- The Politics of National Emancipation in Africa: Subversive Thought in Cabral’s Resistance and Decolonization
This is a very important and timely publication that adds to existing collections of Amílcar Cabral’s revolutionary writings and is therefore a welcome addition to the works of one of the most original African thinkers of national emancipation during the 20th century. In fact, along with Frantz Fanon, Cabral arguably constitutes one of the two foremost African thinkers of national liberation during this period (Fanon, we must recall, despite his Caribbean origins, chose to call himself an Algerian and an African during his political involvement on the side of the FLN). The book consists of two texts by Cabral accompanied by two contemporary commentaries (of practically equal overall length to Cabral’s texts), the latter of which is by the translator himself. Of the two commentaries, the second is by far the more useful as it deals with Cabral’s two texts directly, locating them within Cabral’s oeuvre. The former is less appropriate as it largely consists of an attempt – unsuccessful to my mind – at appropriating Cabral’s writings to the canon of contemporary Africana Critical Social Theory, a body of scholarly work within United States (in particular) academia. Much as was the case with the earlier re-discovery of Fanon by postmodern theory, the main effect of this particular attempt to ‘academicize’ a revolutionary thinker is to fundamentally depoliticize his thought. Given limitations of space, I shall concentrate here on a discussion of Cabral’s own thought – its originality as well as its limitations – as expressed in his texts, the publication of which is the main purpose of the book.
What is central to Cabral’s thought in both these texts is their political character, in the sense of a thought-practice (or praxis) developed collectively within an organization (in this case a party) and in some way (it is not altogether clear how) in connection with the masses of the people resisting Portuguese colonial domination. These are not academic texts and they cannot be understood as such, although of course academic theory can learn from them. Additionally, I must insist on the fact that Cabral’s texts are subversive and not simply critical; it is this that makes them of relevance for us today. Critique can often amount simply to a different opinion. To argue for universal equality and humanism founded on popular culture in a colonial and racist context, as Cabral does, is subversive of the thought of power; to argue for the national unity of all ethnic groups among the colonized people is also subversive and not simply critical of colonial thought – particularly because this thought is embodied in a collective practice so that it becomes not only theoretically but also politically subversive. As such Cabral’s thought is not exclusively social, it is also asocial in that it transcends the limits of existing social relations by proposing something which does not yet exist (and which was impossible to envisage for many at the time) but which could potentially exist, namely an independent society of free people with equal opportunities for all. This is of course anathema to colonial racist power; it is therefore the asocial character of this thinking that enables its subversive nature and gives it a relevance beyond its immediate concerns.
Cabral’s two texts are quite distinct in form because directed to completely different audiences. The first concerns directives and instructions given to party cadres – it has a didactic quality to it. The second text is a speech given to UNESCO which elaborates many of the ideas contained in his earlier famous speech on National Liberation and Culture;1 the first dates from 1959, the latter from 1972, one year before his assassination. Nonetheless, they are characterized by the same political orientation. In order to illustrate the fundamentally political character of Cabral’s thinking and to elucidate concurrently some of its contradictions and limitations...