First Published: The Call, Vol. 4, No. 6, March 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Over the past few months, world attention has been focused on Angola and the contention of the two superpowers there.
Like the period before World War II–when Italy invaded Ethiopia, Japan invaded China, and Hitler tested his air force in Spain–the Angolan situation of today is a case of the big powers testing their strength for ultimate confrontation with each other.
Because of superpower aggression, the just liberation struggle of the Angolan people has been sabotaged and turned into a state of civil war. The Soviet Union, like fascist Germany before it, is a “latecomer” to the imperialist feast, which the U.S. imperialists have been enjoying for some time. As such, it has shown a special aggressiveness in Angolan intervention.
As the complex events in Angola have developed, The Call has tried to write about them with the overall understanding that 1) both superpowers and all foreign powers must get out of Angola and cease their schemes to wreck Angolan national unity; and 2) the Angolan people must be allowed to exercise their self-determination free from foreign intervention.
This position has been explained through the pages of The Call, at October League forums and other public events. In this article, we try to summarize the answers to the questions that have come up in the course of this debate and in the letters we have received:
You have stated that the three Angolan liberation organizations “have more in common than they have differences,” and that the two superpowers are to be blamed for wrecking Angolan unity and causing civil war. How do you support this?
The long struggle against Portuguese colonialism in Angola produced three organizations taking up arms to fight the colonialists–MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA. These three groups did not agree on a wide range of issues, and in fact, had very sharp differences. But the main strategic question during this period was waging the fight against colonialism, and all three groups played a role in this fight. All three liberated large areas of the countryside from Portuguese control. The map of Angola on the day the Portuguese left in November shows that UNITA controlled approximately 50% of the country, FNLA 30% and MPLA 20%. They gained control of these areas through armed struggle against the Portuguese and mobilization of the masses.
In the course of these battles, the three groups suffered some 20,000 losses with each group bearing a share of the martyrs. These facts show that all three groups represented a section of the Angolan people and fought in their interests for liberation.
Despite the political differences between the groups, they often met to negotiate principles of unity in the fight. Most importantly, they met in Alvor, Portugal, in 1975 to work out plans for a transitional government to run the country prior to the November independence. All three groups were represented in this government, and the government carried out united work for some months. All three were recognized by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). They all affirmed in writing that they should struggle for unity and against sectarianism. They collectively agreed to defend the territorial integrity of Angola which became especially important when superpower activity began to threaten a split-off of Cabinda enclave. At Alvor and afterwords, a cease-fire was agreed to among the groups.
You say that the two superpowers are to blame for the civil war, and especially the Soviet Union. Why is it the Soviet Union which must take the greater part of the blame?
To really understand what is happening in Angola, it is necessary to view it against the world backdrop. The Soviet Union is not a socialist country, but an imperialist superpower. Both superpowers are aggressive and bloodthirsty. But the U.S. has been greatly weakened by the defeat in Indochina and the general awakening of the third world in struggle. It has been forced out of many parts of the world, which the Soviet Union has been able to sneak in the back door by hiding under the red flag of socialism.
The Soviet Union has now surpassed the U.S. in most areas of military strength, and it is aggressively seeking to redivide a world which for many years has been largely dominated by the U.S.
The USSR, as a rising imperialist power, finds it more crucial to embark on the Angolan adventure. It must gain a foothold in southern Africa and a port in the South Atlantic in order to back up its growing contention with the U.S. over Europe.
The Soviet social-imperialists, while talking about “internationalist aid” to Angola, have been doing nothing but committing crimes against the people of Angola and Africa.
In the first place, it was the Soviet Union, which at the moment that Angolan unity seemed most possible, began to propagandize against FNLA and UNITA and prod MPLA to unilaterally set up its own government.
Secondly, the Soviet Union unleashed a flood of arms in Angola, the moment it had aggravated tensions to the point of civil war.
The Soviet revisionists sent between $200 and $400 million worth of tanks, helicopters, MIG’s and rockets to MPLA – the very weapons which they never sent as long as MPLA was fighting the Portuguese. It was not only arms which the Soviet Union supplied. They sent 1,000 of their own military men and induced Cuba to send 10,000 troops to lead the military assault on the FNLA and UNITA-held areas.
Thirdly, the Soviet Union used the opportunity of its attack on Angola to undermine Africa-wide unity which has been growing steadily against foreign domination on the continent. They openly threatened Zaire and Uganda, stirred up trouble in Zambia to undermine the government there, and reportedly carried out extensive bribery and intimidation in a number of other countries. They saw to it that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was split down the middle and then gleefully celebrated this weakening of the main voice against superpower hegemony in Africa.
These are some of the reasons why the Soviet Union can be considered the main enemy in Angola. The U.S. for its part is also guilty of crimes against the people there – including the well-documented role of the CIA, the use of mercenaries, and the egging-on of South Africa into the battle. The U.S. too tried to sow dissension among the liberation forces and promoted one side against the other. But because of its position internationally, the U.S. proved unable to intervene in Angola on the scale the Soviet Union did. In fact, Congress repeatedly turned down the requests made by Ford and Kissinger for more arms and money to Angola.
What is the Soviet Union after in Angola?
In addition to Angola’s great natural wealth, it is also clear that the Soviet imperialists are anxious to secure a position in the South Atlantic which can effectively oversee the shipping and oil lanes of the world and sever the U.S. from Western Europe.
Soviet involvement in Angola is an overall test of political and military strength. The Soviet Union is trying to see how many countries it can bring into line supporting its aggression under the cover of “socialist friendship.” It is experiencing its first attempts to utilize troops from third world countries to do its dirty work. It is testing the waters to see where U.S. imperialism will draw the line and stand up to it.
In addition, Angola is providing the Soviet Union with a test for its ability to deliver heavy equipment and supplies over long distances–something which is “old hat” to U.S. imperialism, but a new problem for Soviet imperialism. The Soviet Union is also utilizing its warships for the first time to back up an ongoing military invasion and testing a variety of weapons for the first time under battle conditions.
On top of all these factors behind Soviet zealousness to jump into Angola, the social-imperialists are also trying to build a base of support for their aggression. Playing on the complexities of the Angola situation and the hatred of the world’s people for U.S. imperialism, they are trying to enlist the support of countries, parties, mass organizations and people throughout the world. If you support Soviet aggression in Angola today, the social-imperialists see a good precedent for getting you to support it tomorrow whether it be in Europe, the Mideast, Africa or Latin America.
What about the role of U.S. aid in Angola? What has this aid meant for the groups that have accepted it?
In today’s complex world, the fact that a movement takes aid from one or another superpower is not unusual, and certainly constitutes no proof that such a movement is a superpower “puppet.” Both superpowers try to wedge their way into every comer of the globe, often using “aid” and arms as their chief tools.
There is nothing wrong with taking “aid” in the abstract, the question is what strings are attached to it. For example, there are only a few arms-exporters in the world and the superpowers have a near-monopoly. Under these circumstances, the mere fact that a liberation fighter fires a Soviet or U.S.-made gun is not decisive in determining the character of that struggle. FNLA and UNITA fired a number of U.S. guns, while MPLA utilized mainly Soviet guns. Rather than proving that MPLA is a “Soviet puppet” and FNLA and UNITA are U.S. “puppets,” all this proves is that superpower contention is very sharp and makes use of divisions among the Angolan people.
The problem with “aid” lies not in the fact that the recipient needs it or might be willing to take it, but with the imperialist donor seeking to use “aid” for ulterior purposes. We should continue to struggle against U.S. “aid” to intervene in Angola as part of our struggle to get both superpowers out.
How do you evaluate the role of South Africa in Angola?
This racist power certainly must be stopped from further aggression or intervention in Angola. It is pursuing military action in Angola only for the purpose of bolstering white supremacist rule in southern Africa, especially in Namibia which borders Angola.
Our opposition to South African involvement is firm. It is also important to take note of how South Africa got its foot in the door. It was unable to do so as long as the three liberation groups took a united stand. It was only able to do so after the Soviet Union had fomented the civil war.
What about the question of program?
Each of the three groups has its own program for the future of Angola, with important differences among them. Contrary to what is said in the bourgeois and revisionist press, however, the question of program is not one of “communism” vs. “anti-communism.” None of the three groups have a communist program since all are broad united front organizations. All three programs allow for capitalist development to continue either in the form of foreign holdings, a substantial private industrial sector or privately held land.
What all three programs have in common is a pledge to continue fighting colonialism and to guarantee the independence of Angola. The struggle for genuine political and economic independence is still the main struggle in Angola as it is among all newly-independent countries. As to the question of social system, this can only be determined by the masses of people themselves and it cannot be determined while foreign imperialist armies are occupying the country.
What are the lessons of Angola for the struggle in the U.S.?
In the first place, Angola points out the need for the third world to stand united in order to keep the superpowers from taking advantage of differences and divisions. People in this country face the task of defending the independence and self-determination of the Angolan people as well as their national unity. Upholding genuine independence means that the Angolan people alone can settle questions of who their leadership should be or how their society should be organized. Speculating on the differences among the Angolan people, attacking this or that side, only aids the schemes of the superpowers.
Secondly, the events in Angola show that there is no “detente” in the world and that superpower contention in the direction of war is sharpening. Angola throws light on the role of the Soviet superpower in particular. Many people have not yet understood the imperialist character of the USSR, while others are deliberately trying to prettify it. We should use the example of Angola to help arm the struggle here with the understanding that both superpowers are the enemy of the world’s people, and both must be fought.