By Rufus Tyler


Portugal is a small country in Southwestern Europe with about 10.8 million people (2017 estimate) the median age is 42.2. It's about a third the size of New Zealand. It borders Spain and the Atlantic Ocean. Since joining the then European Community in 1986 the economy has become increasingly service-oriented. Over that time neoliberalism has unleashed a series of reforms like privatisation that have resulted in increasingly precarious working conditions. In 2011 it received a rescue package from the IMF bringing Austerity measures that pushed emigration to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Guinea-Bissau (formerly Portuguese Guinea) is a small country in West Africa. It borders Senegal, Guinea-Conakry and the Atlantic. It is slightly bigger than an 8th the size of New Zealand. 1.8 million people live there(July 2017 estimate). The median age is 20.1 years. Narco-trafficking is probably the most profitable industry, officially cashew nuts are the main export. It is largely agrarian. “Cashew sector performance helps to determine the overall macroeconomic situation of the country and food security status of rural areas. In 2013 cashew production and exports were disrupted as a result of the March 2012 coup. Guinea-Bissau is heavily reliant on foreign aid, which has not recovered to pre-coup levels”. (CIA World Factbook 2015) There have been five Prime Ministers since August 2015.

Angola is located in Southern Africa, bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the DRC, the Republic of the Congo, Namibia and Zambia. It is over four and a half times the size of New Zealand. 29.3 million people live there (July 2017 estimate). The median age is 15.9 years. Angola's Cabinda province is an exclave, separated from the rest of the country by a narrow strip of land 37 kilometres wide that gives the DRC access to the sea. Cabinda is oil-rich, in the past foreign-backed insurgents have tried to break away. Cabinda is responsible for half of Angola's oil production, the second most important in Africa(after Nigeria).

Cabinda Province is in Central Africa. It is roughly two and a half percent the size of New Zealand (7,270 Sq Km) with approximately 600,000 people living there. Most of the population speak French. Cabinda was fully integrated into Portuguese Angola in the 1920s. During the colonial wars two different, local rebel groups operated there, they eventually merged and called themselves the Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda. Following the Carnation Revolution, the FLEC declared an independent republic, this prompted the Angolan Armed Forces to invade. There was a protracted, low-intensity war until a 2006 ceasefire. Splinter groups carried out attacks until 2010.  The CIA has been the main sponsor of separatists here. 

Mozambique (formerly Portuguese East Africa) is in Southeastern Africa, it is on the Mozambique Channel (on the Indian Ocean) which separates Africa from Madagascar. It borders Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Swaziland. It is almost three times the size of New Zealand. 26.6 million people live there (July 2017 estimate), the median age is 17.2 years. Almost half the population lives below the poverty line, most of the workforce is engaged in subsistence agriculture. There is some aluminium and hydroelectric production but most of the country doesn't have access to electricity. There is some natural gas extraction, which the government plans to increase dramatically by 2022 - projecting several billion dollars in revenue. Mozambique is a major conduit for the narco trade, getting drugs from Asia and South America which are then shipped to Europe and South Africa.

African Troops in the Portuguese Colonial Army, 1961-1974:Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique

(João Paulo Borges Coelho Eduardo Mondlane University, Maputo, Mozambique):


It is almost a truism to say that the colonisation of the African continent would have been impossible without local collaboration. The stereotyped picture of immensely superior European forces defeating small, fragile and unarticulated African resistances rarely corresponds to the historical truth. Much closer to reality is the picture of European officials able to foster and manage internal contradictions, attracting African forces into their orbit to make them fight other African forces in order to install and preserve the colonial order. In the two world wars of the last century, African troops fought in defence of the colonial powers’ interests both in the African theatre and elsewhere. Particularly after the 1950s, when nationalist movements began to fight for their independence throughout the African continent, African participation in the struggle to preserve the old colonial order acquired considerable importance. Local collaboration was fundamental to guaranteeing the colonial project. Portugal was not an exception in this respect, and often resorted to the recruitment of Africans in her war effort, namely since the so-called“Pacification Campaigns” in the late nineteenth century *

Portugal was the first European country to venture into Africa, their explorers opened up the way for others. Portuguese explorers were the first to round West Africa and the first to round the Cape of Good Hope. The first steps towards the colonisation of Africa were undertaken by Portugal in the 1400s, this was framed at the time as part of the Reconquista effort.

(In 711 an army from North Africa invaded and occupied most of Spain and all of Portugal. This established Muslim rule over the area, first as part of the Caliphate, then later as small independent kingdoms[Taifas]. The Reconquista was the centuries-long conflict between these Muslim rulers and Christian rulers – with peasants of both religions trapped in the middle like pawns. Vast swathes of the frontier were depopulated as the land changed hands three or more times, each time the victorious army would rape and pillage in an orgy of violence. The Caliphate of Cordoba's heyday around the year 1000 marked the high point of Muslim rule in Iberia. By the year 1200 Muslim influence was fast decreasing. The Kingdom of Granada was the last holdout, it was invaded and annexed by the Castillian crown in 1492. The Reconquista was a holy war – like crusaders of the time, participants were forgiven their sins.

Urban II, Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, according to Fulcher of Chartres: "All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.” )

Portugal carried this crusading spirit to Africa.(....'Prince Henry had the temperament of a Crusader and a missionary. Of him, fully as much as of Columbus, it may be said that if he aimed at empire, it was for the extension of Christendom. Azurara's three final reasons for Henry's explorations all turn upon this. The Prince desired to find out the full strength of the Moors in Africa, "said to be very much greater than commonly supposed," "because every wise man" desires "a knowledge of the power of his enemy." He also "sought to know if there were in those parts any Christian princes" who would aid him against the enemies of the faith. And, lastly, he desired to "make increase in the faith of Jesus Christ, and to bring to Him all the souls that should be saved." ' The Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea Vol. II  Gomes Eannes de Azurara[1899])

 “Factories” and forts were set up on the coast as service stops on the way to India. These forts would go on to become the nucleus of the Portuguese colonies in Africa. They were a source of gold, and more importantly, a source of slaves for Brazil. Because of superior boat-building techniques (the most advanced in late 1400s Europe) Portuguese authority was strongest on the coast, only traders went into the interior. Before the Berlin Conference (1885) control over a colony usually amounted to keeping trade routes open.

The Portuguese crown achieved this through a three-tiered system. The first line troops were a small regular army, mostly recruited from “assimilated” locals. They remained near the coast. The second line was made up of the personal armies of loyal chiefs. A local militia was the third line. From the earliest days, Portugal relied on local soldiers. Towards the end of the Wars of Liberation over half the men fighting for Portugal were locals. This caused a problem after independence – in Guinea over 7500 former Portuguese soldiers were killed.


Although Portugal was an imperial power, it was also a semi-colony of England. From the early seventeen-hundreds onward Britain propped up the decaying Portuguese Empire in exchange for favourable trading rights and international support against its enemies, France and Spain. The ruling classes became entwined with and indebted to British financial capital.

This meant that Portugal ended up being the most backward country in Western Europe, its colonies were even less developed. Guinea-Bissau was the least advanced part of the empire. Lack of investment plus scarce arable land added up to tough conditions for peasants; between 1941 and 1948 50,000 people died of starvation. In 1960 there were only 14 native university graduates, one of these was Amilcar Cabral. Cabral was born in 1924 to a schoolteacher and a shopkeeper. Cabral studied agronomy in Lisbon where he was exposed to Marxism as interpreted by Stalinist sects of the time – like the French communist party of the time, they did not support the self-determination of the colonies. He became a key leader in the struggle for independence.

After he returned to Guinea in 1951, he began to organise. Like many others, he became disillusioned with the first round of decolonisation when foreign administrators were replaced by pro-imperialist governments. It showed that formal independence was not true emancipation. This sentiment pushed the existing independence movement to the left. Cabral was part of a small group of petty-bourgeois who had been exposed to radical ideas while studying. Many of them were part of the lower-paid levels of the civil service and were receptive to revolutionary ideas. In 1956 Cabral and his brother, Luis, set up the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC). At first, it tried to pressure Lisbon with mass protests with some success.

The Portuguese administration increased repression in response to later protests instead of granting more concessions. One strike by dockers was met by the massacre of 50 port workers. This event in particular changed Cabral's outlook. The PAIGC took up arms and began an armed struggle for independence.

Guinea was a mostly rural country, with a very small proletariat, this meant that it was necessary to involve the peasants in the struggle. The PAIGC set up administrative divisions in the countryside and then went about taking over those areas by taking on governmental roles like providing public services and collecting taxes. It was able to rule effectively over most of the country because it was welcomed to some extent by the population. The party built roads and schools in neglected parts of the country. Cabral once said that the PAIGC itself had had to create the Guinean proletariat. The party had raised class consciousness and encouraged the growth of the working class by investing in infrastructure - creating more jobs and workers.

Guinea's terrain is mostly low-lying and swampy, crisscrossed by many waterways, there was a lot of forest cover. The location was well-suited to guerrilla warfare featuring ambushes, hit and run tactics and strikes behind enemy lines. The metropolitan army was at a disadvantage because of a lack of local intel and its reliance on fixed positions. Portugal's mostly recruit army had a desertion problem. By contrast, the PAICG was well motivated. Captured Portuguese soldiers were well treated, given medical treatment and instructed in how the class struggle related to them. This sympathetic handling by the nationalists inspired former POWs to quit fighting and tell their fellow soldiers about it. In Guinea the PAICG never targeted civilians

Portugal suffered from a manpower shortage because it was a source of labour for Western Europe and a source of migrants to the Americas – this had a dramatic effect on an already small country. These factors were a big part of why the Portuguese implemented the Africanisation policy. Other important considerations were reducing politically sensitive casualties and financing the war effort. The policy was implemented in different ways in different locations: in Guinea, the newly raised troops were almost a copy of the metropolitan army( the local commanding general probably wanted a Lusophone federation post-independence). In Angola the troops were more irregular, mirroring the rebels' tactics. In Mozambique, there was a combination of both strategies. The differences were caused not just by the variations of local conditions and terrain, but also by the commanding officer's outlook.  

In Southern Africa, the Portuguese used San (bushmen) people, first as scouts and later as regulars, against the majority Bantu population. In Eastern Angola, they received a group of Congolese gendarmes as refugees in 1967, by 1969 they had been organised into an anti-Mobutu force - the Front for National Liberation of Congo. They were supported by the Portuguese government with training, supplies and political supervision in exchange for participating in the “Overseas War” (project Fidelidade “Fidelity”). Despite ill-discipline – featuring frequent rioting and widespread desertions – they were some of the most effective anti-insurgency troops in that theatre. In Southern Angola, dissident Zambian ANC members were used in a similar way (Operation Colt) from 1968 onwards. Angola saw the wholesale use of irregular troops, unprecedented anywhere else in the Portuguese empire, because of a number of reasons: it was a larger theatre of operations, the Portuguese had trouble replacing soldiers whose tour of duty had finished, there were financial considerations, and the independence movement had split into three factions. These factions spent as much time fighting each other as they did the Portuguese. Deserters from these groups often joined the colonial forces, there were a lot of turned guerrillas in Angola. The local commanding general, Costa Gomes, had a good relationship with the secret police (the PIDE - International and State Defense Police) that allowed him to shift the burden to African troops, unlike other generals. The colonial authorities also wanted to put pressure on Zambia and Congo.

In Guinea local militias (who were Portuguese) were in charge of the security of the population, freeing up the expeditionary force for offensive operations. General Spinola tried to organise his African soldiers along the same lines as the metropolitan army. He recruited elite “special militias” from existing militias but could not raise as many men as he wanted because higher-ups in Europe were concerned about having so many trained, armed people in the country. To tie his hands the funding for the militias was centralised – beyond the general's control.

By contrast, Mozambique was late to the party. There was a combination of methods used, some had parallels in the other theatres, but some were unique to Mozambique such as the collaboration between colonial and Rhodesian authorities to form units of African scouts. In Mozambique, the Portuguese Armed Forces (PAF) were responsible for many atrocities. Their strategy consisted of denying aid and supplies to the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), tactics included torture, massacres and forced relocation. Between 750,000 and a million people were forced to move into fortified camps. Between 6 and 8 percent of them died due to bad conditions including disease and starvation. Portuguese settlers felt that the PAF were ineffective and disorganised and turned to mercenaries for security. As their hopes for a Portuguese victory dwindled, they set out to forge an alliance with the African elite; both parties had a lot to lose in case of a FRELIMO victory.

The use of different tactics in different countries showed that beyond broad strategic outlines the most important factors were local conditions and local commanders. Costa Gomes, in Angola, was the most successful, he tried to win over the civilian population, and used African troops in a counter-insurgency role. General Spinola in Guinea used his local troops in a “more political and psycho-social” fashion. General Kaúlza (Mozambique), the most conservative of the three, feared using irregular African troops who were outside his strict command.

Whatever their own, personal views were, by the end of the Liberation Wars, it was accepted that Africanisation was the only way to sustain Portugal's imperial project. According to the Chief-of-Staff African troops were more useful as far as cost and military efficiency went, as well as being more politically convenient. He thought that if they operated out of fortified villages they could go on fighting forever. He proposed reducing the number of metropolitan troops and freeing up the rules concerning the funding for local troops – the rules that had prevented Costa Gomes from raising as many soldiers as he wanted. In real world terms the Chief-of-Staff was setting up the conditions for civil war after independence. 

The Portuguese High Command was determined to hold on to its remaining colonies. An increasingly larger share of GDP was being devoted to the military. It had a marked effect on a small, under-developed economy – it meant ever-worsening conditions for workers. The armed forces had low morale and suffered from a desertion problem. Many young men who were eligible chose to migrate or to become guest workers instead of waiting to be conscripted. On April 25th 1974 things came to a head. A group of junior army officers overthrew the government. The “Estado Novo'' regime had been in power since 1933 when it was set up by dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. It was the longest-lived extreme right-wing administration in Europe.

Tanks rolled through Lisbon and conservative news sources feared it was only the beginning of an overthrow of capitalism. Caetano, Salazar's successor, urged general Spinola to take power, “or hand it over to the mob”. Caetano's overthrow emboldened the workers: the ruling class was no longer able to use the existing institutions to defend itself. 

The new government began talks with nationalist African rebels immediately, the military and most settlers pulled out within a year. Capital flight and brain drain followed and that helped to destabilise the new republics.

Workers' Councils were set up, a wave of strikes and occupations coursed through Portugal. Revolutionary fervour spread to the armed forces. The working class was primed to take over, what was missing was a revolutionary party with a clear program – the Socialist Party leader, Mario Soares, said he favoured a “A front of national unity, an alliance of many forces. And so you will see conservatives, Catholics, liberals, Socialists, and Communists all working together in the new civilian administration. ” Even “moderate” fascists were included. The socialist party was out of touch with the masses, it was “a shell of a party comprised of a handful of lawyers”. Even so, it grew rapidly during this period, becoming a genuine force. 'The CP leader Cunhal took not a Bolshevik, but a Menshevik position, "We need a union of all political movements to strengthen democracy in Portugal. United we shall crush the last of fascism and create a free democratic society.”' The socialists and the communists both rushed into a coalition led by Spinola. They believed that Socialism was only possible in the “far, distant future”

The government lasted four months – the Prime Minister and four minister-capitalists resigned. Soares described it as a “counter-coup”. The right-wing demanded that the socialists and communists be kicked out of the ruling coalition. The Bonapartist Spinola knew that he needed the SP and the CP to keep the masses pacified. Spinola promised liberty to the workers while at the same time telling the bosses that 'he would crush all “abuses of liberty”' The SP and the CP joined in condemning these “abuses” - occupations and strikes – as “far-left adventurism'. The workers rejected this line, the result was that both parties were forced further to the left. The SP became a Marxist party, unburdened by links to the Russian revolution, it ended up taking a position far to the left of the CP. Despite discussing nationalisation at their conference, all their talk amounted to nothing. It gave the reactionaries time to regroup, Spinola attempted a coup but his troops were won over to the workers' side. Bank workers occupied the banks and demanded their nationalisation – the banks were nationalised in one week. Eventually, thanks to the actions of the workers, three-quarters of the economy were nationalised. (The banks were intricately linked with other sectors of the economy)

This wasn't enough, what was needed was Workers' Democracy. Without it, it was only a matter of time before the reactionaries rallied. After surviving the March 1975 counter-coup, the Communist Party saw a chance to consolidate its position in local councils and trade unions. The Armed forces Movement also shifted to the left. Instead of demanding elected officers, the arming of the working class and the like, the CP looked to the radicalised officers to make an alliance, hoping to set themselves up in a privileged position in a new bureaucratic regime.

In the end, the Carnation Revolution was derailed by reformist and Stalinist leaders. The revolution came to an end in April 1976, when elections delivered a minority Socialist government. They entered a coalition with a right-wing party. This marked the Socialist party's sharp turn to the right, starting on the economic track that Portugal follows to this day.       

In Angola the war for independence had been contested between the Portuguese and three insurgent factions. The war continued after independence, it was fought as a proxy war, a part of the larger Cold War of the time. The main faction was the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), backed by the USSR and the Cubans. The Americans backed Holden Roberto and his Front for the National Liberation of Angola (F.N.L.A.). Jonas Savimbi lead the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). He was trained in China in waging a “People's War”, he got support wherever he could, some limited aid from China, a few mercenaries paid for by blood diamonds. After becoming disillusioned with Maoism he became an ardent anti-communist, he turned to apartheid South Africa for support.( I think Maoists are quite naive, they get all fired up expecting to shoot the government to death, when regular people ignore them and don't take up arms, they lose heart. The government has far more firepower, plus air support and extensive intelligence/surveillance networks as well, the armed struggle is a dead end. In Latin America Che's adventurism achieved nothing but the early death of many promising young comrades and increased repression – much harsher than it would have been otherwise. Military adventurism gave the ruling class an excuse for murdering and disappearing regular people like union reps and schoolteachers, it allowed them to murder indiscriminately without repercussions because the insurgency gave them cover in the international press for all those deaths )

The civil war in Angola continued for twenty-five years, by the late eighties Cuba had committed 50,000 soldiers. It was the USSR's last interventionist hurrah. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of minority rule in South Africa, the war in Angola lost its international relevance. Around this time the American backed rebels (FNLA) dropped out of the conflict. The war ended in 2002 when Savimbi was killed in an armed confrontation with government (MPLA) troops. Despite the vast mineral wealth and income from oil royalties, the country still hasn't recovered.

Two years after FRELIMO assumed power in Mozambique a civil war broke out. The Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) was backed by the intelligence services of South Africa and Rhodesia. They resented the government banning opposition parties and its persecution of people who had benefited from colonial rule. RENAMO's first recruits were FRELIMO dissident elites. The conflict went on for 15 years. In the beginning, the rebels were a small volunteer force. After the fall of the Rhodesian government in 1980, there was a change in tactics. Over time RENAMO's hallmark became forced recruitment, systematic violence against civilians and a plunder economy. The rebels “engaged in scorched-earth tactics targeting all government-provided or enabled services; it is estimated that 40% of Mozambique’s agricultural, communications, and administration infrastructure was destroyed.” (

Both sides used forced relocation and fortified villages. As the war raged on Mozambique's resources were destroyed or rendered useless. By 1989 there was little left to support the war effort. Both sides were reliant on their foreign backers. In 1988 the US and South Africa cut their covert support for RENAMO. Between 1989 and 1991 East German, Zimbabwean and Soviet support for FRELIMO dried up. Peace talks followed but RENAMO repeatedly flouted the ceasefire for 2 years. They did this to get payments for sticking to the peace process. The war was resolved through negotiation. Residual RENAMO forces continued a low-level insurgency until 2016.

Final analysis: restricting the revolution to one, small, backward country and the influence of Stalinism doomed Guinea to return to the capitalist sphere of influence. Cabral himself was aware of this and tried to forge links with his counterparts in the other Portuguese colonies, by the time he reached out factional infighting was too ingrained to foster cooperation.

In regards to Sevimbi: Correct thinking and the right ideology are critical, going down the wrong path can be downright counter-revolutionary. Savimbi's example is a clear indictment of Maoist ideology and methods. Only Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist democratic centralism can show the masses the way to a socialist society successfully.

The Angolan and Mozambican nationalist movements failed to bring prosperity to their countries because they did not have a clear plan for transitioning to a socialist society. The people's struggle was derailed by infighting made worse by foreign meddling. The war for independence and the ensuing civil wars were entangled in the larger geopolitics of the time.

The failure of the Carnation Revolution is best summed up in In 1974 "capitalism was dead" in Portugal, only the leaders of the workers' parties were able to revive it.

Not for the first or last time, the responsibility for the failure of the socialist revolution lay with the leaders of reformism and Stalinism.

With their assistance, the capitalist class was able to gradually reconstruct its state machine, transfer ownership of the economy back into private hands, even organise a new political party and eventually win a national election again.

Additional Sources:

*J.P.BORGES COELHO,PORTUGUESE STUDIES REVIEW 10(1)(2002):129-501 Paper presented at the Portuguese/African Encounters: An Interdisciplinary Congress, BrownUniversity, Providence MA, April 26-29, 2002. An earlier version focusing on the Mozambican casewas presented at the Second Congress of African Studies in the Iberian World, held in Madrid, Spain,in 15-18 September 1999, and was published as João Paulo Borges Coelho, “Tropas negras na guerracolonial: O caso de Moçambique,” in José Ramón Trujillo, ed., Africa hacia el siglo XXI (Madrid: SialEdiciones, Colección Casa de África 12, 2001)*

Amílcar Cabral and the African Revolution

Arturo Rodríguez 25 May 2016

The Portuguese Revolution 

Alan Woods  28 November 2006

Worker's history: Portuguese Revolution of 1974 

Phil Mitchinson  25 April 2019

CIA World Factbook 2015

CIA World Factbook 2018-2019

Mozambique: war of independence


Additional notes:

MFA, AFM (Armed Forces Movement): Group of junior officers who became disgruntled with the government's handling of the colonial wars. They were left-leaning and somewhat open to revolutionary ideas. They were responsible for bringing down the Estado Novo regime and for withdrawing troops from the African colonies. They eventually formed a national unity government that organised elections in 1976. (the working class lost that election)