Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

John Witeck

Angola and Zaire – Where the Vanguards Failed

First Published: Modern Times, Vol. I, No. 2, October 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Angolan liberation struggle was and is a crucial test, a key point of political focus, much like Vietnam was in the 1960s. It is a localized war in Africa involving major world forces. Its development and outcome, and the fates of closely connected liberation movements in Azania (South Africa), Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Zaire and Namibia are tremendously important to the future of all the world’s people.

Despite all its complexities, the sides in Angola are clear. Those who refuse to choose have chosen. In many instances, those who have claimed an edge on truth in the U.S., our various Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” organizations, have chosen, and chosen wrongly.

The Angolan Crucible

The struggles in Angola, Zaire and southern Africa involve huge stakes. These areas are located on a mineral belt which makes them one of the richest areas in natural resources in the world and great economic “prizes.” In addition, oil was discovered in Angola in the 1960s.

The fates of Angola, Zaire and South Africa are intimately tied together. They have all been colonized, settled, and exploited for all they’re worth. Huge populations are involved, peoples who have been oppressed by racism and forced and low-wage labor for generations. Huge losses are then in store for the imperialists and huge gains for mankind.

One respected local socialist and long-time activist once asked. “Why all this humbug and concern about Angola? What counts is happens here in Hawaii!” But the point is that we live in a world capitalist economy. Africa’s liberation sows the seeds of our own. A long time ago, Marx and Lenin both advised us in their writings that liberation in the colonies was Key to winning the socialist revolution at home. Certainly, if we fail to support national liberation struggles in the colonies, or end up supporting our “own” ruling circles, we betray our own revolution. In the case of Angola, by our indifference or wrong positions, we also help create more favorable conditions for world war.

This was brought home to me in a disturbing way in December of 1975. I remarked to one person associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) that I had heard on the radio that Secretary of State Kissinger had threatened sanctions and possible war against Cuba in retaliation against that country’s support for the Angolan liberation struggle.

This person’s reaction was: “So what? Cuba deserves whatever happens to it, for its invasion of Angola!” This reply, besides being a distortion of the facts, seemed to support U.S. imperialism’s war schemes against Angola and Cuba, If war with Cuba had broken out, and the Soviet Union supported Cuba directly, we would be facing world war. “Vanguard” organizations such as the RCP seemed indifferent to this possibility or at least unwilling to oppose such war threats.

What bothered me even more was that these stands taken by the RCP and other “vanguards” on the Angolan, Cuban and later the Zaire issues were not based on real investigation of the facts. Little or no discussion took place locally, and few activists in Hawaii knew much at all about Africa. Some had cut cane in Cuba several years ago, and returned with glowing reports. But now, at the direction of their national centers, these vanguard group’s dictated to their members that Angola was primarily a case of “superpower contention” between Soviet and U.S. imperialists and that “non-socialist” Cuba was a “puppet” of the Soviet Union in sending “mercenaries” to Angola.

The RCP, following China’s lead, claimed the victory of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in early 1976 over the combined forces of Zaire, South Africa and two “liberation fronts” supported and funded by the U.S., was actually a Soviet and Cuban “conquest” of Angola, “not national liberation, but naked imperialist aggression.” (The Worker, Hawaii edition.)

The October League (now the CP-ML) went further, claiming in a headline in its newspaper, The Call, that “Soviet Guns Killed 150,000 Angolans.” Even the RCP had to conclude that the O.L. was trying ”to prettify U.S. imperialism by directing everything against its Soviet rival.” For the O.L.’s claim to be true, the Soviet Union must have armed all factions in the Angolan war, including South Africa and Zaire! The Chinese, in Peking Review, stated similarly that Soviet intervention was solely responsible for over 100,000 deaths in Angola.

Despite minor differences, the RCP. O.L., M-LOC (Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee, I-Wor-Kuen (IWK), Workers’ Viewpoint Organization (WVO) and several other “vanguard” organizations found themselves basically in agreement. They vigorously supported and put out the Chinese position on Angola and later on Zaire, and ended up objectively in unity with U.S. imperialism’s moves against liberation struggles in southern Africa, despite their claims to the contrary. Their published views stood in stark contrast to the views of African revolutionaries.

Whatever support work was done for the Angolan struggle was accomplished by independent left publications, collectives and mass organizations, such as The Guardian, the KDP (a Filipino mass socialist organization), church groups, Black groups and anti-imperialist organizations.

Together these independent groups who supported the MPLA forged a strong enough united front effort within the U.S. to force Congress in January, 1976 to reject Administration requests for further funding and massive military aid to support its two puppet “liberation fronts” in Angola against the MPLA. This Congressional rejection–calculated to avoid “another expensive Vietnam”–was a people’s victory and a substantial aid to the genuine liberation forces in Angola.

The Cutting Edge

Carl Davidson, in the October League’s theoretical magazine, argued strongly that Angola was a key test of revolutionary status: those who supported the MPLA in Angola were hopelessly revisionists and supporters of Soviet “social imperialism,” and could not be genuine socialists.

Angola is a key test and cutting edge, but the blade cuts the other way. Our “vanguards” failed to rise to the issue, failed to do their independent and thorough research and failed to lead or even be involved in the support work for the Angolan liberation struggle. Instead, they opposed it on the flimsy basis of Soviet aid to the MPLA, and Cuban involvement. They accepted the Chinese position as their own and preached it to our people, no doubt to the delight of our own rulers, who readily agreed that the Soviet Union is the “main danger” in Africa and the world.

Mao Tse-tung, China’s great revolutionary leader, once wrote: “No investigation, no right to speak!” Our “vanguards” may have been better off following that advice. Mao also urged that attention be given to details, to the specific facts of any given problem, as well, as to the general aspects. How many groups and individuals really went deeply into the question of Angola, analyzing the internal situation there, the class composition and stands of the various liberation groups, their history of struggle, and the nature of their supporters? Very few.

Instead, there was a rush to the so-called “correct line.” The Soviet Union is the “main danger” in Africa and the world, we were told, and “superpower rivalry” between the U.S. and the USSR was the main factor to consider. Never mind that none of the liberation movements and progressive governments in southern Africa see it that way. To the African liberation forces, as is clear from their many public statements and their strategy, the U.S. and Western, imperialism, and the colonial and racist settler regimes it has propped up for decades, are the main enemies of the African peoples. Rather than being their “main enemy” the Soviet Union, in fact, and for whatever motive, has given important aid to their struggles in Zimbabwe, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique. Namibia and South Africa.

As for the Soviet’s economic threat, the Africa News last March reported accurately: “The Soviet Union is a mere economic pygmy as yet. ..far behind Africa’s other trading partners.” Internationally, the USSR is a “middle power,” with an external trade volume roughly equal to that of Belgium, if trade ties are an indicator of control and influence, the Soviet Union is hardly a “superpower” in Africa. Furthermore, the USSR has recently suffered, significant set-backs in Egypt, a key African country which rejected Soviet aid and kicked out Soviet technicians in favor of closer ties to the U.S. Nor does the USSR have much military strength in Africa, compared to the forces controlled by Western Europe, South Africa and the U.S. These facts must be reckoned with in any analysis of world forces contending in southern Africa.

It is sometimes said that the Soviet Union “is more dangerous” in Africa than the U.S. because of its “socialist trappings,” which deceive African liberation fighters. But why is it the Chinese and our M-L “vanguard” groups can more easily see through the Soviets’ “ulterior motives” than the Africans, who, after all, have had more experience dealing with the problems, This concern seems to underestimate the intelligence and experience of the African revolutionaries.

Revolutionaries like President Samora Machel of the People’s Republic of Mozambique saw through the real “trappings” in Angola more clearly:

In Angola, there are two parties in conflict: on the one side, imperialism with its allies and its puppets; on the other side, the progressive, popular forces who support the MPLA. That’s the whole story. It is not Spinola, Holden (Roberto), Savimbi or anyone else who matter to us. They are only instruments of imperialism. It is imperialism that is the danger and the true menace. (Interview in Afrique-Asie, October 20 1975.)[1]

If the Soviet Union is a real threat to African struggles, then China’s position on Angola and Zaire can only serve to drive a wedge between China and progressive forces not only in Africa but throughout the world. This objectively aids the Soviet Union. China has also refused to recognize and deal with the People’s Republic of Angola (while recognizing and even giving aid to the fascist govt. of Chile!) The Angolan government must not rely even more on Soviet aid. This is the objective result of China’s erroneous policy.

Soviet aid to Angolan fighters in the MPLA goes back to 1961. The main criticism must be that Soviet aid was never steady and never enough to meet the MPLA’s needs – but it was given in a substantial amount at the crucial time in late 1975. But to credit the MPLA’s victory solely to this aid and to call it a “Soviet puppet” is a distortion of history and the truth about guerrilla warfare. Obviously the MPLA had mobilized massive political support throughout Angola, with its people’s schools, army, farm co-ops, stores, and hospitals, and its working class base in Luanda, the Angolan capital, Massive aid from Cuba, Yugoslavia and the USSR came only in the face of U.S. maneuvers against the MPLA and the 3-pronged invasion of Angola by Zaire, South Africa and mercenary forces hired in the West. It should be noted that troops from Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Congo-Brazzaville, and SWAPO guerrillas from Namibia also fought side by side with MPLA troops; Were these forces “mercenaries” and “puppet troops,” too, as China has labeled the 10,000 Cuban troops?

And how could the MPLA win purely on account of 10,000 Cuban troops and Soviet and Yugoslav weaponry and aid? Why couldn’t the U.S, and French imperialists win in Vietnam, then, after 30 years and with 50 times that amount of military intervention? Does the fact of Soviet and Cuban support invalidate a liberation movement’s efforts? If so, what about Vietnam, which received similar support?

It seems these left groups that tailed after China’s position did not do their homework, and grossly underestimated the hard work, sacrifices, and political intelligence of the Angolan, movement and other African peoples. To think that the MPLA would fight for two decades for liberation only to allow another power to transform Angola into a colony is a real insult to these Angolan fighters.

The MPLA government has clearly stated its non-alignment policy and has barred the establishment of any foreign military bases, including by the Soviet Union, on its soil. Even Article 16 of its Constitution makes this point clear. As for the withdrawal of all Cuban troops, that is a matter between Angola and Cuba, and depends on when the plots against Angola cease and on the training of Angolan troops in heavy weaponry capable of halting the S. African army.

Who Are the Genuine Revolutionaries?

There will be much debate on this issue of which liberation organization was genuine. China considered all three groups. My suggestion is that groups and individuals should study up on the history of these African movements, especially in the Portuguese colonies of Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Angola. The book, In the Eye of the Storm: Angola’s People by the respected writer on Africa, Basil Davidson, is an excellent resource on Angola.

One might also look to the kindred African liberation organizations and solicit their views; they unanimously back the MPLA and support the People’s Republic of Angola, as do most progressive movements worldwide and several communist and workers’ parties, including the Vietnamese, the North Koreans, the Romanians, etc. So do the governments of almost all the African countries. How could they do otherwise with the U.S., Zaire and South Africa openly supporting the other two “liberation fronts”–UNITA and the FLNA?

No country recognized the “government” declared by UNITA and FLNA in Angola, after they (with U.S. backing) sabotaged the agreement with the MPLA uniting the three movements in an attempt to form a united front government. The rest is history.

The Aftermath

Socialist writer Immanuel Wallerstein’s conclusion on the Angolan civil war is very convincing:

The Angolan war will ignite a hinterland that has been dormant too long. Lumumbism (the ideas of African revolutionary Patrice Lumumba murdered by the CIA in 1961) . . . will now rise from the cinders of Mobutu’s scorched earth. The South African revolution will see its long-awaited explosion. South Africa’s adventures abroad will turn against it exactly as did those of Portugal in Angola, the U.S. in Vietnam, and France in Algeria. The solidarity of the whites will become more brittle while the solidarity of the oppressed will become more firm. . . One year ago I thought that the West might tame the national, liberation movements in Angola and Mozambique and that an historic moment might pass. But the powers that be were too greedy and too frightened, too greedy because too frightened. And they have roused Africa, as the world will soon see. (The Nation, January 10, 1976)

These prophetic words were written in December, 1975, before the MPLA’s victory was certain, before the Soweto uprisings in South Africa, before the insurrection against Mobutu in Zaire, an just before the tremendous inroads and gains of the Zimbabwe liberation forces. Had South Africa, Zaire and the U.S. supported liberation fronts of UNITA and FNLA won, would the momentum have accelerated for liberation in southern Africa? Hardly!

We need a forum on the questions of Zaire and Angola, and China’s position on the international situation, especially in Africa. There are many honest forces within and outside the vanguard organizations and the socialist movement who would benefit from greater struggle and clarity around these crucial issues. Modern Times should attempt to set up such a forum in the near future.


[1] (Note: Savimbi of UNITA and Holden Roberto of the FNLA are the leaders of the other two “Liberation fronts” in Angola. Spinola was the general ousted as President in Portugal who was plotting with the U.S. and Zaire against the MPLA.)