Claim no easy victories – Amilcar Cabral

01 February 2013

ON 20 January 1973, Africa was tragically robbed of yet another revolutionary prophet when Amilcar Cabral was assassinated in cold blood in Conakry. He was the leader and founder of the Partido Africana da Independencia da Guinee e Cabo Verde (PAIGC), known in English as the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.


To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Cabral’s death, AfricAvenir Namibia screened a documentary film titled “Cabralista – Present & Collective Memory”, directed by Valerio Lopes. This is the first episode in a series of three documentaries (trilogy): Episode I: Present: Collective Memory; Episode II: Past: History and Episode III: Future: Utopia.

The goal of this trilogy “…is to spread Cabral’s words and wisdom and support the Cabralist concept of re-Africanisation of the spirit, recognised all around the world as a pillar of African emancipation.” Through narrations by young Africans, Episode I is, as the title suggests, a collective memory of Amilcar Cabral and his ideas.

Let me commend Hans-Christian Mahnke and his colleagues at AfricAvenir Namibia for keeping the Pan African fires burning through film. I receive regular e-mail updates from them, but this was the first time I attended their events.

I attended the screening with three of my boys, namely Ngaii, Pahee and Uendjii. Well, I am proud to tell you that Ngaii’s middle names are Malcolm-X Amilcar, named after two of my heroes. So, when I received the e-mail from Christian, I invited the boys to watch the movie with me. And we were not disappointed.

Guess who I met there? None other than the ever-green ideologue, Mitiri Elia Kaiyamo, Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration. Not that I was surprised to see him there - Kaiyamo was our political commissar when we were young student activists in the 1980’s. He is one of very few comrades who maintain links with the grassroots, and he has an open door policy at his ministry. His office is a library of revolutionary reading material, and he always beams with pride when he shows off his ideological bazookas!

Amilcar Cabral is very dear to me. His writings are amazing because he had mastered the art of articulating complex concepts in a way that makes sense to everybody. The inspiration for most of his writings is the great works of Marx and Lenin, yet he has been able to contextualise these revolutionary writings for the unique African conditions.

Take, for example, his paper, The Weapon of Theory, which he delivered at the First Tri-Continental Conference of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, which was held in Havana, Cuba, in January 1966. The classical Marxist view is that history is a chronicle of class struggles, moving from a primordial mode of production to a classless society.

Cabral had some fundamental issues with this class conception of history: “…. does history begin only with the development of the phenomenon of ‘class’, and consequently of class struggle? To reply in the affirmative would be to place outside history the whole period of life of human groups from the discovery of hunting, and later of nomadic and sedentary agriculture, to the organization of herds and the private appropriation of land. It would also be to consider — and this we refuse to accept — that various human groups in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were living without history, or outside history, at the time when they were subjected to the yoke of imperialism.”

This is classical Cabral. He continues: “…if class struggle is the motive force of history, it is so only in a specific historical period. This means that before the class struggle — and necessarily after it, since in this world there is no before without an after — one or several factors was and will be the motive force of history. It is not difficult to see that this factor in the history of each human group is the mode of production — the level of productive forces and the pattern of ownership — characteristic of that group. It therefore seems correct to conclude that the level of productive forces, the essential determining element in the content and form of class struggle, is the true and permanent motive force of history.”

Cabral argued that human beings will outlive classes and will continue to produce and make history because they cannot totally free themselves from the burden of their physical and spiritual needs, and these needs are the basis for the development of the forces of production. This is why he preferred to use the productive forces, rather than classes, as the motive force of history.

Just as Lenin did with the Bolsheviks, Cabral managed to illustrate the importance of theory in every liberation struggle or revolution. He was convinced that practice and theory must go together: “If it is true that a revolution can fail even though it is based on perfectly conceived theories—nobody has yet made a successful revolution without a revolutionary theory.”

Class suicide is another concept in Cabral’s writings. He encouraged the petty bourgeoisie to strengthen its revolutionary consciousness,“ reject the temptations of becoming more bourgeois and the natural concerns of its class mentality, to identify itself with the working classes and not to oppose the normal development of the process of revolution. This means that in order to truly fulfill the role in the national liberation struggle, the revolutionary petty bourgeoisie must be capable of committing suicide as a class in order to be reborn as revolutionary workers, completely identified with the deepest aspirations of the people to which they belong.“

Please forgive me for quoting Cabral so much, but what can I do? Is it possible to read such great ideas and then keep them to myself? And why should I spoil it by trying to paraphrase it for you?

Finally, let me say that Amilcar Cabral was a highly ethical person who believed that revolutionaries must be truthful in the way they conduct themselves struggles. His advice was simple: Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories…

Ondjirijo. Hijo.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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