Angola Table of Contents
Villagers in Benguela Province showing support for the
government at an impromptu rally
Courtesy Richard J. Hough
In addition to a chronic shortage of cadres, the MPLA-PT faced numerous obstacles in its first decade as a ruling body. By late 1988, the MPLA-PT party structure had not yet matured enough to respond temperately to criticism, either from within or from without. Party leaders dealt harshly with their critics, and political participation was still carefully controlled. Impeded by civil war, insurgency, economic problems, and the perception of elitism within its party ranks, the MPLA-PT campaign to mobilize grass-roots support remained in its early stages. Party membership was a prerequisite for effective political action, but channels of entry into the MPLA-PT were constricted by the party's entrenched leadership and centralized authority structure. Critics of the MPLA-PT, in turn, felt that after a quarter-century of warfare, they were being underserved by a large government apparatus that was preoccupied with internal and external security.
Factionalism also slowed the implementation of MPLA-PT programs. Rather than a strong, unified, vanguard leadership, the MPLA-PT presented an elite cadre torn by racial and ideological differences. Racial stratification, the legacy of colonial rule, permeated the party and society, providing a continuous reminder of economic inequities. The MPLA-PT had not established a reputation as a leader in the struggle to end racial discrimination, in part because of its roots among student elites selected by colonial officials. Many early party leaders were mestišos who had studied in Europe; some had married whites and were removed from the cultural background of their African relatives. Moreover, some Angolans still identified Marxist philosophy with European intellectuals rather than African peasants.
Ideological splits also grew within party ranks during the first nine years of dos Santos's regime, overlaying racial divisions. Divergent views on the role of Marxism in Angola produced clashes over domestic and foreign policy. Some African MPLA-PT leaders placed nationalist goals ahead of ideological goals, such as the radical transformation of society, and one of their nationalist goals was the elimination of mestišo domination.
The lines between racial and ideological factions tended to coincide. On the one hand, strong pro-Soviet views were often found among the party's mestišo leaders, who were inclined to view Angola's political situation in terms of revolutionary class struggle. In their eyes, ethnic, regional, and other subnational loyalties were obstacles to political mobilization. Black African party militants, on the other hand, often viewed racial problems as more important than class struggle, and they hoped to shape the MPLA-PT into a uniquely Angolan political structure. For them, Soviet intervention brought new threats of racism and foreign domination. Traditional ethnic group leaders were, in this view, vital to grassroots mobilization campaigns. Race and ideology did not always coincide, however. A few staunch ideologues were black Africans, while a small number of mestišos espoused moderate views and favored nonaligned policies.
Data as of February 1989