Source: Amilcar Cabral, Revolution in Guinea, stage 1, London, 1974, pp126-132
Translated: Richard Handyside
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Copyleft: Copyright stage 1 .
Condensed version of an interview recorded at the Khartoum Conference in January 1969, published in Tricontinental no. 12
An important aspect of colonialism in our country, and in other Portuguese colonies as well, is Portugal's underdevelopment; the economic, social and cultural backwardness of Portugal, which also means backwardness in the economic development of our country, backwardness in the cultural development of our people and which creates specific conditions in the political development of our country. I am not going to mention the other aspects of Portuguese colonisation, but I want to point out that while on the one hand the character of Portuguese underdevelopment permitted the European and the African to live together (which was not the case, for example, in the English colonies), on the other hand Portuguese colonials always-often through ignorance, sometimes because of misinformation, and almost always because of their need to dominate-showed a complete lack of respect and consideration for the African personality and the African culture. It is sufficient for example to look at how Europe (mainly France, Belgium and England) became full of African works of art; this opened the way to universal knowledge of the abilities of the African, of his culture in general, of his religions and philosophical concepts-in other words the way in which the African confronts the reality of the world with cosmic reality. In Portugal no such thing occurred. Either because the colonials sent to our country were generally ignorant, or because the intellectuals were never interested, the Portuguese did not know the African, even though they came from the European country with the most colonies in Africa.
Thus as a result of our struggle, as a result of our confrontation with the Portuguese, they realised that we were not what they had supposed, and they discovered an African they had never imagined. This was one of the surprises the enemy got from our struggle.
Before initiating armed struggle, we decided to create African organisations. In 1954 we began to create recreational organisations, because at that time it was impossible to give them a political character. This was important, not because of the idea of creating organisations, but because the colonialists would not allow it; this showed our youth, who had become enthusiastic with the idea, that everything was prohibited to the African under the Portuguese.
After the Party was created in 1956, there was an important moment in 1959, when the Portuguese committed the massacre of Pijiguiti, which aroused indignation among the entire population of Guinea and Cabo Verde. That was a crucial, decisive moment, because it showed that our Party was following a mistaken line and that it lacked experience. At that time the Party knew nothing of what was happening in the world, and we had to progress on an empirical basis. It wasn't until 1961 that I got to know the works of Mao Tse-Tung. Our lack of experience made us think that we could fight in the cities with strikes and so on, but we were wrong and the reality of that moment showed us that this was impossible.
In September 1959, little more than a month after the Pijiguiti massacre, we held a secret conference in Bissao which gave a completely new turn to the character of our struggle. We began to prepare ourselves for armed struggle and we decided to go into the countryside. The President of the Party, Rafael Barbosa, was the first to leave for the bush to mobilise the people and to form new party members. Our city people also went, workers, employees, etc.; they left their things and went into the bush to mobilise the population.
Later the Party decided to take advantage of the existence of independent countries, at least of one of the neighbouring independent countries. While internal factors are decisive, one cannot forget the external factors. The fact that the Republic of Guinea was next to us enabled our Party to install there, temporarily, some of our leaders, and this enabled us to create a political school to prepare political activists. This was decisive for our struggle. In 1960 we created a political school in Conakry, under very poor conditions.
Militants from the towns-Party members-were the first to come to receive political instruction and to be trained in how to mobilise our people for the struggle. After comrades from the city came peasants and youths (some even bringing their entire families) who had been mobilised by Party members. Ten, twenty, twenty-five people would come for a period of one or two months. During that period they went through an intensive education programme; we spoke to them, and night would come and we couldn't speak any more because we were completely hoarse. Some of the Party cadres would explain the situation to them, but we went further.
We performed in that school as in a theatre, imagining the mobilisation of the people of a tabanca, but taking into account social characteristics, traditions, religion-all the customs of our peasant population.
In this connection, I want to make a point about the situation of our countryside. We speak of peasants, but the term 'peasant' is very vague. The peasant who fought in Algeria or China is not the peasant of our country.
It so happens that in our country the Portuguese colonialists did not expropriate the land; they allowed us to cultivate the land. They did not create agricultural companies of the European type as they did, for instance, in Angola, displacing masses of Africans in order to settle Europeans. We maintained a basic structure under colonialism-the land as co-operative property of the village, of the community. This is a very important characteristic of our peasantry, which was not directly exploited by the colonisers but was exploited through trade, through the differences between the prices and the real value of products. This is where the exploitation occurs, not in work, as happens in Angola with the hired workers and company employees. This created a special difficulty in our struggle-that of showing the peasant that he was being exploited in his own country.
Telling the people that "the land belongs to those who work on it" was not enough to mobilise them, because we have more than enough land, there is all the land we need. We had to find appropriate formulae for mobilising our peasants, instead of using terms that our people could not yet understand. We could never mobilise our people simply on the basis of the struggle against colonialism-that has no effect. To speak of the fight against imperialism is not convincing enough. Instead we use a direct language that all can understand:
"Why are you going to fight? What are you? What is your father? What has happened to your father up to now? What is the situation? Did you pay taxes? Did your father pay taxes? What have you seen from those taxes? How much do you get for your groundnuts? Have you thought about how much you will earn with your groundnuts? How much sweat has it cost your family? Which of you have been imprisoned? You are going to work on road-building: who gives you the tools? You bring the tools. Who provides your meals? You provide your meals. But who walks on the road? Who has a car? And your daughter who was raped-are you happy about that?"
In our new mobilisation we avoided all generalisations and pat phrases. We went into detail and made our people preparing for this kind of work repeat many times what they were going to say. This is an aspect which we considered of great importance, in our specific case, because we started from the concrete reality of our people. We tried to avoid having the peasants think that we were outsiders come to teach them how to do things; we put ourselves in the position of people who came to learn with the peasants, and in the end the peasants were discovering for themselves why things had gone badly for them. They came to understand that a tremendous amount of exploitation exists and that it is they themselves who pay for everything, even for the profits of the people living in the city. Our experience showed us that it is necessary for each people to find its own formula for mobilising for the struggle; it also showed that to integrate the peasant masses into the struggle, one must have a great deal of patience.
Our Party's policy regarding the tribal problem has produced very good results. As we conceive it, the tribe exists and it does not exist. When the Portuguese came to our country the tribal economic system was already disintegrating. Portuguese colonialism contributed further to that disintegration, although they needed to maintain some parts of the superstructure. As far as we were concerned it was not so much the economic base that led us to respect the tribal structure as a mobilising element in our struggle. but its cultural aspects, the language, the songs, the dances, etc. We would not impose on the Balantes the customs of the Fulas or the Mandingas. We defended these cultural differences with all our strength, but we also fought with all our strength all divisions on a political level.
Another aspect which we consider very important is the religious beliefs of our people. We avoid all hostility towards these religions, towards the type of relationships our people still have with nature because of their economic underdevelopment. But we have resolutely opposed anything going against human dignity. We are proud of not having forbidden our people to use fetishes, amulets and things of this sort, which we call mezinhas. It would have been absurd, and completely wrong, to have forbidden these. We let our people find out for themselves, through the struggle, that their fetishes are of no use. Happily, we can say today that the majority have come to realise this.
If in the beginning a combatant needed the assistance of a mezinha, now he might have one near but he understands- and tells the people-that the best mezinha is the trench. We can state that on this level the struggle has contributed to the rapid evolution of our people, and this is very important.
We established our guerilla bases before the armed struggle began. Our bases in the South were in the zones of Cobucare, Indjassan, Quinera, Gambara, Quitafene and Sususa. In the North, initially, we had two or three bases. In that period, material was only brought in with great difficulty. Once inside the country, this material was looked after by some of the people in our guerilla bases.
We began by creating autonomous guerilla groups in the zones already mentioned. Each group was linked to the Party leadership. This was until the end of 1963. The struggle evolved very rapidly, much more so than we had expected. But with these groups we found that, given the complete integration of the population with the guerillas, some guerilla leaders became too autonomous-not in relation to the leadership as such (because in fact they were linked with the higher leadership of the Party), but in relation to some chiefs in the area. Then 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 guerilla leaders. We had to move on to collective leadership of the guerilla, under the direction of the Party committee.
We created zones and regions, each with Party committees,, so that the Party leaders were at the same time the guerilla leaders. Things improved enormously; they were not perfect, but they were much better. In addition to this, we decided during the Congress to mobilise part of the guerilla forces to create regular forces, so as to extend the armed struggle to new areas. It is not necessary, in our opinion, to mobilise everyone for the armed struggle: it is enough to mobilise a reasonable proportion of the population. After that you can move on to creating regular forces and mobilise the rest.
Once our politico-military apparatus had been restructured, we organised ambushes and small attacks on the Portuguese, and other actions building up towards the present level of development of our struggle. With the creation of the regular armed forces we opened up new fronts, Gabu in the East and San Domingos and Boe in the West. At that time we still were not speaking of fronts, but of regions and zones of struggle, which corresponded to the regions and zones of the Party. Later it was possible to create the true fronts of the struggle. At first there were only the Northern and Southern fronts, but then as the struggle developed we established the Eastern front.
Our armed forces now form a section of the army within each front, and they can move to any place within the front. In the next stage we will be able to move units to any front where they may be needed.
I want to emphasise that the leadership of the struggle is the leadership of the Party. Inside the Political Bureau there is a War Council of which I am president as Secretary-General of the Party. There is no important military action in our country that does not pass through my hands. When there were fronts, sectors and units they had autonomy for normal, daily actions within certain limits, but any extensive modification, any new action, passed, and still passes through the hands of the War Council.
The commanders of the fronts execute the decisions made by the War Council. For example, the attack on the port of Bissao was planned by us, in every detail. It wasn't carried out on the planned date because of material difficulties, but it was planned by us in a meeting with all the comrades, at which we even chose the men who were to go. This gives an idea of how much our work has been centralised.
As regards the development of the struggle as a guerilla war, we consider ours as having developed like a living being, in successive stages. Often a stage was completed rapidly, sometimes slowly. We never rushed any stage: when one stage was completed, we moved on to the next. This gave an overall harmony to our struggle. At first we did not speak of an army, and even now we don't speak of a general staff. We created small guerilla groups which performed their activities, and these were tightened and tightened until they constituted an army, our regular forces.
Moving from one stage to the next, in 1967 we reached the final stage: all the guerilla forces had become regular forces. Our armed forces today consist of these regular forces and the people's armed militia, based in the liberated areas.
I want to point out that before this, our guerilla bases were actually villages, but we gradually altered this. We reduced the number of bases, joining them up in twos and threes, then we finally eliminated this type of base altogether. Now they no longer exist: there are our people's villages, and there are support points for our armed forces. The elimination of the bases was extremely fortunate, because the Portuguese had pinpointed all of them on their maps and they intended to bomb them. In fact they did bomb some, but there was no one there. We had eliminated the famous guerilla bases just in time.
The tactics of the Portuguese are those common in this kind of struggle. Once they realised that we were beating them badly, they began bombing and burning our villages, to terrorise the people and keep them from supporting us. The main concern of the enemy in this type of struggle is to deny the guerilla the support of the population. I do not think there is any need to describe in detail the tactics and strategy of the Portuguese, because they are a more or less exact copy of those used by the United States in Vietnam. The only difference is that the Portuguese do not have the same equipment as the United States.
At first the helicopters hurt us a lot, particularly their surprise attacks on our people. But now we are successfully fighting back against the helicopters; they are being downed by our guns, and the Portuguese have been forced to conclude that their helicopters cannot win the war for them.
One very important factor is that the Portuguese don't have any problems in the Cabo Verde Islands at the moment. When we begin the action there, the struggle in Guinea will be practically over. It is not an indispensable condition for the ending of the struggle, which can end without it. But the day that our action is extended to Cabo Verde, the struggle will definitely be near its end.
The past year has been filled with victories, although I do not claim that we have not suffered any setbacks-these are normal in any war. We attacked all the urban centres in our country, except Bissao-if we don't count the attacks on Bissao airport. Important centres such as Bafata, Gabu, Farim. Mansoa, Cansumbo and Bolama were attacked several times. We took a number of prisoners; there were several deserters; and we destroyed more Portuguese boats than ever before.
The sum total of our military operations from April 16th to November 15th, 1968, is as follows: 251 attacks on Portuguese fortified camps, 2 attacks on airports, 2 attacks on ports, 94 vehicles destroyed, 30 ships sunk, 4 planes downed, an estimated minimum of 900 enemy killed and 12 captured. Our armed forces made extraordinary efforts, forcing the Portuguese to evacuate some of their fortified posts. They had to evacuate Beli, in the east, Cacocoa and Sanchonha, two very important posts near the southern border, and nine other camps in the south and east of the country.
It has been a year of triumph in the political, administrative, social and cultural fields. Militarily, the struggle has reached a new stage of development and we are already capable of taking the Portuguese camps. But we are not in a hurry, we move very calmly. We have to be very careful, we have to fight according to our conditions, advancing with caution. It seems to us that it is very important now to further concentrate our action in the urban centres, to create great insecurity. We are definitely going to do this. We know that the Portuguese are going to use gas against us, but this is going to be very difficult for them. We are prepared to face every situation.