Amílcar Cabral
Original publication:
Translation: Roderic Day

Lenin and the National Liberation Struggle (1970)

Small brochure edited by PAIGC’s Party Information Commission, covering topics addressed in an improvised speech at the Symposium of Alma-Ata in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Kazakhstan in April 1970. Footnotes added for RS.

The value and transcendental character of the thought and political, scientific, cultural — historic — achievements of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin have long been a universally recognized fact. Even the fiercest opponents of his ideas had to recognize that Lenin was a determined revolutionary, one who knew how to dedicate himself completely to the cause of revolution and succeed; a philosopher and a sage whose greatness is only comparable to that of the greatest thinkers of humanity.

Nowadays it isn’t rare to hear politicians — even the most anti-socialist ones — quote Lenin, or brag about having read his works. Evidently we cannot take their word for it, but it is nevertheless a good measure of the importance of Lenin’s thought, and of the vast practical consequences of his actions in our current historical context.

For national liberation movements, whose task is to make a revolution that modifies radically and by the most appropriate means the economic, political, social and cultural situation of their peoples, Lenin’s thought and action are of particular interest.

But Lenin left behind more than just his works. He was, and continues to be, a living example of a fighter for the cause of humanity, for the economic — and therefore national, social, and cultural — liberation of man. His entire life and his conduct as a human personality contain useful lessons for all of us fighting for national liberation. Among these lessons, we deem most relevant to the struggle those that relate to moral behavior, to political action, and to revolutionary strategy and practice.

When it comes to struggles for national liberation in general — and particularly in conditions such as ours — the moral conduct of fighters, particularly that of their leadership, becomes a primary factor that can significantly influence the success or failure of the entire movement. It is evident that the struggle is essentially political, but the political, economic and social circumstances — the historical circumstances in which the movement is structured and developed — give the problems of moral nature a heightened importance. This is mainly due to weaknesses inherent to national liberation movements in the colonies: the opportunism or the potential for opportunism that characterize them, the levers and tricks available to the imperialist enemy, as well as the fact that it is difficult or even impossible for the masses to exert effective control over the movement and its leaders.

In the liberation movement, as in any other human endeavor, irrespective of specific material and social factors that condition its evolution, man — his mentality, his behavior — is the essential and determining element.

Lenin was an example of coherence within oneself and of coherence between words and deeds. He was able to remain, through all stages of personal growth, true to himself, in his decisions and in his actions. These always corresponded to his words, because he knew to reject pandering phraseology and demagoguery.

Lenin was an example of honesty, of integrity, of sincerity, and of courage. He always put strict observance of moral duty and justice ahead of personal comforts, he rejected lies and practiced truth regardless of whatever consequences or issues that came with it.

As a complete human being, Lenin knew how to love and how to hate. He loved the cause of man’s liberation from all kinds of oppression, the wonderful adventure that is human life, everything beautiful and constructive on Earth. He hated the enemies of man’s progress and happiness, the class enemy, opportunists, cowardice, lies, and all the factors which demean the social and moral conscience of man. He always considered man the supreme value of the Universe. His dedication to children has become legendary because, for him, these delicate and so often misunderstood beings, innocent victims of the exploitation of man by man, are the flowers of humanity, the hope and certainty that in life justice will triumph.

The struggle for national liberation is, as we have already said, a political struggle that can take various forms, according to the specific circumstances in which it unfolds. In our specific case, towards the liberation and progress of our people, we exhausted all the peaceful means at our disposal, in order to lead Portuguese colonialists to a radical modification of their policy. This only meant more repression and crimes. Therefore we decided to take up arms, to fight against the attempted genocide of our people, determined to be free, to be masters of our own destiny.

The fact that we wage an armed liberation struggle in no way changes the essentially political character of our struggle. On the contrary, it accentuates it. Now, there isn’t and there cannot be political action, in any form, without well-defined principles, whether they are good or bad.

On the political level, Lenin was an example of fidelity to principles. He knew to make concessions on certain claims and certain actions, but never on principles, especially when it came to defending the interests of the class and the nation he represented. This practice was consequential with an internationalism devoid of conditions, timidity, or reservations.

He gave us a lesson in realism, with a clear vision of political possibility and opportunity, which found maximum expression in the decision to unleash the October 1917 insurrection, despite the enormous difficulties involved in overcoming a somewhat well-founded hesitant opposition; a lesson in how to stay the course while leading political action, borne out in relentless combat against all deviations, whether his enemies came from the “left” or the “right.”

Overcoming the vulgar conception according to which politics is “the art of the possible,” Lenin demonstrated that it is, rather, the art of transforming what is apparently impossible into a possibility, making possible the impossible, categorically rejecting opportunism. Thus defined, political action implies permanent creativity. In politics as in art, there’s more to creation than invention.

Lenin’s action is characterized by great constructive flexibility. For each problem, at each step of the struggle, even in its direst moments, he knew how to identify the positive side in order to seize the advantages and advance the fight. In this context, as in others, he persevered through every challenge.

Lenin, who considered that “the facts are stubborn,” was as stubborn as facts. He trusted the opinion of others because he knew that fighters need to rely on each other, but he also knew how to change his mind when reason — the scientific truth — was not on his side.

He was rigorous and even violent when criticizing not only his opponents but also his allies when they went astray. Lenin’s practice of self-criticism was exemplary. He knew how to recognize his errors and praise the feats of others, even those of his fiercest opponents; and yet when it came to class enemies and the opponents of revolution, his severity knew no limits.

Lenin always demonstrated unlimited confidence in the capacity of the masses. That said, he was able to clearly demonstrate why they should never act anarchically, without a well-designed plan that corresponded to the concrete possibilities for action. For him, the masses should never be acephalic. [1]

When it comes to the national liberation movement in general, as in any given confrontation, peaceful or not, it is vital to discover the general laws of the struggle and act on the basis of a general plan conceived and elaborated from the concrete reality of the environment and the factors present. This means that any liberation movement needs a strategy.

In the elaboration of this strategy it is necessary to be able to distinguish what is primary from what is secondary, what is permanent from what is temporary. Strategy and tactics should never be confused. Action must be based on a scientific conception of reality, no matter how many subjective factors have to be taken into account.

In this domain Lenin also gave liberation movements and freedom fighters a very useful lesson. He had a clear awareness that unity was a necessary means, but not an end in itself. For Lenin, no matter how just the cause, it wasn’t a matter of uniting everyone around it, of achieving absolute unity, of undiscerning unity with everybody. Unity, like anything else that is real, is subject to quantitative transformations, both positive and negative. The challenge is to discover what is the sufficient degree of unity that can trigger the fight and ensure its victorious advance, and then, afterwards, remain united against all forces of division or dissolution, both external and internal.

On the other hand, Lenin was deeply aware of the need to understand, as best as possible and amid struggle, the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy, as well as our own. The Leninist conception of strategy implies that we must act so as to weaken our enemy and transform his strengths into weaknesses, while simultaneously preserving our strengths and transforming our weaknesses into strengths. This is made possible by the constant and dynamic interplay between theory and practice.

The life of Lenin expresses Paul Langevin’s dialectic in its fullest expression: Thought derives from action and, in conscious man, it must return to action. The implication is that, as Lenin demonstrated, every action must be based on “a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.” According to Lenin, both in the struggle and in any other phenomenon in motion, qualitative transformations take place at the threshold of a certain level of quantitative modifications, which means that the process of struggle evolves in stages, in well-defined phases. It is on this basis and from this perspective that tactics ought to be established. This means that seemingly unacceptable retreats might, at certain times, may be the only way to carry the struggle forward.

No matter one’s sum of theoretical and practical knowledge, every struggle is a new experience. Every struggle therefore implies a certain degree of empiricism, but it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel: invention should be driven by the concrete conditions in which each fight is fought.

Even here Lenin offers lessons: he hated both blind empiricism and dogmas. Critical assimilation of the knowledge and experiences of others is something we ought to do in struggle as in the rest of life. Understanding existing theory, philosophical or scientific, however lucid, is only a starting point for our own thougth and action. The creation of something new requires us to engage in struggle, exhausting our efforts and learning to accept required sacrifices. The struggle comes to life not through words, but through day after day of organized and disciplined action. Lenin’s multiple contributions throughout years of struggle are the result of persistence and integrity, of effort and sacrifice, and of his ability to mobilize necessary forces at the right time and at the right place.

Lenin was conscious of the reality that, in struggle, our own subjectivity is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome: the struggle is made up of successes and failures, of victories and defeats, but it’s always moving forwards; its phases, even when they appear identical, aren’t actually so. This is because the struggle is a process and not a series of accidents, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. Defeat therefore ought not lead to demoralization and resignation. A failure might teach the lesson that ends up forming the basis for the victories that follow.

This supersession, however, is only possible if we study and draw lessons from every error, from every positive and negative experience. The truth is that, just as theory without practice is a waste of time, there is no practice of any consequence without theory.

As the principal architect of the October Revolution which forever altered the destiny not only of the Russian people but of all of humanity; the creator of the first socialist State; the supreme leader of the Revolution in the ancient Tsarist colonies; a student of the theory and practice of the delicate National Question in the land of the Soviets; the militant catalyst of of the international workers’ movement — Lenin made his mark in history, in this the century and in the future of mankind, with his revolutionary attitude. The legacy he bequeaths to the generations that succeeded him is both one of a kind and full of lessons. For the liberation movements, Lenin’s most valuable contribution was this one: he definitively demonstrated that oppressed peoples can free themselves and overcome all obstacles, and construct for themselves a life of justice, dignity, and progress.

I’d hope that, regardless of tendency or political persuasion, every authentic liberation movement endeavors to study Lenin’s lessons and examples, both as inspiration for their own thought and action as well as a moral and intellectual behavioral guide for its leadership. In fact, as pertains to the struggle against imperialism in general and if we take into account the contradictions that characterize the current relationships between these movements and other anti-imperialist efforts, it would be neither fair nor objective to limit this hope only to national liberation movements.

What is now happening to Lenin’s doctrine has, in the course of history, happened repeatedly to the theories of revolutionary thinkers and leaders of oppressed classes or nations fighting for emancipation. During the lifetime of great revolutionaries, the oppressing classes constantly hounded them, received their theories with the most savage malice, the most furious hatred and the most unscrupulous campaigns of lies and slander. After their death, attempts are made to convert them into harmless icons, to canonize them, so to say, and to hallow their names to a certain extent for the “consolation” of the oppressed classes and nations. In order to dupe them, they rob the revolutionary theory of its substance, blunt its revolutionary edge, and vulgarize it.

Today, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists, within both the labour and the national liberation movements, concur in this “framing” of Leninism. They omit, obscure, or distort the revolutionary side of this theory, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable, even convenient, to the bourgeoisie and to the imperialists.

The reader must have already noticed that what they have just read is a paraphrase of part of a very polished statement of Lenin’s referring to Marx. [2] We modified the names and adapted the discourse to the essential reality of the history of our day: the life-and-death struggle against imperialism. We have to admit that this discourse applies perfectly to Lenin himself, especially when we consider what he wrote about imperialism and the struggle against imperialist rule.

Without pretentiously or audaciously attempting to re-state Lenin’s doctrine regarding the national liberation movement, we would like, however, to highlight certain aspects that seem important to us — especially for those who fight for the liberation and progress of their peoples.

Lenin demonstrated very clearly that the national liberation movement, which has gained serious momentum since the beginning of this century, is not an unprecedented historical fact. On all continents, both in progressive and regressive epochs, there were not only tribal or ethnic liberation struggles but also national liberation struggles. The peoples of ancient Indochina and other regions of Asia; of Mexico, Bolivia and other countries of the American continent; Greece, the Balkans in general, even Portugal, in Europe; Egypt, East Africa and West Africa — just to mention some — all have their own legacies of struggle for national liberation.

These movements, whether they suffered victories or defeats, existed; they left indelible traces in their peoples, no matter where their societies were historically situated in the stages of the economic and political evolution of humanity.

However, here we must avoid some confusion. Lenin demonstrated that the Roman Empire, for example, did not express the same historical reality as the British Empire. Both express what seems to be an inevitabile constant of relationships between human societies: they pursued the political subjugation and economic exploitation of peoples or nations as foreign states — or, what redounds to the same thing, as foreign ruling classes.

It is clear that Charlemagne was not and could not be Caesar or Attila, but it is even more evident that any imperialist head of state is not, and cannot be, the Ghana of the African empire that bears his name, nor an emperor of the Ming family, nor a Cortez, conqueror of the Americas, nor the tsar of the Russians. In the same way and for the same reasons, imperialist banks and monopolies are not the old associations of merchants of Venice or the Hanseatic League.

Lenin demonstrated that the struggle for liberation against the domination of a military aristocracy (tribal or ethnic), against feudal rule, and even against the foreign capitalist rule of the time of free competition capitalism, is not the same historical reality as the struggle of national liberation against imperialism, against the economic and political domination of monopolies, against financial capitalism’s colonialism and neo-colonialism. It must be evident to everyone today that the appearance of imperialism has undergone a profound and irreversible transformation in the national liberation movement, which now defines itself as the natural and necessary resistance to imperialist rule.

By defining the internal and external characteristics of imperialism — completely unrestrained capitalism, the result of the concentration of financial capital in a handful of companies of half a dozen countries, the insatiable domination of monopolies — Lenin simultaneously characterized its adversary, the national liberation movement, outlining its irreversible transformations in shape and content, and scientifically predicting the general line of its evolution.

The merit of having revealed, and even predicted, the essential realities of the struggle of our day, belongs to Lenin, because his analysis went to the root of the imperialist reality, and of the general struggle against it.

With his brilliant criticism, Lenin clarified the essentially economic character of imperialism, studied its internal and external characteristics, and its economic, political and social implications, both inside and outside of the capitalist world. He highlighted its strengths and weaknesses, for by then imperialism was not just a reality but an era, and thus provided new insights into the evolution of humanity.

Geographically situating the imperialist phenomenon within a well-defined part of the world; distinguishing the economic factor from its political or political-social ramifications, all without losing track of the dynamic inter-dependence between these two aspects of the same phenomenon; and characterizing the relations of imperialism with the rest of the world, Lenin objectively situated both imperialism and the struggle for national liberation in their true historical coordinates. He thus established, definitively, the difference and the fundamental links between imperialism and imperialist rule.

Lenin’s analysis reveals itself to be, in this way, a realistic encouragement, a powerful weapon for the further and many-sided development of the national liberation struggle. And yet the contribution that this analysis makes to the evolution of this same movement goes even further.

We could say that if Marx discovered the anatomy or pathological anatomy of capitalism — especially in his main work, Capital — Lenin’s work on imperialism could be considered a pre-autopsy of dying capitalism. It is no exaggeration to say that for him the moment that financial capital achieves total economic and political domination, when monopolies consolidate in some countries and materialize abroad through the partitioning of the world — especially in Africa with the monopoly of the colonies — capitalism, as it had been defined previously, becomes a body in putrefaction.

A study, even a superficial one, of the contemporary economic history of the main capitalist countries (and perhaps even the least important ones), reveals that the tenacious struggle between financial capital (represented by monopolies and banks) and free competition capital is usually settled by the victory of the former. This is imperialism.

We must therefore attest that Lenin was right: capitalism creates imperialism, and thus sows the seeds of its own destruction. Imperialism has killed and continues to kill capitalism. In fact, it was the profound transformations carried out in the relations of forces in the context of free competition that led to monopolies, to the gigantic accumulation of private financial capital within certain countries, and, as a consequence of this, to the political domination of these countries by monopolies, which turned them into imperialist countries. This new situation is the origin of an irresolvable conflict, sometimes covert sometimes overt, sometimes “peaceful” and sometimes violent, between imperialist countries. According to their relative degree of development of productive forces, they compete to obtain raw materials and conquer new markets, pursuing the insatiable realization of surplus value for financial capital.

Based on this lucid and realistic analysis, it was only natural that Lenin would draw important conclusions regarding the development of the struggle against imperialism.

Among these conclusions, these seem to us extremely consequential:

  • The unbridled accumulation of financial capital and the victory of monopolies as the last phase of the private appropriation of the means of production — with the worsening of the contradiction between this appropriation and the social character of productive work — have created the conditions conducive to the revolution, which will progressively end the capitalist regime, currently represented by imperialism.
  • It is possible, necessary, and urgent to wage revolution; if not in several countries, at least in one, especially at a time when the characteristic aggressiveness of imperialism manifests itself in a war between capitalist countries for a new partitioning of the world (World War I).
  • The creation of a socialist state will strike a decisive blow to imperialism and will open new perspectives for the development of the international labor movement and the national liberation movement.
  • A new armed confrontation between the imperialist-capitalist states is possible, because the hypothesis of ultra-imperialism or super-imperialism, which would resolve the contradictions between the imperialist states, “is as utopian as that of ultra-agriculture.” This confrontation will inevitably weaken imperialism (World War II). Thus, more favorable conditions will be created for the development of forces whose historical destiny is to destroy imperialism: the installation of socialist power in new countries, the reinforcement of the international labor movement and the national liberation movement.
  • The oppressed peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are necessarily called upon to play a decisive role in the fight for the liquidation of the world imperialist system, of which they are the main victims.

These conclusions of Lenin’s, explicitly or implicitly contained in his work devoted to imperialism, and confirmed by contemporary history, are another remarkable contribution to the thought and action of the liberation movement.

Whether Marxist or not, Leninist or not, it’s hard to imagine someone not recognizing the validity and even the genius character of Lenin’s analysis and conclusions, which reveal themselves to be of an immense historical scope. Lenin illuminates with fruitful clarity the often thorny and sometimes even dark path of the peoples who fight for their total liberation from imperialist domination.

  1. Headless. 

  2. V. I. Lenin, 1917. The State and Revolution. [web]