Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Irwin Silber

’...fan the flames’

First Published: The Guardian, February 11, 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The question of Angola has become a crucial political test for the U.S. left.

Every anticolonial struggle poses a similar test for communists in the “mother” country. Just as the revisionist French Communist Party faltered on the question of the Algerian independence struggle, so some in the American left are faltering on the question of Angola.

To U.S. communists it must be a matter of the highest principle to support the struggles of an oppressed people when they are directed against the U.S. bourgeoisie–and in Angola this struggle is led by the MPLA. Failure to do so is nothing less than class collaboration no matter how much “revolutionary” rhetoric may be expended in explaining one’s position.

The reasons for this are built into the very nature of imperialism itself. For it is on the basis of the superprofits which imperialism derives from its colonial “investments” that the monopoly capitalists acquire the means to buy off a small section of the working class at home–the labor aristocracy–and thereby contain, however momentarily, the revolutionary struggle of their own proletariat.

Thus, a political stand by U.S. communists which objectively supports the interests and aims of U.S. imperialism in suppressing national liberation struggles not only is a betrayal of proletarian internationalism, it becomes a betrayal of one’s own working class as well.

What does all this have to do with Angola?

Surely there can be no question as to who the principal enemy of the Angolan people has been. While the immediate struggle was conducted against Portuguese colonialism, it was U.S. imperialism which was the main prop of the colonial regime and U.S. corporations (particularly the oil companies in Cabinda) who have the largest investment in Angola.

U.S. imperialism’s role in Angola did not end once the liberation forces had won independence. The U.S. ruling class wrote the book’ when it came to developing neo-colonialist alternatives in the face of the rising tide of national liberation.

In the case of Angola, its concerns were both economic and political. Angola’s oil and other natural resources, as well as the existing colonial investment, were motive enough for the U.S. to make an investment in counterrevolution. But equally important–if not more so–is the threat posed by the onward rush of revolution in Africa to that vast source of profits and military control over the southern portion of the continent, the racist regime of South Africa.

The South African racists needed no encouragement from the U.S. to “fight for the free world” in Angola, surely one of the most incredible juxtapositions of phrasemongering and reality in recent memory. The South Africans have understood the significance of Angola even if some others have not. One cannot look at the role of South Africa merely as an “embarrassment” to the anti-MPLA side. It is the natural consequence of the principal contradiction in Angola at this moment. South African intervention has done more than “compromise” UNITA and FNLA. It has brought the real questions in the struggle to the fore.

In the wake of Vietnam, U.S. imperialism found itself unable to make the kind of military commitment required to contain the genuine forces of national liberation, although the publicly released figure of $32 million which is supposed to be the total of U.S. military aid to UNITA and FNLA is a joke. (For instance, the CIA was “valuing” $76 pistols at $5.50 in estimating actual expenditures, aside from which, as recent exposes have made clear, the CIA has a hundred different ways of concealing its funds within the secret recesses of the “defense” budget.)

Not the least of the factors restraining the U.S. was the fact that, as in Vietnam, the Angolan factions available to Washington had so little genuine support among the people that only a massive military intervention could have produced the kind of political stalemate which was the stated U.S. objective.


But what about the role of the Soviet Union? And how about the Cuban troops?

That the USSR’s aims in Angola are something less than altruistic virtually goes without saying. But to see the Soviet Union at this point “threatening NATO shipping lanes” or establishing a neocolonialist military outpost in West Africa bears little resemblance to anything the Kremlin could realistically hope to achieve.

More to the point. The Soviet Union sees a chance to weaken its superpower rival, the U.S. The anticolonial wars against the Portuguese in Africa have been a major setback to U.S. imperialist interests. Soviet leaders can see just as well as everyone else can that the U.S. is trying to retain its influence via the two rival “liberation” organizations it is backing. Therefore, from the Soviet point of view, backing for the MPLA becomes a way of helping to seal U.S. isolation in West Africa.

Second, Moscow sees a chance to increase its standing in the third world by continuing to back that movement in Angola which has over the years won the support of almost all national liberation movements and progressive third world countries.

Finally, and one should not underestimate this motivation, the Soviet leaders undoubtedly see a chance to regain some lost political ground from the People’s Republic of China. Over the past decade, the prestige of People’s China has increased throughout the third world as the result of China’s militant stand against both superpowers and its principled support of national liberation struggles and the national sovereignty of small and medium-sized countries.

On Angola, China has called for a “government of national unity” and opposed “all foreign interference,” including the Soviet arms and the Cuban volunteers the MPLA has asked for in order to fight the neocolonjalists. However, virtually all progressive African countries–and now a majority of the Organization of African Unity members–have taken a contrary position. They recognize MPLA’s People’s Republic of Angola is the legitimate government and that it has the right to make use of any support it can get in the struggle against the U.S. and South Africa. By providing this support, the Soviet leaders think they can undercut the charge that their strategy of “detente” with the U.S. involves sacrificing the interests of national liberation movements.

Is there a danger that under cover of such support the Soviet Union will try to compromise Angolan independence, bring that country more directly into its political orbit? Of course. But the people of Angola will not readily sell their hard-won independence to anyone. The MPLA did not lead a 15-year armed struggle to trade one set of colonial masters for another. And they will be aided in their efforts precisely by the way in which all progressive forces throughout the world give them support, thereby enabling them not to be unduly reliant on any one source of aid.

But Soviet “intentions” cannot be the measuring-stick for the U.S. left’s responsibility to support the Angolan people in their struggle against U.S. imperialism. And after all the rhetoric is cleared away, the choices are that clear-cut. Whatever hopes the U.S. may have had for a military victory over the MPLA were dashed when Angolan patriots, supported by Cuban troops, threw back the FNLA-UNITA-South African forces after the CIA-backed counterrevolutionaries had made some initial gains shortly after independence was declared.


Today, the U.S. admits that its strategic objective in Angola is a political “solution” based on a coalition government of all three Angolan groups–something of a dead issue now that a majority of OAU countries back MPLA as the only legitimate government in Angola. For any in the U.S. left, under cover of the slogan “superpowers out of Angola,” to support this neocolonialist solution is an indefensible abandonment of the most elementary expression of revolutionary solidarity.

As for the Cuban troops: Cuba need apologize to no one for its heroic contribution to the cause of Angolan independence. Cuba has been a militant and consistent supporter of the anti-Portuguese resistance for 15 years. Even when Cuba was itself under direct attack by U.S. imperialism, Cuban volunteers served with distinction as technicians and advisers with anti-Portuguese national liberation forces throughout Africa.

But Angola is a test for the U.S. left not only because of the urgency and immediacy of the present struggle. The surge of peoples fighting for political independence and national sovereignty is bound to continue and accelerate. In most cases, the enemy they will confront–whether blatant or disguised–will be U.S. imperialism. It can also be expected that the Soviet Union will attempt to exploit the national liberation struggles in order to replace U.S. influence with Soviet influence.

What stand the U.S. left takes on Angola then is an indication of how those who see themselves as the revolutionary vanguard of the American working class will support the struggles still to mature–in the Middle East, in the Philippines, in South Africa, in Puerto Rico and scores of other regions and countries where the irresistible tide of revolution is gathering momentum.

As it has at other times and in other places, class collaboration on this question will prove fatal.