The question of national liberation in theory and practice amilcar cabral national liberation: amilcar cabral and the theory of class suicide

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Lang T.K.A. Nubuor

However much that (the) state of things may have altered during the last twenty-five years, the general principles laid down in the Manifesto are, on the whole, as correct today as ever. Here and there, some detail might be improved. The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed …

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Preface to the 1872 German Edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party


In our era, the proof of history by the practical example of the Paris Commune in the nineteenth century and that of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party in Ghana to create an alternative State to replace the neo-colonial state in the twentieth century provides the basic guiding principle of Revolutionary Pan-Africanism to the effect that ‘the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.’

In its endeavour, Revolutionary Pan-Africanism directs its arsenals at the ultimate destruction of the neo-colonial states of all existing African neo-colonies. In their stead is built a single socialist People’s Republican State of Africa under the leadership of the working class. This dual purpose to destroy and replace the existing neo-colonial state machineries is not intended as an instant action but a process of simultaneous destruction of the existing states and build-up of the new socialist united African state. Thus aims Revolutionary Pan-Africanism.

In pursuit of this aim Revolutionary Pan-Africanism is committed to such objectives as the existing conditions in each neo-colony might dictate and its own-created conditions arising out of its demands on the neo-colonial states. For this reason Revolutionary Pan-Africanism applies legal and extra-legal means as the said conditions might necessitate. With respect to the resort to legal forms of struggle Revolutionary Pan-Africanism focuses on and advances such gains that the working people might have forced the neo-colonial forces to concede and subsequently enshrined in the existing constitutions.

By so doing it seeks to transform those democratic gains into revolutionary instruments for the dissolution of the neo-colonial states while building the People’s Republican State of Africa. Wherever the neo-colonial states resort to physical violence to frustrate that objective, the People’s Armed Forces must confront them.

This aim and its objectives are not in dispute among the ranks of Revolutionary Pan-Africanism. Issues of a secondary and diversionary nature, however, place obstacles in the path of achieving unity in those ranks. Foremost among such issues is the nature of ideological definition. The most disturbing in this regard is the proposition of an imaginary dichotomy between what some call orthodox and modern Marxism. For others reference to ‘Marxism’ must be expunged from the Pan-African revolutionary lexicon.

Reasons offered by this latter range from Black racist prejudices to innocent lack of differentiation between the general principles of Marxism (dialectical and historical materialism) and their application to specific societies in different historical epochs. It is in this respect that we respond to Dr. Ron Daniels’ self-avowed non-expert presentation at the Amilcar Cabral Foundation Conference, January 19-21, 2013.

In his essay presentation Amilcar Cabral in the Contemporary Context: The “Struggle Against Our Own Weaknesses”, Dr. Daniels makes it clear that ‘Much of this essay is based on the author’s re-reading and analysis of The Weapon of Theory as it appears in Revolution in Guinea: Selected Texts by Amilcar Cabral.’ We find it unfortunate that though he re-reads The Weapon of Theory before his presentation he draws strange conclusions as to what Amilcar Cabral says therein.

What can be seen to be his primary claim in the essay is that Cabral writes in contrast to the basic proposition of ‘orthodox Marxism’. For him, the premise of this premise is that while ‘orthodox Marxism’ asserts the class struggle as the motive force of history Cabral holds the productive forces of society to be the motive force. Our reading of The Weapon of Theory and The Communist Manifesto as well as The German Ideology suggests otherwise.

We have chosen only The Communist Manifesto and The German Ideology for this exercise because together with the various Prefaces added to the Manifesto’s German (1872, 1883, 1890), Russian (1882) and English (1888) Editions its general principles, as could be found elaborated on in other books, are sufficiently explained therein. Our intention here, therefore, is to appeal to The Communist Manifesto and The German Ideology to make a statement that in Marxist theory the productive forces are the motive force in the history of all societies – ‘primitive’ and ‘civilized’; and that class and class struggles are the products of the progressive movement of the productive forces.

By this, we endeavour to show that even though Amilcar Cabral operates with these concepts within the Marxist framework he is mistaken in their application within the African context for the formulation of his theory of class suicide which represents an idealist error.

We then conclude that Marxism in its theories is neither orthodox nor classical – a position held by persons within the Pan-African movement with either an insufficient grasp of Marxism or just being overly Afrocentric. Such brothers and sisters and comrades might want to hear about Nkrumaism but not Marxism-Nkrumaism. We take Dr. Ron Daniels as one such unfortunate example whose understanding of his self-avowed mentor, Amilcar Cabral, is suspect.

Dr. Ron Daniels Speaks

Beyond continuing a critical dialogue on the nature of national liberation in the 21st Century, it is our hope that in a very preliminary way, the Symposium would begin the process of building the transnational network of conscious clusters for national liberation discussed in this presentation.

Ron Daniels, Amilcar Cabral in the Contemporary Context: The “Struggle Against Our Own Weaknesses”

Those are the concluding words of Dr. Ron Daniels, President of the Institute of the Black World, in his essay presentation to commemorate the 90th Birthday of Amilcar Cabral at the Amilcar Cabral Foundation Conference held from January 19-21, 2013. His concern is with national liberation in Africa, the United States of America (USA) and the Caribbean. Given the title Amilcar Cabral in the Contemporary Context: The “Struggle Against Our Own Weaknesses”, one expects that his focus is on the struggle against the weaknesses of the national liberation movement which is but one of a few issues that Amilcar Cabral deals with in his speech The Weapon of Theory. He goes beyond that.

A close look at the presentation throws up various concepts in behalf of national liberation which require careful scrutiny since he goes to great lengths to elucidate them. Such concepts include ‘national revolution’, ‘national liberation’, ‘national reconstruction’, ‘authentic national liberation’, ‘the difference between national revolution and national liberation’, ‘discussion of national revolution vs. national liberation’, ‘the process of building the transnational network of conscious clusters for national liberation’.

He also mentions ‘the people’, ‘mode of productive forces as the motive force of history’, ‘theoretical understanding of the productive forces and their elaboration as the motive force of history’, ‘importance of the state of the productive forces, particularly class dynamics internal and external to society’, ‘productive forces or the mode of production’, ‘principles of African humanism.’, ‘the conscious elements of the petty bourgeoisie which must forego the natural tendency to join the bourgeoisie, to lead the struggle for national liberation.’, ‘the petty bourgeoisie may spark the struggle’, ‘Marxist orthodoxy’, etc.

These concepts emerge from an analysis of Amilcar Cabral’s The Weapon of Theory and also from an unquoted work of Franz Fanon.  Let us scrutinize them within the context of national liberation. Naturally, we can only begin with the concept of ‘national liberation’ itself if we are to understand our context. In this regard, Dr. Ron Daniels strikes a certain similarity between the Fanonian and Cabralian renditions of the phrase. He explains that Fanon distinguishes between ‘national liberation’ and ‘national reconstruction’. According to him, Fanon restricts national liberation to the freeing of the dominated people from colonial domination and creating a nation-state run by the formerly dominated.

Fanon, he continues, sees national reconstruction as the total emancipation of the liberated people’s socio-economic system consequently built and rooted in the people’s history and culture. For Cabral, on the other hand, what Fanon calls national liberation is the limited act of national revolution whereby independence is won from colonial rule. In his conception, national liberation comprises both national revolution and control of productive forces for the building up of a new society.

For the rest of the presentation, Dr. Daniels operates within the encompassing Cabralian national liberation framework where ‘productive forces’ is seen as the base concept. He understands Cabral to project ‘the mode of productive forces as the motive force of history’. Elsewhere in the presentation he talks about ‘the productive forces and their elaboration as the motive force of history’. Here, it is just the ‘productive forces’ but not the ‘mode of productive forces’ that are the motive force of history.

He then refers to ‘the importance of the state of the productive forces, particularly class dynamics internal and external to society’. This suggests an incorporation of ‘class dynamics’ as part of the productive forces. Further on, he introduces what appears to be numerical equivalents or interchangeable use of the concepts of ‘productive forces’ and ‘mode of production’ when he speaks of ‘productive forces or mode of production’.

Having presented us with these characterizations of the productive forces and the assertion of the mode of  productive forces being the motive force of history Dr. Daniels then proclaims the latter an insight that challenges what he calls ‘Marxist orthodoxy’. The said orthodoxy is the assertion of the class struggle as the motive force of history and attributed to Marxist theory. These interpretations of Cabral’s The Weapon of Theory deserve a second look at; before then, however, let us observe that Dr. Daniels does not concede that at a certain level the class struggle becomes the motive force of history and that even so the productive forces remain the ultimate determinant of history.

He understands Amilcar Cabral in such absolute terms that at all levels it is the productive forces or what he calls the mode of productive forces that constitutes the motive force of history and that that is new, ‘a challenge’, to Marxism. Lacking this theoretical insight is a weakness, he says.

With the identification of this weakness among African revolutionaries, which he says is Cabral’s primary concern, Dr. Daniels goes on to identify the petite-bourgeoisie as the ‘seemingly unlikely’ agency of change in the process of Cabralian national liberation. He sees the conscious sections of the petite-bourgeoisie playing a unique role here in providing moral and ethical leadership which is desperately needed for the realization of Africa’s potential as a just and humane world power.

He predicates this optimism on the conscious petite-bourgeoisie being the class that has ‘the leisure to see the limiting effects of neo-colonial domination and the internal neo-colonial mentality that fosters willing and unwilling collaborators’ of neo-colonialism. That class, he says, has a ‘natural tendency’ to join the bourgeoisie; but to play its leadership role it ‘must’ forego this tendency. This means in Cabralian terms committing class suicide.

To properly appreciate this optimism in petite-bourgeois leadership, Dr. Daniels explains that this class, together with workers and peasants, is disgruntled at the self-serving business/economic elite’s betrayal of the aspirations of the African masses for national liberation. This elite, whom he also describes as the ‘emerging indigenous bourgeoisie’, collaborates and cooperates with external powers, whose largess it ties its aspirations for success to, to frustrate the national liberation process.

In that process, therefore, he sees an alliance of the conscious petite-bourgeois, working class and peasant forces in which the indigenous bourgeoisie in its entirety is excluded. This alliance is dedicated to the final phase of national liberation whereby ‘the creation of socio-economic and political structures, institutions, systems that serve the interests of the people’, that is a new state, is pursued on the basis of what he calls ‘principles of African humanism’.

Within the alliance, Dr. Daniels sees the conscious petite-bourgeoisie as the educated element ‘that may spark the struggle’ although it has an indirect relationship with the ‘productive forces or the mode of production’ needed for ultimate success achievement. The working class and the peasantry, on the other hand, have a direct relationship with the productive forces that gives them the capacity to achieve control over those forces against the ambitions of the imperialists and their collaborators.

For the avoidance of doubt his own words are ‘It is the workers and peasants, the laboring class which has the capacity to directly impact the land, property and vital resources over which the imperialists and their collaborators seek to maintain control’. Hence, in Dr. Daniels’ scheme of things the Cabralian new society to be created would have the minority conscious petite-bourgeois class being the dominant (leading) aspect of the new class contradiction wherein the working classes become the dominated (led) aspect in spite of the fact that these latter now have control over the productive forces.

This intended petite-bourgeois rule of society in place of bourgeois hegemony must be the underlying reason why in spite of the fact that the word ‘socialism’ recurs five (5) times in Amilcar Cabral’s The Weapon of Theory speech it does not have a single appearance in Dr. Ron Daniels’ speech. We rather hear of a vague ‘principles of African humanism’. It is now better to check on what Cabral says himself if we are to avoid the selective reading that Dr. Ron Daniels subjects this celebrated speech to.

For, whatever it is, he claims inspiration from Cabral’s speeches. In this respect, Dr. Daniels’ caveat of not being an expert in the field he walks through cannot be accepted. Something rather reactionary to Amilcar Cabral’s honest intentions violates the atmosphere in spite of his call to study the thought and practice of his avowed mentor. We have no right, however, not to put the blame squarely at the doorsteps of our undoubtedly great Comrade Amilcar Cabral. Thus enters Amilcar Cabral in his speech The Weapon of Theory.

Amilcar Cabral Speaks

It is sufficient to recall that in our present historical situation — elimination of imperialism which uses every means to perpetuate its domination over our peoples, and consolidation of socialism throughout a large part of the world — there are only two possible paths for an independent nation: to return to imperialist domination (neo-colonialism, capitalism, state capitalism), or to take the way of socialism.  

Amilcar CabralThe Weapon of Theory

Amilcar Cabral, in The Weapon of Theory, primarily addresses the prevailing state of ideological deficiency in the national liberation movement. He sees this deficiency as the greatest if not just one of the greatest weaknesses in the national liberation process. In this respect, he considers the struggle against these deficiencies as fundamental. His submission is based on the concrete experiences not only of the African situation, specifically the Guinean, but also of a critical appreciation of those of others.

Anticipating any objection to his position on this issue of ideology on grounds that it has a theoretical character, he makes haste to point out that every practice begets a theory. He explains that though a perfectly-worked out theory could have been the base of an unsuccessful revolution he sees no successful revolution without a revolutionary theory.

In thus admitting the theoretical character of the issue of ideological deficiency within the national liberation movement, Amilcar Cabral makes a theoretical contribution which he describes as his ‘opinion of the foundations and objectives of national liberation in relation to the social structure. Regarding the foundations of national liberation as it relates to the social structure he makes the principle clear that the development of any phenomenon, however it appears externally, depends mainly on its internal characteristics. (Elsewhere within the speech he uses ‘internal contradictions’ in place of ‘internal characteristics’).

In his use of ‘mainly’ in the statement of that principle, Cabral indicates that he does not discount the role (either favourable or unfavourable) of what he calls ‘external factors’. In effect, he sees internal contradictions playing the dominant role in the relations between national liberation and the social structure within which it is situate.

Hence in its relation to the social structure, national liberation emanates from and is a reflection of the internal contradictions within that social structure (society). As a reflection, so to say, national liberation reproduces the internal contradictions of its society. For this reason, it cannot be exported from one society to another society. And this is in spite of the fact that the said societies are confronted with the same enemy.

Thus, the successful handling of national liberation in a particular society comes by the correct resolution of the internal contradictions in that society. This, Cabral says, requires exact knowledge of the society in question and the efforts as well as the sacrifices of its own people. For, lack of this knowledge stands the national liberation endeavour at risk of being condemned to failure.  Herein dwells knowledge (theory) as a weapon of struggle.

We consider this section of The Weapon of Theory speech so fundamental to it that a broad quote of it thus should clear possible doubts:

When the African peoples say in their simple language that “no matter how hot the water from your well, it will not cook your rice,” they express with singular simplicity a fundamental principle, not only of physics, but also of political science. We know that the development of a phenomenon in movement, whatever its external appearance, depends mainly on its internal characteristics. We also know that on the political level our own reality — however fine and attractive the reality of others may be — can only be transformed by detailed knowledge of it, by our own efforts, by our own sacrifices. It is useful to recall in this Tricontinental gathering, so rich in experience and example, that however great the similarity between our various cases and however identical our enemies, national liberation and social revolution are not exportable commodities; they are, and increasingly so every day, the outcome of local and national elaboration, more or less influenced by external factors (be they favorable or unfavorable) but essentially determined and formed by the historical reality of each people, and carried to success by the overcoming or correct solution of the internal contradictions between the various categories characterising this reality.

… our experience has shown us that in the general framework of daily struggle this battle against ourselves (the struggle against our own weaknesses) — no matter what difficulties the enemy may create — is the most difficult of all, whether for the present or the future of our peoples. This battle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social, cultural (and therefore historical) reality of each of our countries. We are convinced that any national or social revolution which is not based on knowledge of this fundamental reality runs grave risk of being condemned to failure.

At this stage, Amilcar Cabral expresses optimism that in spite of the identified ideological deficiency the experiences thus far accumulated enable revolutionary forces ‘to define a general line of thought and action with the aim of eliminating this deficiency’.  Towards the definition of this general line of thought and action he asserts that although in our generation it is correct to affirm that the motive force of history is the class struggle this affirmation requires precision since it is not wide enough to incorporate the essential character of peoples dominated by imperialism.

His exact words are that ‘Those who affirm — in our case correctly — that the motive force of history is the class struggle would certainly agree to a revision of this affirmation to make it more precise and give it an even wider field of application if they had a better knowledge of the essential characteristics of certain colonized peoples, that is to say peoples dominated by imperialism’.

He explains this in terms of the socio-economic phenomenon of ‘class’ being itself a product of the progressive development of the level of productive forces and the pattern of ownership of the means of production. This process, he explains further, is not a simultaneous occurrence among all peoples in the general evolution of humanity. It is, so to say, not a spontaneous and uniform operation that is finished and perfect; but a slow and an uneven development that goes through quantitative and qualitative transformations to generate classes and the struggles between them. Once again we quote from Cabral extensively:

In fact in the general evolution of humanity and of each of the peoples of which it is composed, classes appear neither as a generalized and simultaneous phenomenon throughout the totality of these groups, nor as a finished, perfect, uniform and spontaneous whole. The definition of classes within one or several human groups is a fundamental consequence of the progressive development of the productive forces and of the characteristics of the distribution of the wealth produced by the group or usurped from others. That is to say that the socio-economic phenomenon ‘class’ is created and develops as a function of at least two essential and interdependent variables — the level of productive forces and the pattern of ownership of the means of production. This development takes place slowly, gradually and unevenly, by quantitative and generally imperceptible variations in the fundamental components; once a certain degree of accumulation is reached, this process then leads to a qualitative jump, characterized by the appearance of classes and of conflict between them.

This holistic characterization of the process of history, Amilcar Cabral therefore asserts, enlarges on what amounts in his terms to a narrow view of that process occasioned by lack of more informed ‘knowledge of the essential characteristics of … peoples dominated by imperialism’. The import of this assertion is that if those with this narrow perception had the more informed version of knowledge about colonized peoples they would have revised their position as to what is the actual motive force of history which he states to be ‘the mode of production — the level of productive forces and the pattern of ownership’.

It is instructive to note that in this immediate quote he aggregates the ‘productive forces’ and the ‘pattern of ownership’ of the means of production into the concept ‘mode of production’ which they therefore define. But, for him, it is not the mode of production in its entirety that generates and gives content and form to classes and their struggles – that is the essential function of the productive forces.

Cabral appears to summarize all this in the following statement: ‘… as we have seen, classes themselves, class struggle and their subsequent definition, are the result of the development of the productive forces in conjunction with the pattern of ownership of the means of production. It therefore seems correct to conclude that the level of productive forces, the essential determining element in the content and form of class struggle, is the true and permanent motive force of history’.

Having stated that classes and their struggles are the result of the development of the productive forces together (‘in conjunction’) with the pattern of ownership of the means of production he goes on to assert by logical induction that therefore only the level of productive forces ‘is the true and permanent motive force of history’. Though logicians might have problems with this induction they are appeased by an explanation that Cabral intends to say that the productive forces are the ultimate motive force of history since the pattern of ownership of the means of production (relation of production) is itself determined by the productive forces.

Amilcar Cabral is thence satisfied that this conclusive assertion of the productive forces as the ultimate motive force of history assures societies without the existence of classes at a point in history (before the emergence of classes and their struggles as well as after the abolition of those classes) that they are very much part of history and therefore have their own history.

He, as a result, assuages the anxieties of those who are pronounced falsely to have no history of their own due to the absence of classes in their societies at a point in the past evolution of human society. He asserts that they have a history based on the eternal (‘permanent’) development of the forces of production. He then assures a continued history for those whose societies are said to have a future of an inevitable cessation of their classes and class struggles thereof after that event. His tantalizing rendition of this goes forth in these words:

If we accept this conclusion, then the doubts in our minds are cleared away. Because if on the one hand we can see that the existence of history before the class struggle is guaranteed, and thus avoid for some human groups in our countries — and perhaps in our continent — the sad position of being peoples without any history, then on the other hand we can see that history has continuity, even after the disappearance of class struggle or of classes themselves. And as it was not we who postulated — on a scientific basis — the fact of the disappearance of classes as a historical inevitability, we can feel satisfied at having reached this conclusion which, to a certain extent, re-establishes coherence and at the same time gives to those peoples who, like the people of Cuba, are building socialism, the agreeable certainty that they will not cease to have a history when they complete the process of elimination of the phenomenon of ‘class’ and class struggle within their socio-economic whole. Eternity is not of this world, but man will outlive classes and will continue to produce and make history, since he can never free himself from the burden of his needs, both of mind and of body, which are the basis of the development of the forces of production.

It is on the basis of this conclusion that Amilcar Cabral categorizes the historical process into three stages whereby the first stage corresponds with the period when the mode of production has a rudimentary character and society is thus structured horizontally without classes and a state. He calls this the communal society.

The second stage is characterized by a higher development of the productive forces, accompanied with a change in the ownership of the means of production leading to such productive means being privately appropriated, and thus occasions the emergence of a vertical social structure of classes as well as a state. This is the stage of feudal and bourgeois society.

He characterizes the third stage as the socialist and communist society where the further development of the forces of production resolves the problem of private appropriation of the means of production through its elimination leading to the progressive disappearance of classes and the state for a restoration of the horizontal social structure.

Cabral does not insist that these stages necessarily follow each other across board in each society. He rather asserts that different human groups within a given society exhibit different stages in the development of their productive forces and thus precipitate a simultaneous development of all or two stages of the historical process in the same society.  He calls this the uneven development of society. Cabral explains additionally that each stage of the historical process has within itself the seeds out of which the next stage evolves.

So that necessarily each human group or the entire society goes through the process. The rate at which one stage is reached depends on either some internal factors or the impact of external elements that might accelerate or slow down the process of change in each case. This implies that the free development of the productive forces is the essence of social progress. Any internal or external factor that arrests the process of this free development of the productive forces requires being destroyed by way of national revolution within the context of a process of national liberation.

It is in the light of this understanding of the dynamics of social development – whereby Amilcar Cabral deals with the foundations of national liberation in relation to the social structure and makes us understand the 

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