CABRAL : THE MAN AND THE STRUGGLE

Raymond A. Almeida - rayalmeida@post.harvard.edu


In an introduction to Unity and Struggle, a collection of speeches and writings by Amilcar Cabral, Mario de Andrade attempts to describe the complexity of the leadership of the man who conceptualized and led the liberation movement which brought Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde to national independence. Andrade says Cabral was both "a theoretician and a man of indefatigable action in pursuit of reality by revealing the deep roots, fundamental causes, so often blurred by the tumult of revolutionary action." The following includes excerpts from Andrade's introduction and several quotations from Cabral on the "role of culture" in the liberation of a people.

"... For sensitive Africans, for Cabral, it was obviously not a matter of a hypothetical return to some imaginary purity, nor of voluntary integration into the so-called modern society (product of the slave trade, of insane exploitation of slave descendants), but of re-entry into the history of men freed from all servitudes and from systematic ideas that had only served to restrict life and to retard human accomplishment. For him, this colossal task, the only one worthy of faith and sacrifice, was everyone's concern. As he saw it, the task was first and foremost a concern of Africans.

"At the end of the academic year in 1949, he returned for holidays to Cape Verde, firmly set on putting his ideas into practice. And, first, to reveal Cape Verde to the Cape Verdeans: the only possible introduction to liberty and knowledge of Africa and the world. On September 8, he began a series of radio talks on geophysical aspects of the archipelago, 'Some thoughts on the subject of the rains'. It was an opportunity for Cabral to talk about the essential. He argued with conviction that Cape Verdeans had the means of taking charge of their own destiny. A student, he turned himself into a teacher, calling on 'those with knowledge to enlighten those who do not know'. He launched into his topic quickly and dealt with the basic question: the Cape Verdeans have the means to live from their land, they must therefore organize themselves to take account of their realities. The broadcast were soon banned by the colonial authorities.

"This first venture in politico-cultural teaching achieved by Cabral in Santiago in 1949 already had an analogy in the Luanda, Angola of the same period, with the movement 'Vamos descobrir Angola' (Let's discover Angola), launched by a group of young intellectuals around the poet Viriato da Cruz. But it was in Lisbon, at the heart of colonial fascism, that the first project for collective engagement by the men in political battles was to ripen. From his entry to the university, Amilcar Cabral was intimately tied to the group of students born in the Portuguese colonies. By their class origin, the latter were objectively drawn from humble stock, from an urban petty bourgeoisie. The more sensitive elements were aroused by the tangible facts of colonial exploitation operating at the level of the mass of the people and whose effects, albeit to a lesser degree, they experienced in their material and social lives. Those who had reached the advanced training institutes (often at the cost of enormous financial sacrifices made by their families and by virtue of jockeying for assimilado vacancies) bore the stigmata of revolt. Their consciousness of the negation of the colonized man came at the same time from their objective material situation and from the aggression to which their cultural personality as Africans was subjected. Armed with a privileged education, these assimilados were faced with a dilemma: either to struggle for their self-advancement within the framework of colonial society or to arm themselves culturally to challenge and destroy the system of domination. In other words, it was a matter of choosing between two views of life: either ascent by accepting the system's rules, or total rejection, in effect breaking away in order to open the way to freedom for the strata most oppressed by colonialism. Around these ideas was built and progressively sharpened the definition of unity for nationalist from Portuguese colonies, the content of their ideology, and the form their combat should take."

At age 28 Cabral completed his training as an agronomical engineer and he made the political decision to return to Guiné under contract to the Provincial Department of Agricultural and Forestry Services.

".... Here was an African molded in the crucible of an island region of the continent (Cape Verde), who had experienced the drama of famine and understood perfectly the dual nature of the Portuguese regime - in the colonies and the metropolis (Lisbon). Above all he was invested by his contemporaries with the task of achieving within the peculiar circumstances of Guiné the bringing to consciousness of the mass of the people."

Cabral wrote: "... It was after the Second World War that a need to struggle to put an end to colonial domination was born and grew in people's thoughts. At that period, a group of students from the Portuguese colonies began to seek how to re-become Africans, for the cunning of the Portuguese had always lain in not allowing us to be Africans in order to turn us into second class Portuguese. Anyone who had the good fortune to go to school was used by the Portuguese as an agent, as an individual who would disown Africa to serve the colonialist. So our work lay in searching out again our African roots. And that was so wonderful, so useful and laden with consequences that even today the founders of that group are all the leaders of liberation movements in Portuguese colonies.

"...Then one after another we returned to our countries and met others who thought as we did, and we sought to awaken in each person's mind the sense of freedom. It was not all that easy. So it is not by chance that I went to Guiné. It was not material hardship that drove me back to my native land. Everything had been calculated, step by step. I had enormous potential for working in any of the other Portuguese colonies, or even in Portugal; I gave up a good position in the Lisbon agronomy center, as a researcher, for a post as an engineer second class in Guiné.

"...It was thus to follow a calculation, the idea of doing something to make a contribution to arousing the people for struggle against the Portuguese. And I did this from the first day I set foot in Guiné."

"...On earth there is a single people to which all nations belong."

For Cabral the political plan was clear. But he still had to uncover the social ground of the struggle. Rarely had an African revolutionary been in such an exceptionally strategic position. As an agricultural engineer Cabral was free to move around in the cities, villages and the remote country side to work with local leaders to create the instrument for the socio-economic transformation of his country.

The first political problem to be solved was to form the revolutionary kernel of the movement. He approached former classmates who had studied with him at the secondary school in Mindelo on the island of Sao Vicente in Cape Verde. He asked them to take a stand with him against the Portuguese. The majority took flight. Those rare few who responded positively were twenty years later to become the first generation of leaders of independent Guiné and Cape Verde. In these early days his most responsive hearing came from the workers in the experimental agricultural unit -- Pessube Grange --and with their help he enlarged his contacts with grassroots people in the towns of Bissau, Pilun and Papel Territory. Throughout the struggle Cabral believed firmly that the key to liberty was the unity of Cape Verdeans and Guineans who had been divided by the colonial system.

Portuguese troops attacked and killed fifty striking stevedores and seamen on the Pidjiguiti docks in the Port of Bissau on August 3, 1959. This act galvanized opinion within the PAIGC that the time to mobilize for armed response to the colonialist had come.

In August 1960 Cabral led a delegation of the PAIGC to the People's Republic of China. China was first to offer substantial material aid to the PAIGC and to MPLA (Angola).

The establishment of CONCP (Conferencia das Organizacoes Nacionalistas das Colonias Portuguesas) at Casablanca, Morocco on 18 April 1961 further enlarged the potential for acquiring material and political aid on an international scale.

Finally, on January 23, 1963 PAIGC commando units attacked the Portuguese barracks at Tite marking the actual launch of the armed struggle. A journalist for the Times of London predicted then that "Guinea - Bissau would become the Achilles' heel of the Portuguese colonial policy."

CABRAL ON CULTURE

"... Many folks think of Cape Verde as Praia or Sao Vicente. But anyone who knows the bush in Cape Verde feels in Cape Verde an African reality as palpable as any other fragment of Africa. The culture of the Cape Verde people is quintessentially African...."

"... Culture, whatever the ideological or idealist characteristics of its expression, is thus an essential element of the history of a people. Culture is, perhaps the resultant of this history just as the flower is the resultant of a plant. Like history, or because it is history, culture has as its material base the level of the productive forces and the mode of production. Culture plunges its roots into the humus of the material reality of the environment in which it develops, and reflects the organic nature of the society, which may be more or less influenced by external factors. History enables us to know the nature and extent of the imbalances and the conflicts (economic, political and social) that characterize the evolution of a society. Culture enables us to know what dynamic syntheses have been formed and set by social awareness in order to resolve these conflicts at each stage of evolution of that society, in the search for survival and progress.

Just as occurs with the flower in a plant, the capacity (or responsibility) for forming and fertilizing the seed which ensures the continuity of history lies in culture, and the seed simultaneously ensures the prospect for evolution and progress of the society in question. Thus it is understood that imperialist domination, denying to the dominated people their own historical process, necessarily denies their cultural process. It is further understood why the exercise of imperialist domination, like all other foreign domination, for its own security requires cultural oppression and the attempt at direct or indirect destruction of the essential elements of the culture of the dominated people.

Study of the history of liberation struggles shows that they have generally been preceded by an upsurge of cultural manifestations, which progressively harden into an attempt, successful or not, to assert the cultural personality of the dominated people by an act of denial of the culture of the oppressor. Whatever the conditions of subjection of a people to foreign domination and the influence of economic, political and social factors in the exercise of this domination, it is generally within the cultural factor that we find the seed of challenge which leads to the structure and development of the liberation movement.

In our view, the foundation of national liberation lies in the inalienable right of every people to have their own history, whatever the formulations adopted in international law. The aim of national liberation is therefore to regain this right, usurped by imperialist domination: namely, the liberation of the process of development of the national productive forces. So national liberation exists when, and only when, the national productive forces have been completely freed from all kinds of foreign domination. The liberation of productive forces, and consequently of the ability freely to determine the mode of production most appropriate to the evolution of the liberated people, necessarily opens up new prospects for the cultural process of the society in question by returning to it all its capacity to create progress.

A people who free themselves from foreign domination will not be culturally free unless, without underestimating the importance of positive contributions from the oppressor's culture and other cultures, they return to the upwards paths of their own culture. The latter is nourished by the living reality of the environment and rejects harmful influences as much as any kind of subjection to foreign cultures. We see therefore that, if imperialist domination has the vital need to practice cultural oppression, national liberation is necessarily an act of culture...."


"Tell no lies. Claim no easy victories!"

Amilcar Cabral

September 12, 1924 - January 20, 1973



Cape Verde Home Page

This page maintained by Ray Almeida - rayalmeida@post.harvard.edu