struggle.
The ideological points about the role of the new bourgeoisie and the workers are reflected in Cabral’s politics. It comes through in his speech (The Weapon of Theory) to the First Tri-Continental Conference of the People’s of Asia, Africa and Latin America in January 1966. It is this speech that encapsulates Cabral’s ideology.
He repeatedly argued that the intelligentsia, petty bourgeoisie and middle class must be classes that lead and are central to a revolution. He argued that the working class was not sufficiently developed to be any real player in social struggles. But we have heard this argument before from the SACP. So how was Cabral different?
He also recognised that the middle classes could easily abandon the revolutionary project and become the new masters – an avid and voracious caste ready to accept crumbs from the old colonial masters. He repeats this point throughout his struggle. You don’t hear such honesty from the SACP.
his weakness is that he tried to recognise the centrality of the working class but then make it invisible to the revolutionary process – to keep them out of any political strategies
Cabral’s was certainly a deep thinking Marxist. But his weakness is that he tried to recognise the centrality of the working class but then make it invisible to the revolutionary process – to keep them out of any political strategies. This is why Cabral led a guerrilla struggle against colonialism. He also relied on the peasantry to provide the bulk of the fighting masses.
But both Marx and Trotsky argued that the working class may be small in number and a new social force but the proletariat is the only force capable of socialist revolution. Lenin recognised this as well. In 1917 Russia the peasants outnumbered the workers. Yet it was the workers who played the leading role with the peasantry accepting their leadership.
Like a number of well-intentioned socialists, Cabral’s weakness was to rely on social forces with no interest in up-turning society to benefit the masses. As the late socialist Tony Cliff argues, “It is one of the tricks of history that when an historical task faces society, and the class that traditionally carries it out is absent, some other group of people implements it.” Yet despite his weakness Cabral is an inspiring historical figure whose commitment to socialism is undoubtable.