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Patrick Chabal
Amílcar Cabral: revolutionary leadership and people's war

Cambridge; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1983. xiii, 272 p.

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On 12 December 1962, Amílcar Cabral, a young Portuguese-trained Cape Verdean agronomist, addressed the Fourth Committee of the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of a virtually unknown African nationalist party, the Partido africano da independência da Guine e Cabo Verde (PAIGC). He claimed to represent the peoples of the Portuguese colonies of Guinea and Cape Verde and proceeded to submit an enormously long report designed to show why, under the UN Charter and Resolutions, Portugal no longer had any ‘legal right’ to hold on to her African territories 1. He boldly demanded immediate negotiations with the Portuguese in order to put an end to the ‘intolerable international crime’ which Portugal was committing in Africa by refusing to relinquish control over her colonies.

Cabral was only one of many self-proclaimed African nationalist leaders who made their way to the UN seeking a sympathetic hearing, international support, political legitimacy and, no doubt, hoping to launch a propaganda campaign against the colonial power. He was not the first to understand the importance of the international forum. However, despite his undoubted rhetorical talents and the obvious impressiveness of the documents which he submitted, he was also not the first one to discover that a trip to New York and the ‘shoulder rubbing’ which followed in the corridors of the UN would be of little practical use to his nationalist ambitions.

Ten years later Cabral was back in New York, again to address the Fourth Committee. He announced that the PAIGC had just completed its first general elections and that the newly elected National Assembly would shortly proclaim the independence of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau 2. He spoke with all the aplomb of a Head of State, able to refer to the recent United Nations Special Mission to Guinea which vindicated PAIGC claims to be in control of most of the country, to have established an independent administration in the areas under its control and to enjoy popular support 3.

By then Cabral's stature as the most successful African revolutionary leader was firmly established even in the Western countries whose governments continued to support Portugal in its colonial wars. When he was killed in January 1973, he duly entered the African ‘pantheon of Great Men’ and became the object of the adulation which all outstanding revolutionary leaders receive after they die (especially if, like Cabral they are murdered). Both his admirers and his adversaries joined in posthumous praise and thus ensured that the legend would survive 4. Hagiographies followed. A myth was created. Or was it?

This study is the first full-scale political biography of Amílcar Cabral, the revolutionar leader 5. It is the story of a very successful political man whose early death, before Guinea and Cape Verde became independent, makes it impossible to know how far he would have been able to carry through in these two countries the revolution which he envisaged. However, regardless of the hypothetical fate of these two former Portuguese colonies, there are significant reasons why an interest in Amflcar Cabral is justified.

His party, the PAIGC, was the most successful nationalist movement in Black Africa and the first to achieve independence through armed struggle. It did so by mobilizing the villagers of Guinea into a political and military force capable of challenging Portuguese colonial rule; and it went some way towards establishing a new social and political order in the areas which it wrested from Portuguese control. The PAIGC's achievements were very largely due to Cabral's leadership. It was initially because of the success of the armed struggle that he came into prominence. But it was ultimately because of the social and political achievements of his party that Cabral, like other notably successful revolutionary leaders, came to be held in such high regard. The central aspect of Cabral's leadership was his unparalleled ability to combine pragmatic political effectiveness with a high degree of adherence to human decency as a principle of political action. His respect for human rights and his ambition to establish a state structure which would pursue socialist policies without recourse to political oppression set him apart from many other revolutionary leaders of the twentieth century.

Inevitably, some — or perhaps all — of the above claims will strain the credence of historians who are justifiably sceptical of the myths engendered by sundry revolutionary episodes. The political historian bold enough — or foolish enough — to tell a story which is seen to endorse aspects of what has come to be regarded as hagiography must be prepared to labour against considerable odds. In the first instance, political biographies in general, but more particularly biographies of revolutionary leaders, are not today a widely admired genre in political analysis. History has come of age and frowns on the notion that understanding any ‘Great Man’ can be more than marginally relevant to understanding the historical process in which he was involved. The study of revolution, for example, has now acquired a much firmer structural emphasis and a sharper sociological edge.

Furthermore, nationalist history itself has been firmly sent through the trapdoor of historiography by a section of modern historians. Both Marxist and non-Marxist historians of Africa appear to agree on the callowness of what some now refer to as the ‘idealist phase of African history’. Here again academic fashion is firmly on the side of a much more solidly structural approach 6. An even more powerful onslaught on nationalist history has been mounted recently by a number of Indian historians who see the local-level analysis of the colonial period as the only fruitful method of inquiring into the events which led to independence. Here Judith Brown's study of Gandhi stands in splendid isolation 7.

Perhaps more importantly, there is an influential (though by no means unanimous) body of academic opinion which takes the view that, although a biography may be justified qua biography, a study of political leadership is conceptually and historically unrewarding 8. While a biography can usefully divulge the many personal facets of the character of a political leader, it is argued, a study of leadership must of necessity assume that leadership is of crucial causal importance and thus cannot escape the pitfalls which have always threatened the history of ‘Great Men’. This argument contains two distinct parts: first, an emphasis on leadership alone can never adequately explain the historical period under scrutiny, no matter how important the leader is acknowledged to have been or how sophisticated the study is; and second, such a focus on political leadership can only serve to reinforce (even if unwittingly) an interpretation of events which ignores the political, sociological and economic stuff of history. In short, studies of political leadership are nothing but a modern version of the discredited history of ‘Great Men’ and obscure rather than illuminate the historical period during which the particular leader is claimed to have exercised influence.

There is thus a substantial collection of academic objections to the present undertaking and one which cannot be dismissed without consideration, especially since this study is not only the first full biography of the PAIGC leader but also the first historical account of the modern nationalist period in Portuguese Guinea 9. The historian who is seen to recount a story of success, rather than simply a record of confusion, has to assess the extent to which the story really was successful. Or, to put it less elegantly, given its teleological shape, can such a story be anything but hagiography? All biographers are in danger of overstating their case regardless of how carefully they handle their evidence. The very decision to write a political biography is itself a statement of the author's conviction of the significance of his subject. Whether the biographer convinces others or not must ultimately depend on his ability to show that his professional objectivity has been fully exercised. It is well to point out, however, that some historians are likely to prove beyond conviction since their scepticism in the face of apparent success is a key aspect of their professional identity and perhaps even an article of faith.

There are two distinct methodological hurdles to any biography: the research framework and the validity of the data. The research framework of reference is simple and straightforward; it was largely determined by the constraints placed on the investigation rather than by any prior theoretical position. Here the task was to gather all possible information relevant to Cabral's biography and to collect enough data on the modern history of nationalism in Guinea and Cape Verde to place the PAIGC leader's role in it proper historical context. This meant conducting research in two different direction at the same time while keeping a firm eye on the interaction between the man and the events in which he took part.

The body of secondary literature and the availability of primary sources on Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea and Cape Verde are severely limited because of the peculiar nature of modern Portuguese history. A study of recent history and politics in Portugal was necessary not only because of its relevance to Portuguese colonial rule but also because Cabral spent a large part of his adult life in Portugal. An investigation was then undertaken on Cabral himself, on the places where he worked and the people who knew him best. Ideally this would have included systematic research in Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde , Senegal and Guinée (Conakry). Despite formidable practical and political difficulties, it did prove possible to work in all these countries except for Guinée.

For the context, history and development of the PAIGC, the party which Cabral created and over which he maintained full control until he was killed, access to documents kept in the Bissau PAIGC headquarters was essential, and was finally granted in 1979 10. Lastly, an attempt was made to locate and examine Cabral's private papers and correspondence. As there is no official (or even unofficial) collection of these documents, it was necessary to rely on individuals who were willing to make available their private papers. In this respect, the most important single source, hitherto undisclosed to any scholar, was Mrs Cabral's collection of private papers, to which she kindly gave me access. Since this was, however, conditional on my agreement not to reveal the specifics of the material, citations and references are not given here.
One of the major difficulties concerned the need to write a political history of the nationalist period in addition to Cabral's biography. The virtual absence of secondary sources of this period precluded the possibility of limiting my discussion to the analysis of Cabral's leadership within a given, and historically accepted, context. The dilemma here clearly was that the requirements of a political biography did not, and perhaps could not, coincide with those of an adequate history of nationalism in Guinea and Cape Verde. A full understanding of that history would require the combined efforts of many historians with open access to colonial and local archives. Even then, it is unlikely that the modern history of lusophone Africa will ever be able to call upon the quantity and quality of data which the student of Commonwealth history, for example, can muster 11. The primary focus of this book is on Cabral. It would thus be surprising if the present interpretation of the nationalist history of Guinea were not modified by subsequent research.

The central methodological pitfall for any biographer is the use he makes of the data collected. Here the stakes are high as any political, let alone revolutionary leader is certain to have as many friends as enemies with deep political and personal reasons for giving a particular interpretation of the evidence. The fact that a given image of a revolutionary leader is a necessary instrument in the ideological armoury of any revolutionary party only compounds the difficulty of assessing the claims of friend and foes alike. There is no fully satisfactory answer to this dilemma. Those who claim that nothing short of a ‘balanced set of data’ will ensure adequate objectivity are all too likely to be precisely those who would not choose to study revolutionary leaders. In the majority of cases, if not in all, such balanced data cannot be obtained, however theoretically desirable it would be to use them. Revolutions and wars of national liberation are messy and bloody affairs which often lead to — when they do not actually require — the obliteration of existing historical records. There is simply no equivalent to the Public Record Office and the India Office for the other side of the story. For Portugal there is only the most inadequate equivalent of these institutions, and in Guinea-Bissau itself there are no official archives.

Historians who are familiar with the study of revolutions will thus not be surprised to hear that the world of data collection is imperfect indeed and that every obstacle — including those of flattery and deceit — will be placed in the researcher's way. It would be naive, however, to believe that data is ‘political’ only when it is proclaimed to be so (as it inevitably is in revolutions). It is simplistic, although common, to believe that party statements issued by politicians in Britain or the United States are any more (or for that matter any less) reliable than those issued in Vietnam or Cuba. They are simply reliable and unreliable in different ways. Good research in such circumstances requires a combination of the skills of the investigative journalist and those of the lawyer as well as a persistent attempt to unearth corroborative or disconfirming evidence.

In the course of the present research every attempt was made to overcome the very severe constraints placed on the subject. The fascist period in Portuguese history (1926-74) has virtually precluded meaningful research on social, political and colonial matters. Many of the sources which the historian would have expected to be able to consult in public archives have simply never existed, or are still unavailable, or have already been destroyed. Most of the documents which are available cover the earlier colonial period. The history of modern politics in Portugal, and far more so that of Portuguese colonial rule in Guinea and Cape Verde, has yet to be adequately written. The secondary literature is all too thin and the primary sources are often inadequate.

The Portuguese account of their role in the wars of national liberation is also unavailable. The Portuguese government was never compelled to produce the sort of factual information and documentation which other colonial powers (and the United States) had to present to justify colonial wars or other military intervention on foreign soil. International pressure, such as it was, did little to force the Portuguese to respond to nationalist allegations. A vital source of potential information is thus denied the researcher. Such official data as the Portuguese did make available are virtually useless. The absence of parliamentary, press or public scrutiny and the appalling ignorance in Portugal about the colonial war enabled the government to continue to substitute mindless propaganda for fact. The most useful ource of information, the reports of the political police (PIDE) and of military intelligence are, as far as could be discovered, still unavailable for research. Indeed it is not even clear that anyone knows exactly where these reports are. It may well be that the only useful sources of information will be found in Guinea, in those local colonial and police archive which have survived the war, rather than in Portugal. Research at that level is in its infancy.

Thus, much of the research undertaken in Portugal was designed to reconstruct the political and social atmosphere of the forties and fifties, when Cabral was there, as well as to come to some understanding of Portuguese politics since 1926. Of necessity, a substantial part of that research consisted in the collection of oral evidence 12. Similarly, the information concerning Cabral's years in Portugal came from friends, colleagues, and more generally from witnesses, journalists and politicians willing to discuss the subject — in most cases for the first time. In Portugal at least, because of the unreliability of many printed sources produced amidst the political exuberance of the years since April 1974, such oral testimony can be comparatively reliable. In this instance, when subjected to crossexamination and cross checking, much of it has proved both consistent and accurate.

By comparison, sources on and from the PAIGC were, surprisingly enough, more abundant than anticipated, despite the conditions under which the war had taken place. Although a large proportion of PAIGC documents were destroyed during or immediately after the war, the sources examined compare favourably with those which were available to students of the wars in Algeria, Angola and Mozambique. The PAIGC was more diligent than many of the other revolutionary movements in publishing and publicising its documents 13, and Cabral, unlike many other revolutionary leaders, encouraged the widest dissemination of documents both inside and outside Guinea. Moreover, the PAIGC was particularly open and accessible to outside visitors, such as journalists, writers, film crews, lawyers and academics, and made every effort to allow these visitors to travel inside the country during the war. Access from Guinea or Senegal was easy and the small size of the country made it possible for visitors to travel on foot through large sections of Guinea in a relatively short time. The nationalist struggle attracted considerable international inte rest, especially during the second half of the war (1968-74). Although the PAIGC obviously used this ‘free flow’ of information for propaganda purposes, it is still the case that the larger amount of material available (as ,compared with that pertaining to other revolutions) makes the researchers task more rewardmg and somewhat less hazardous.

I cannot claim to have seen all the party archives and documents, for one of the difficulties is that many of them are in private hands, and their owners have personal or political reasons for keeping them under lock and key. Such access as I had, had never, so I was told, been granted to a foreign scholar before. Nor is it clear, in the light of recent political events, that access will be easier in future. The November 1980 coup in Bissau, in which the prime minister, João Bernardo Vieira, ousted the president, Luiz Cabral, has formalised a split in the PAIGC. The interpretation of nationalist history is now even more politically charged than it was in 1979, making it that much more difficult to obtain reliable information.

Although I was restricted by government as to which members of the PAIGC I could interview, the interviews themselves were conducted freely, in private, and without any third-party control. As far as I know it was the first time that the PAIGC had allowed a historian to interview members of the party about Amílcar Cabral and the nationalist period, rather than about current affairs. Independent cross-checks of the evidence were carried out whenever possible. Since my informants had no way of knowing which questions would be put to them, they could not have prepared for them or consulted with other party members. In the course of the research carried out in Guinea and Cape Verde it rapidly became apparent which information was being withheld (and why) and it was usually possible to judge the accuracy and consistency of the evidence provided by informants since by then documentary research had already been completed. Information gathered through ‘investigative journalism’ (i.e. unofficially) confirmed rather than contradicted my interpretation of the official data. It must remain a matter for concern when counter-evidence cannot be produced to validate (or invalidate) such official sources. But in the absence of such counter-evidence the reader must needs do without ‘absolute proof.’ Considering how sensitive historical research on the nationalist period in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde is, and how tense the political situation in the two countries has been since 1977-78, the data collected from the PAIGC were in fact more useful in scope and quality than could reasonably have been expected. If full access to local archives and permission to conduct free and open research in Guinea's villages were to be given, it would be possible to come to a more definite understanding of the nationalist period. Unfortunately this is an area of research which the PAIGC is unlikely to encourage greatly.

The question of the paramountcy of Cabral's role is a delicate one and certainly cannot be settled a priori. I claim that the success of the PAIGC was largely due to the political skills of one man and that Cabral's leadership was central to the political development of Guinea. Is it, however, both plausible and possible to make such claims about the historical role of any political leaders? Here the historical sceptic and determinist are for once agreed, albeit for opposite reasons, that the role of the individual in history must be merely incidental. Historians of political processes, by contrast, are seldom inclined to deny that polittcalleaders do at times have a determining influence upon the o utcome of historically ignificant events.

Political leadership is not necessarily always an appropriate focus for analysis (although it often is a useful one) in the study of revolutions and nationali t wars. But in Guinea, quite plainly, the success of the nationalist struggle cannot be understood without reference to Cabral. This implies that his absence would have precluded such achievement. Although counterfactual analysis is a notably difficult exercise, the evidence presented will show that the claim can be reasonably maintained. Cabral was largely responsible for the organi ation of modern nationalist politics in Guinea; he was the architect and uncontested leader of the PAIGC; and the policies which the party adopted and the strategy which it followed under his leadership made its success possible.

Although it is more than likely that, in Cabral's absence, nationalists in Guinea would eventually have sought to engage in a struggle for national liberation, it is far from clear that without him the war would have been launched and organised with such effect. The nature of Portuguese colonial rule and the policies of the Portuguese government towards their overseas territories inexorably led the nationalists of Guinea, Angola and Mozambique to resort to some form of armed struggle. But, prior to 1956, there was in Guinea no organised nationalist movement capable of challenging colonial rule. Even between 1956 and 1959, the newly created PAIGC largely failed in its policy of nationalist agitation. By 1960, when the PAIGC was preparing for war in Conakry, there were rival nationalist movements in Senegal and Guinée. While Cabral eventually managed to gain control of the nationalists in Guinée, competing movements continued to operate in Senegal. One of them even attempted to launch armed attacks into Guinea as early as 1961. There is, nevertheless, no doubt that as soon as the PAIGC had established itself inside Guinea — and especially after it had initiated armed struggle — it never faced a credible challenge from other rival movements. Certainly during the first two or three years (until 1964), the Senegal-based parties had every opportunity to take the lead in the nationalist struggle. They did not. Because of the pattern of exile politics in which they had already long been involved, we have no reason to believe that they would have been any more successful in Cabral's absence. Unlike the cases of Angola and Mozambique, where several groups competed for nationalist supremacy, it is clear that Cabral's leadership was the main impetus towards the development of militant nationalism in Guinea.

Perhaps more than most revolutionary leaders, he was in a position to shape and mould the party he created according to his vision and ambitions. Because he was the original architect and the undisputed leader of the PAIGC he had great freedom in developing its organisation, training its leaders, and defining the policies which he considered were most suited to the struggle in Guinea. Success and failure were fully and properly his. He was, for example, solely responsible for the radical change which the party underwent in 1959-60 when it moved to Conakry. It is obvious that this shift in policy, and more importantly the way in which it was implemented, determined the subsequent development of nationalism in Guinea. Although other leaders of the party (men like Aristides Pereira, Luiz Cabral and the other young nationalists who eventually rose to positions of leadership) contributed to the success of the PAIGC there is no evidence to suggest (and events since independence have confirmed this) that any of them exhibited the qualities of leadership which made Cabral so successful.

In the early years, particularly, until the nationalists had firmly established their control inside Guinea, it is quite certain that Cabral's disappearance would have been a crippling, if not a fatal, blow to the party. The problems which arose then and the manner in which many of them had to be resolved at the Cassacá Congress show that the PAIGC was far from being immune to the difficulties which have racked many other nationalist or revolutionary movements. Ethnic and other regional stresses, lack of unity, a tendency towards militarism, and a general shift in the direction of a more authoritarian and arbitrary form of armed struggle would no doubt have emerged as they have in many other guerrilla wars. Between 1964 and 1969, when PAIGC control over the liberated areas was secure, Cabral's presence at the head of the party was crucial in enabling the PAIGC to master the problems which it encountered.

Probably the most impressive feature of Cabral's leadership was his success in developing a party which could operate effectively without him. The problem of succession in revolutionary parties, particularly the replacement of the most successful political leaders, is often intractable. Cabral's approach consisted in relying more on the cadre which he trained than on the structure or ideology of the party. His aim was to create a party and to develop an ideology, the legitimacy of which would be thoroyghly accepted by the men whom he had trained. He wanted to imbue them with the belief that, even though he was the obvious leader of the party, they themselves could safely and easily take over from him. In this respect, his style of leadership, the genuine degree of collective leadership within the party, and the discussions which took place on important issues, gave substance to his claim to be dispensable. The movement's continuation after his assassination, in circumstances which might well have led to a split in the party, showed that they had indeed managed to prepare his succession in an extremely short period of time. The immediate and vital problems of the survival of the party and of the transition to the post-colonial period were overcome effectively. Nevertheless, his role as party thinker and organiser has not been fully assumed by anyone else, and it is clear that the PAIGC would have continued to benefit greatly from his leadership. The recent coup, and the subsequent break between Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, indicate how much and in what ways the PAIGC has suffered from the absence of Cabral.

Finally, and more substantially, Cabral was in direct control of the political, social, military and diplomatic activities of the party The evolution of party policie thus reflected his objectives and methods. Although it is not necessary to claim that none but Cabral would have pursued a similar course, he did prove himself exceedingly adept at developing, adapting and implementing policies which were eminently suited to the Guinean context. This capacity was obviously the most important feature of his leadership and the key to his succe .

Some of the most significant party policies were: the maintenance of political control over the armed struggle and the development of a guerrilla war based on popular mobilisation; the achievement of nationalist unity inside the country by coopting rather than excluding serious nationalist rivals and by neutralising those who chose a pattern of exile politics; the attempt to transform Guinean society in the liberated areas during, rather than after, the struggle; the determination to achieve party policies by consent rather than by coercion, together with the attempt to evolve a ‘revolutionary democratic’ system in which party rule and popular aspirations could be balanced; and adhe rence to a strict policy of non-alignment, of overture towards Portugal and of cooperation with the Portuguese democratic opposition .

Successful nationalist struggles follow no given model, as is evident from the history of other wars of national liberation. Nevertheless Cabral's policies led to an 'economical' guerrilla war , one which limited the human and material destruction which usually attends such armed conflicts. Throughout the war he altered the organisation and the policies of the party in order to overcome problems as they a rose. It was largely his ability to follow diffe rent strategies and thereby to develop a more flexible party which sustained the progressive advance of the PAIGC towards its ultimate goal.

What was perhaps more remarkable was the consistency of Cabral's general approach to the nationalist revolution. His adherence to certain political, moral and humanist principles throughout the struggle exone rates him of the charge of opportunism which is so ofte n levelled against political leaders. His refusal to maintain party unity by means of physical elimination , the conduct of a ‘clean war’ (in which for the most part terrorism is ruled out) and the attempt to create a democratic political system are all evident indications of a loyalty to personal beliefs which few participants in real politics have managed to adhere to without compromise. Cynics may claim that Cabral's principles served him well politically, but it is hardly appropriate to applaud the fact that politics is so seldom guided by such principles.

Although Cabral's role during the nationalist epoch can be shown to be crucial, this in no way implies that his leadership was the only causal factor or the complete explanation of Guinea's history in this period. To say that Cabral was the single most important factor in the undoubted success of the PAIGC is not to say that he was the sole determining factor. The same would be true of the role of Lenin in the Russian Revolution or Mao in the Chinese. In this regard, there is a conceptual distinction between what might be called the context of a revolution and the process of the revolution itself. The former refers to the set of more structural ‘necessary conditions’, in the absence of which it is unlikely that a revolution can occur, but which in and of itself may well not suffice to produce a revolution. The latter concerns the process whereby a revolution is actually carried out 14. Here the analysis must necessarily focus on the ability of the revolutionary movement successfully to challenge the existing state and to establish an alternate social and political order.

In the case of China, for example, the distinction is clear. Contextually, the collapse of the Manchu dynasty, the deteriorating economic conditions of the peasantry, the failure of the Kuo Min Tang (KMT) either to resolve the rural question or fully to unify China, and the Japanese invasion, furnished propitious conditions for a revolutionary movement. Yet, any understanding of the success of the Communists in China requires an analysis of the process whereby Mao led the party to substantial political and military achievements in the countryside.

Similarly in the case of Guinea there is a need for a social and political analysis of the structural context of Guinean nationalism. Why did the PAIGC receive the support it did receive in the measure and in the settings in which it did so? Future enquiries may provide much richer and more carefully assessed information about the villagers' perceptions of their situation and their reasons for giving support to, or withdrawing support from, the PAIGC (or any rival movements). Such information would enable us to form a far clearer and better confirmed conception of the context within which the action of the PAIGC unfolded and would make possible a far more adequate assessment of the war itself. It would offer, in effect, a sociology of the mobilisation of the villagers.

But an answer as to why rural inhabitants support a revolutionary movement is not a substitute for an explanation of why and how that movement succeeded. The two are analytically distinct questions. It is thus unlikely that recent research in the sociology of the war in southern Guinea will provide intellectually sound arguments for dismissing the role of Cabral as revolutionary leader 15. Or, to put it more bluntly, the argument that a certain number of Balante villagers in the southern areas of Guinea supported the PAIGC faute de mieux does little to explain — nor would it be proper for it to claim to do so — why the PAIGC, as a political movement, succeeded. As Dunn has written in another context:

When the Vietnamese peasantry supported the Vietminh or the Chinese peasantry supported Mao, there is no need to explain their adherence by presenting them as having seen a great light, nor is there the least reason to present them as having been hoodwinked by a group of power hungry paranoiacs … The insight that man does not make history under conditions of his own choice is one readily available to any peasant … What the revolutionary project, as offered to the populace, means to the different sections and why their different interpretations of it give them different levels of commitment to the effort of bringing it about, are all dependent in part on the structure of society 16.

It is a historically naive view — which successful revolutionary leaders do not hold — to suppose that a revolution can occur only if it receives the enthusiastic and disinterested support of the populace. A revolution or a people's war is always a last resort and not one which peasants, inevitably destined to be its main victims, accept cheerfully. It is equally naive to believe that the support which a revolutionary movement receives ts solely dependent on the populace's full understanding of the party's aims. More often than not, such support merely reflects opposition to the existing social and political order rather than adherence to the revolutionary ‘project’ as devised by party men. Those who support a revolution do so because of self-interest as they perceive it.

In the majority of cases, however, the attempt by revolutionary movements to exploit the grievances of the largest possible section of the population (usually the peasantry) is not successful because the claims of self-proclaimed revolutionaries to offer a more attractive political alternative are perceived to be false. There is no simple causal link between the context and the process of a revolution. The study of revolutionary leadership (and of the revolutionary party) is as essential to the understanding of the process of a revolution as the sociology of revolution is to the understanding of its context.

The study of such leadership has been a challenge to historians and political scientists alike and it raises questions of relevance to both. The former have claimed that the detailed description of facts is the best, and perhaps the only valid, approach to the examination of political events, while the latter have insisted on the need to analyse causal relations in a ‘social formation’ or ‘political system’ in its entirety. In reality no adequate history can avoid a large measure of interpretation and no serious political science can dispense with sustained historical research. However, there have been considerable differences between the two in their approaches to the study of political leadership.

Much recent political science (especially in the United States) has concerned itself with the genesis and the nature of revolutionary leadership. It has paid particular attention to the personal and political factors which are said to explain the propensity of some political leaders to seek change by means of revolution. Unfortunately, the often thinly disguised purpose of such political science has been to establish the ‘pathology’ of revolutionary leadership and revolutions and thereby to provide political remedies to prevent such ‘violent and irrational’ behaviour. One school of thought has relied heavily on a simplified (and often simplistic) ‘systemic model’ based on Parsons' and Merton's analysis of society 17. In this model revolutions are explained by the occurrence of growing imbalances or ‘disequilibria’ in certain social systems and revolutionary leaders are said to succeed because they manage further to undermine the legitimacy of a political system no longer fully capable of sustaining itself. Another school of thought has followed Lasswell's psychological approach to political behaviour and has found inspiration in Erikson's work on Gandhi and Luther 18. Their interpretation of revolutionary leadership has largely derived from an attempt to adapt Freudian concepts to psycho-histories of political leaders. There is little agreement as to the extent of their success in providing non-tautological explanations of revolutionary action. It is not, however, my concern either to establish why revolutionary leaders emerge or why revolutions occur. Although these questions are certainly relevant to the analysis of revolutionary change, success in resolving them at a theoretical level has so far been very limited. Nor can one find much guidance in the behavioural and functional theories which have informed the work of many political scientists writing on political leadership in Africa and elsewhere. Some have explored the conception of ‘charismatic leadership’; others have attempted to conceive of leadership from the point of view of its functions within the ‘political system’. However, the analysis of political leadership requires first and foremost the understanding of the historical events over which the leader may be thought to have exercised a more or less decisive influence. Behavioural and functional approaches are particularly ill-equipped to achieve this because they virtually compel their exponents to conceive of political behaviour within a reified context. Nor are such theories capable of encompassing the interaction between the structural and the contingent which is the essence of successful leadership. Thus, the central weakness of these theories is that they put the cart before the horse in their attempt to relate theoretical concepts to history: a priori theory determines what is historically significant. There is nothing inherently wrong in attempting to bring conceptual clarity to the apparent disorder of historical facts. But there is little to be gained by the unscientific method of abstracting arbitrarily from a mass of unconsidered data by means of previously defined concepts. The attempt to develop a ‘science’ of comparative politics, in particular, has suffered from serious fundamental deficiencies.

Marxist theory, on the other hand, with its emphasis on a scientific approach to the study of political and social events, has always entertained an ambiguous position on the subject of political leadership 19. Marxism generally is hostile to individualist explanations of historical change, as Marx himself made clear. In theory, his followers have sought to minimise the individual role of political leaders in revolutions. In practice, however, the Leninist emphasis on the importance of the political aspect of revolution has prevailed. Lenin's experience showed that a revolutionary movement must acquire power if it is to succeed, that a political party is an indispensable instrument for doing so and that in the process of carrying out a revolution, political leadership has often been a key factor. Nevertheless, it remain the case that Marxist historians and political scientists have been reluctant to accept the significance of individual leadership and that the major part of their work has focused on the socio-economic and other structural factors relevant to the understanding of revolutions.

While few would deny today that Lenin played an important part in the success of the Bolshevik revolution, fewer are willing to concede that his absence would have forestalled the possibility of that revolution. Many of the major twentieth-century revolutions (China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Algeria and Cuba) have not been adequately analysed by Marxists. This is because most of the m have occurred in poor Third-World countries, many of them colonies, and have derived largely from nationalist sentiments for which Marxist theory has never furnished a satisfying explanation and which until recently Marxist analysts were often reluctant to consider at all explicitly. It can carcely be a coincidence, however, that charismatic nationalist leaders have been instrumental in the success of many modern revolutions.

Unorthodox Marxist thinkers like Antonio Gramsci have stressed the importance of ideological and cultural factors for revolution 20. They have recognised that intellectuals play a significant role as individuals in that they can undermine the legitimacy of the existing regime and provide the revolution with an alternative ideology to justify the overthrow of that regime. But they, like Lenin, have placed greater emphasis on the role of the revolutionary party than on its leaders. The experience of the twentieth century clearly shows the need for a well-organised, tightly knit revolutionary party and on this point Lenin has been fully vindicated. Yet, the role of the party leader remains a subject about which Marxists in general have had little to say — at least outside the context of established Communist regimes where, paradoxically, the ‘cult of personality’ has become an accepted political practice.

Historians have been more adept, and on the whole more successful, in their analysis of political leadership. Leaving aside the ‘Great Man’ view of history, historians have used two approaches to the study of political leaders. The first focuses on the individual and is most akin to political biography; the second extends its scope to the general history of the given period during which the leader held power. The two are evidently related and to some degree overlap since both rely on similar historical sources. The former rests on the assumption that a better knowledge of the leader as a person holds the clue to the better understanding of his political actions. The latter takes the view that the leader's actions are largely determined by the existing range of possibilities available within a particular historical context and that his personality itself can account for little. The difference between the two is largely a matter of emphasis. But in the analysis of revolutions such differences in emphasis can sometimes imply widely divergent interpretations.

There are two dangers in the historical approach to political leadership.
First, neat historical narratives can readily fail to highlight the role of judgment and choice and thus to underline the point that different judgments and other choices would have generated different stories for the narrator to recount. This is particularly the case for political biographies where it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and legend and where the interpretation of the available historical evidence is thus of crucial importance.
Secondly, historians have tended to restrict the range of historical sources which they deem acceptable for their trade. They prefer to base their research on full archives and they have frequently overestimated the difficulty of using other sources (particularly oral testimony). But archival sources are not often available for the history of revolutions and in a ny case they may never be available for much of African history.

There are good reasons why historians should not leave the analysis of contemporary history to journalists and political commentators whose credibility they question now but on whom future historians will have in large measure to rely. Much historical evidence is only available soon after the events and for a short period of time. This is most obviously the case for the participants in these events whose testimonies ought to be used by historians. It is equally true for much of the documentary evidence which may often be obliterated in the course of subsequent (sometimes violent) political events. In this respect there is cause to fear that the November 1980 coup in Guinea may lead the present regime to suppress information and documents connected with the deposed Luiz Cabral government.

I am in closest affinity with the historiographical tradition which argues that individual political leaders can, under specific historical circumstances, influence masses of men to take steps to make their own history in ways which do not look to be structurally very promising. Revolutions never look structurally very promising at the outset; hence the difficulty in predicting where a revolution might occur next, or whether it will be successful. Whatever the context in which revolutions or people's wars are launched, the role of professional revolutionaries and of the party which they form is crucial to the outcome of the political conflict which ensues.

Cabral's contribution to the success of the PAIGC derived from his ability to combine political, military and personal skills so effectively. While the combination of such skills in one man is rare, that they must be possessed by a successful revolutionary leader is undeniable. And the manner in which these skills are exercised in different contexts ought to be amenable to comparative analysis. To recognise the importance of leadership in revolutions is not necessarily to accept the inevitability of the course of the revolution itself. The range of contingent elements which can impinge on any predetermined political action is enormous. Revolutionaries succeed in part because they are lucky. Nevertheless, modern history shows that it is in the process of revolution (or of people's war) that the political will of dedicated leaders is most likely to have causal significance.

More extensive references may be found in Patrick Chabal, Amílcar Cabral as Revolutionary Leader, Cambridge unpublished Ph.D. thesis, 1980.
1. Cabral, ‘Le peuple de la Guinee “portuguesa” devant l'ONU’ (Conakry, June 1962).
2. Cabral, ‘O povo da Guine e Cabo Verde perante a ONU’ (Conakry, October 1972).
3. United Nations General Assembly, ‘Report of the special commission established by the Special Committee at its 840th meeting on 14 March 1972’. A/AC. 109/L.804 (New York, 3 July 1972).
4. See, among many others, Marcel Niedergang's assessment of Cabral in Le Monde, 23 January 1973.
5. Mário de Andrade, the Angolan nationalist leader and Cabral's friend, published a small biographical essay after this study was completed: Amílcar Cabral. Essai de biographie politique (Paris: F. Maspéro, 1980). Most of the information contained in the book had already been made available to me in 1979 when I interviewed Mário de Andrade.
6. I am indebted to Dr John Lonsdale for sharing his thoughts on the subject. See his ‘States and Social Processes in Africa: A Historiographical Survey’, African Studies Review, xxiv, 213 (1981).
7. Judith Brown, Gandhi's Rise to Power (Cambridge University Press, 1972) and Gandhi and Civil Disobedience (Cambridge University Press, 1977).
8. For an assessment of the role of political leadership in the success and failure of ‘socialism’ in Africa, see Cart Rosberg and Thomas Callaghy, Socialism in Sub-Saharan Africa. A New Assessment (Berkeley: University of California, Institute of International Studies, 1979), particularly the Introduction and Callaghy's essay.
9. The only academic monograph on Guinea, Lars Rudebeck, Guinea-Bissau. A Study of Political Mobilization (Uppsala: Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1974), is primarily concerned with the last years of the nationalist period (1970-74).
10. Permission was granted only on the intervention of the then president, Luiz Cabral. Both the notes and the bibliography will provide a guide to these documents.
11. See, for example, what is probably the best recent history of any African country, John Iliffe, A Modem History of Tanganyika (Cambridge University Press, 1979). It is unlikely that the student of lusophone Africa could ever be in a position to rely on so much previous research and such a range of sources.
12. For a full list of the interviews conducted, see Bibliography, section 1G.
13. Ronald Chilcote, Emerging Nationalism in Portuguese Africa (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1972), Introduction.
14. For a somewhat similar distinction between structure and process in revolutions, see John Dunn, ‘Understanding revolutions’, Ethics, xcii, 2 (1982).
15. On this point James Cunningham is said to have collected relevant evidence during fieldwork in southern Guinea while working on a doctoral thesis for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London.
16. John Dunn, Modern Revolutions. An Introduction to the Analysis of a Political Phenomenon (Cambridge Umversity Press, 1972), pp. 238-9.
17. Talcott Parsons, ‘The processes of change of social systems’, in The Social System (New York: Free Press, 1951); Robert Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, ill.: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1957).
18. Harold Lasswell, Power and Personality (New York: Norton, 1948) and Psychopathology and Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1940); Eric Erikson, Gandhi's Truth (New York: W. Norton & Co., 1969) and Young Man Luther (New York: W. Norton & Co., 1958).
19. For a frank discussion of this ambiguity, see Ken Post, ‘Individuals and the Dialectic: A Marxist View of Political Biographies’ in W. H. Morris-Jones (ed), The Making of Politicians: Studies for Africa and Asia (London: The Athlone Press, 1976), pp. 17-27.
20. Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince (New York: International Publishers, 1972); Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971).

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