First Published: The Organizer, Vol. 2, No. 1, January-March 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The “Angolan question,” as CBS news put it, stands at the heart of the worldwide struggle against US imperialism. How revolutionaries answer this question decides whether they stand with anti-imperialism or neo-colonialism, whether they ally themselves with the popular struggles for independence and national liberation or whether they choose to collaborate with imperialism. Thus no anti-imperialist, let alone a Marxist-Leninist, can avoid taking a stand.
A brief examination of the two sides in the Angolan conflict demonstrates clearly which side represents the imperialists and which represents the Angolan people. On one side stands the Peoples Republic of Angola led by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). Formed in December 1956 the MPLA began its long struggle for Angolan independence from Portugal by organizing urban workers and peasants in the countryside upon a non-tribal, anti-racist and anti-capitalist basis.
After establishing a popular base the MPLA went over to armed struggle against the Portuguese in 1961. Since that time they have consistently borne the main brunt of the fighting against the Portuguese army right up until the armed conflict stopped in April 1974 with the overthrow of fascism in Portugal.
But the MPLA did not merely carry out armed struggle. In every territory liberated from the Portuguese, they worked diligently to organize institutions of popular power in order to lay the foundations for the building of a new society. They carried out literacy campaigns and organized medical clinics. They established mass organizations such as the National Union of Angolan Workers and the Organization of Angolan Women to express the people’s aspirations. Production in both industry and agriculture was organized along collectivist lines.
On the opposing (and neo-colonialist) side is the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). The FNLA was established by Holden Roberto in 1961. Since then it has played only a minor role in the fighting and has had little popular support. Its main backing has come from President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, a country which receives substantial US aid and has in excess of $800 million in US investments. And like Mobutu himself, Roberto, according to a report in the 19 December New York Times, has been on the CIA payroll since 1961 at the tune of $10,000 annually.
UNITA was organized in 1966 by an ex-Roberto lieutenant, Jonas Savimbi. Savimbi became disillusioned with the FNLA’s exclusive concentration on the Bakongo tribe in northern Angola and left the FNLA in the early sixties. He then attempted to join the MPLA but was turned down because he would only accept a top leadership position. Eventually he also established a tribally based organization, except that it was centered on the Ovimbundu tribe instead of the Bakongo.
And similar to its predecessor, UNITA also played a minor role in armed struggle–what little fighting they did was primarily directed against the MPLA– and likewise had little popular support. In fact, there is considerable evidence that UNITA was a creation of the Portuguese colonialists and their imperialist backers–a way of hedging their bets on an imperialist victory. According to the MPLA, correspondence between the Portuguese fascist dictator Caetano and Savimbi reveals that UNITA was established primarily as a counterweight to MPLA policy and popularity.
The two sides are equally distinct ideologically. Whereas the MPLA openly espouses a Marxist orientation, both UNITA and the FNLA claim to have been “too busy fighting the Portuguese” to care about ideology. This has allowed each organization to attempt to gain popular support by manipulating tribal antagonisms and to accept open imperialist backing. Perhaps Roberto himself best summed up the real meaning of the FNLA-UNITA “non-ideological” stance when he told Newsweek December 29, “I am calling on the West to save Africa from Communism. . . .The United States ... is the guardian of world freedom. But it is a historical fact that the United States moves slowly in this role. In Vietnam it was always too little, too late.”!!!
But by far the most damning fact about the FNLA-UNITA forces is their conduct of the present civil war. Not only have these two forces openly accepted US aid, but both have willingly cooperated with mercenaries and racist South Africa in the fighting. According to reports in the US press, FNLA-UNITA forces have been bolstered by some 600 mercenaries. About half come from Portuguese, French and Belgian extraction and the other half are CIA-financed US citizens-mostly Cuban gusanos, but including 15 South Vietnamese. To such great defenders of “freedom” the South African government has generously added a regular army force estimated at 4,000 men.
Given that the South African regime is the main bastion of racism, reaction and imperialism on the entire African continent, it should be obvious that the South African troops would not be helping the Angolan people win their freedom. In fact, the intentions of South Africa’s Vorster government to the contrary are quite clear. In the first place, Vorster is desperately concerned with shoring up his control of Namibia (South West Africa). The Namibian liberation movement led by the South West Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO) has been steadily gaining strength. Using southern Angola as a base area, SWAPO guerrillas have been stinging South African patrols. Vorster would like very much to cripple SWAPO and eliminate its Angolan sanctuaries.
Secondly, the existence of an anti-imperialist popular regime in Angola would severely threaten not only Pretoria’s hold over Namibia, but also its ruthless oppression of the Azanian people as well (the African people living in South Africa). The victories of the national movements in Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, and Angola over the “old” Portuguese colonialism and the steadily deteriorating position of the racist Ian Smith regime in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) has already strengthened the fighting spirit of the Azanian people. A new victory in Angola over the “new” FNLA-UNITA neo-colonialism will only add more fuel to the fire.
Given the facts of the present situation in Angola it is clear that all progressive, let alone revolutionary, forces in the United States have the responsibility of supporting the MPLA. And for the most part, anti-imperialist forces have rallied to the Peoples Republic of Angola’s cause.
However, there is a distinct trend which is failing to fulfill its responsibilities, a trend which has in the past generally played a progressive role in the struggle against imperialism. This trend is represented by the October League (OL) and others.
Like Henry Kissinger’s recent statements (and with equal disdain for the facts) the OL has been calling for “unity” of the three liberation forces” and an end to “all foreign interference in the area.” They have accused the Soviet Union of having “imperialist” designs on Angola and the rest of Southern Africa. They maintain that these so-called designs caused the Soviets to exploit differences over “secondary questions,” backing one liberation organization exclusively, and thereby disrupting an agreement for unity and fomenting civil war.
However, it has been clearly demonstrated that it was the US government and not the Soviets that disrupted the unity agreement signed on January 5, 1975. The New York Times in its December 19 issue of last year revealed that the CIA had initiated increased aid to both the FNLA and UNITA in January of 1975, a full two months prior to ”the first significant Soviet buildup.” Government officials also admitted that the increased aid from the USSR was “in part a Soviet response to the action by the United States.”
The effect of this increased US aid on Roberto of the FNLA was accurately described by a State Department official: “That money gave him a lot of extra muscle. He’d been sitting in Kinshasa (Zaire) for nearly 10 years and all of a sudden, he’s got a lot of bread–he’s beginning to do things.”
Furthermore, by maintaining that the Soviets caused the conflict by exploiting the MPLA’s differences with FNLA and UNITA, OL implies that the main and leading force in the entire struggle for Angolan liberation is nothing more than an agent of the Soviet Union. Once again OL’s implication dovetails neatly with US imperialism’s propaganda. And once again the facts prove the opposite.
The MPLA has expressly declared its intention to bring Angola into the camp of non-aligned nations. It has maintained friendly relations with China and it continues to sell Mao’s works in its bookstores and use them in political education. As Agostinho Neto, leader of the MPLA explained, “Just because the Soviet Union supplies us with weapons, it doesn’t mean that we have become a satellite. We’ve never been one. We’ve never asked Moscow for advice on how to set up our state. All the major decisions in our country are taken by our movement, our government and our people.”
Moreover, to reduce the differences between the MPLA and FNLA-UNITA to ones of “secondary” importance shows a woeful ignorance of the tasks facing the Angolan people. While the Angolan workers and peasants have succeeded in driving out the old direct and open colonialism they must still take steps to preserve their independence from those who would use “new” methods to compromise their sovereignty.
In such a situation the question of whether Angola will provide a stable base for real independence and national liberation or merely defeat the “old” Portuguese colonialism only to fall into a “new” US dominated neocolonialism is a question of primary importance. And this is precisely the question which divides the MPLA from FNLA-UNITA.
Thus the call for unity between the MPLA and FNLA-UNIIA forces is a call for unity between real national liberation and neo-colonialism, between real independence and US-South African domination. That such a call should be made at precisely the point when the balance of class forces in Angola are deciding the question in favor national liberation and independence is criminal. One might just as well have called for unity between the Thieu regime and the PRG in the early spring of last year.
The demand for the end of ”all outside interference” in Angola is equally bankrupt, especially when it is mainly advanced in opposition to Soviet aid. (In the December Call the OL’s superficial article on Angola totally ignored the question of US intervention and did not even mention the South African invasion!!!) The MPLA as the only legitimate representative of the Angolan people has accepted aid from the Soviets for some fifteen years and has a legitimate right to continue to receive that aid.
To oppose Soviet aid is tantamount to opposing the Angolan people’s right to take up arms to defend their country from US imperialist subversion and South African fascist invasion. To oppose Soviet aid is objectively to aid US imperialism in its efforts to overthrow popular power in Angola. What kind of revolutionary would oppose Soviet aid to the North Vietnamese, either now or in the past?
Thus it should be clear that the OL–and those who agree with its stand on Angola–have demonstrated in both word and deed that they are willing servants of imperialism. Every revolutionary must oppose their chauvinist stand.
But what is even more criminal on their part is that they advance their opportunist line in the name of sharpening the struggle against Soviet revisionism.
While it is true that the Soviets will undoubtedly try to use their aid to strengthen the hand of any revisionist elements that may be operating in the MPLA – and we have no evidence that there are any – OL’s stand can only help the revisionist cause.
By making revisionism – that is, the policy of accommodation with imperialism – an even greater danger than imperialism, the OL can only serve to isolate itself from the worldwide anti-imperialist movement. For the unity of that movement is based on opposition to the class enemy – imperialism. And struggle against bourgeois lines within that movement must always be seen in the context of strengthening the struggle against the enemy.
To remove the struggle from its proper context and focus one’s attacks on an ideology of accommodation while allowing imperialism to continue upon its merry course unchallenged is quite obviously to do a disservice to the cause of anti-imperialism. It can only lead to a strengthening of the accommodationist policy and thus imperialism as a whole.
Thus on the “Angolan question” OL has proven itself to be an apologist for neo-colonialism. Behind their smokescreen of revolutionary phrases they are performing a valuable service to US imperialism while undermining the struggle against revisionism.