On Roots, Shadows, and Victories

A review of Firoze Manji and Bill Fletcher, Jr. (eds), Claim No Easy Victories: The Legacy of Amílcar Cabral, new edition (Wakefield: Daraja Press, 2024).

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, Québec-based publisher Daraja Press has released a new edition of Claim No Easy Victories, an anthology dedicated to the legacy of the Bissau-Guinean and Cape Verdean revolutionary Amílcar Cabral. The publication marked another, much more somber anniversary: the assassination of Cabral fifty years ago.

The original edition of the book, edited by Daraja Press founder Firoze Manji together with Bill Fletcher, Jr., appeared in 2013. Since then, five of the contributors have passed away: Samir Amin, Perry Mars, Carlos Schwarz da Silva, Helmi Sharawy, and Jean Pierre Idrissa Benoit Diouf. The book is dedicated to them as well as to four women who we were lost in the space of only a few months in 2023; women, as Manji writes, “whose contribution to the struggle for human emancipation is not always given sufficient acknowledgment”: Mukami Kimathi, Ama Ata Aidoo, Micere Githae Mugo, and Muthoni wa Kirima.

It is notoriously difficult to review anthologies, and it doesn’t become easier when they contain no less than forty-one articles, two prefaces, and an afterword. Readers will pick and choose according to their interests. Those with the time to read everything will gain an extremely comprehensive view of Cabral, who Nigel C. Gibson, in his contribution to the book, calls “a theorist on par with Frantz Fanon”.

From different angles, the contributors address Cabral’s role as a revolutionary leader, political theorist, and pan-African icon. Cabral’s most famous notions, such as “class suicide”, “researching our African roots”, and “tell no lies, claim no easy victories” (which the anthology’s title borrows from) are thoroughly examined. This new edition contains four new contributions, and the (extensive) bibliography was updated.

One of the most important aspects of the book for readers like myself – writing these lines on a cold, gray day in Stockholm, Sweden – is pointedly summarized by Manji in the preface to the new edition, when stating the following with regard to Cabral, Africa, and the world at large: “There is little doubt that his writings and thinking are of importance for the continent, but what is disappointing is how rarely they are referred to in the radical literature from the ’Global North’ – i.e., from the imperial heartlands.”

While interest in the towering revolutionary figures of twentieth-century Africa has certainly increased in recent years with the “efforts … to renew Pan-Africanism and, in fact, generate a twenty-first century Pan-Africanism”, it is true that, in the Global North, this often remains reduced to “paying respect” to what people have done half a century ago in far-away places. Rarely does the discussion turn to how what they have done can inform revolutionary struggles today on a global scale. Some of the contributions to Claim No Easy Victories show that this is utterly possible; perhaps, most notably, Maria Poblet’s article “Revolutionary Democracy, Class-Consciousness, and Cross-Class Movement Building”.

As various contributors to Claim No Easy Victories point out, romanticizing revolutionary figures of the past is not what honors them, and the danger of exotification is always looming. What honors these figures is to continue their legacy in practice. To “de-NGOize” activism is an important aspect of this, as Wangui Kimari points out in his piece “On Shooting the Body and Not the Shadow” (based on another famous Cabral quote). It is also important to emphasize that practice is not limited to a narrowly defined political realm. As Miguel de Barros and Redy Wilson Lima demonstrate in their contribution, “Rap Kriol(u)”, cultural expression is just as important.

Claim No Easy Victories should be part of any revolutionary library, no matter where.

Gabriel Kuhn

(March 31, 2024)