RENAMO (was Unita)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Dec 31 06:22:38 MST 1999

João Paulo Monteiro:
>RENAMO's guerrilla actions were outrageously brutish and part of a
strategy of
>blind terror, which justified the government calling them "bandidos armados"
>(armed bandits). But the movement has proved to be much more than simple
>puppets of white Rhodesia or South-Africa.

For a sympathetic description of the failings of the Frelimo government, I
recommend comrades to "Confronting Leviathan: Mozambique Since
Independence" by Margaret Hall and Tom Young.

Mozambique's problems were shared by Nicaragua, where the Costa Rican-based
Nicaraguan contras led by ex-FSLN leader Eden Pastora had some legitimacy
in the eyes of liberals and social democrats in the US. Furthermore, even
in the north, where the other faction of the contras were based and were
led by more outright tools of the CIA, there were legitimate grievances
against the government. In "David and Goliath", William Robinson and Kent
Norsworthy describe how failings led to peasant discontent:

At the same time, the dismantling of the Somocista system led to a
breakdown of traditional marketing and supply systems in the countryside,
which had been controlled by a small and unscrupulous class of middlemen
who were closely tied to, and often overlapped with, the latifundistas and
the Somoza clique. They bought crops from the peasants at low prices, and
supplied them with overpriced consumer goods. In many cases they also gave
the peasants usury credit, subjugating them to a vicious cycle of debt. The
middlemen amassed great wealth from the labor of the peasants, but they
also played a key role as intermediaries in rural-urban exchange networks
and in the commercialization of peasant production.

In its effort to eradicate peasant exploitation, the revolutionary
government planned to replace these middlemen with state structures. But
creating the necessary institutions and networks proved more difficult than
anticipated, and was made all the more problematic by the war conditions in
the countryside. In many areas, the war situation led to the rupture of
rural-urban exchange relations, which meant that the peasants could no
longer market their produce or receive essential manufactured goods, such
as boots, machetes, fertilizers, and household items. Again, this rupture
particularly affected the peasants of the agricultural frontier. As a
document circulated within the Ministry of Agricultural Development and
Agrarian Reform (MIDINRA) in early 1985 noted:

"Diverse measures adopted by the Revolution, although they were in pursuit
of just objectives, had the effect of violently rupturing the intricate
commercial exchange networks that articulated the varied and complex
relations structured by the big traders—land barons, who provided usury
credit, bought up future crops, and brought in supplies at speculative
prices. The Revolution’s measures to control this speculative trade,
reduced latifundismo, etc., affected these networks, through which economic
activity in the countryside was organized, and it was not possible to
effectively offer substitute mechanisms."

The problem was exacerbated by administrative disorder. One ministry was
charged with buying peasant crops, another with attempting to set fair
prices, a third with supplying consumer goods, a fourth with selling
production implements, a fifth with supplying state credits, etc. Each
institution developed its own policies, which often clashed with those of
the others; the result was inconsistency and contradictions in the
countryside. The problems were as much due to the government’s having
elaborated policies without having a clear enough understanding of how they
would function in practice as they were the result of the kind of
dislocations a revolution inevitably confronts when trying to build a new

The problem is that Nicaragua, Angola and Mozambique were not allowed to
overcome failings such as these on their own. Low-intensity warfare, which
was quite high to the people on the receiving end, exacerbated tensions
between unhappy peasants and central governments forced to build new
societies under siege.

Many people, especially disaffected Marxists, claim that the defeat of the
Nicaraguan revolution and the messes in Angola and Mozambique, are proof
that socialism does not work. I would argue the opposite. Anglo-American
imperialism was deathly afraid of success in these poor, marginal
countries. Nicaragua, whose gross national product was less than the
American population spends on blue jeans each year, could not survive as an
example of a society based on human need rather than private profit. That
example might be coveted by larger and more powerful nations, such as
Brazil or Mexico. That is why Angola, Mozambique and Nicaragua were punished.

Louis Proyect
Marxism mailing list:

More information about the Marxism mailing list