In April 1977, after almost two years in power, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) announced their plans for the culture of the new nation. Pitched in military terms, and announced in the document translated for the first time here, the “Cultural Offensive of the Working Classes” drew on Marxist theory to define a revolutionary new culture, and to deploy this culture as a weapon in the ongoing struggle to build a postcolonial, postcapitalist society.

In April 1977, plans were laid out for the culture of an independent, socialist Mozambique. Pitched in military terms and announced in the document translated here, the “Cultural Offensive of the Working Classes” sought to define a new, revolutionary culture for the nation and to deploy this culture as a weapon in the ongoing struggle to build a postcolonial, postcapitalist society.

The announcement, published in the weekly periodical Tempo, came at an intense moment of change, less than two years after the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) had taken power, ending a decade-long struggle with the Portuguese. Still buoyed by the euphoria of independence, yet also facing significant threats from both the nascent Rhodesia-based insurgent group RENAMO and the major challenges to production caused by the rapid departure of the Portuguese, FRELIMO took this moment to stake a decisive geopolitical position. At the Third Party Congress in February 1977, the Front formally announced its transition to a Marxist-Leninist vanguard party (henceforth Frelimo, rather than FRELIMO), along with its “historic mission … to lead, organize, orientate and educate the masses.”1 A huge raft of policies and statements ensued, including strategies for a centralized planned economy and village settlements as well as a position on culture that would prompt and inform the announcement of the Cultural Offensive two months later.

The announcement of the Cultural Offensive begins with a diagnosis of the nation's most urgent problems, namely the legacy of colonial historiography and cultural values, a disunited and disparate population, and the insidious, enduring presence of the bourgeoisie. Pitching culture as a key battleground in the transition from colonization to revolutionary autonomy, the anonymous author turns to historical materialism as a methodology to redress these problems, deploying Marx's understanding of culture as an expression of the superstructure, and hence of class dynamics. Referencing French theorist Louis Althusser's 1970 notion of ideological state apparatus2 to explain the ongoing threat of cultural hegemony in Mozambique, the text ultimately concludes that culture will inevitably reproduce one of two ideologies—that of the reactionary, neo-colonial bourgeoisie, or that of the revolutionary working class. Like many of Frelimo's official statements, the text seeks on these terms to cleave the people from their undesirable “other,” as part of an attempt to define and produce o homem novo, the “new man.” The undesirable is not simply colonialism and capitalism, but a constellation of attributes that include ethnicity, individualism, religion, the sex industry, Western consumer culture, and local authority.

The Cultural Offensive is pitched here as a multipronged campaign that will direct the population toward the correct form of culture through initiatives that will include: seminars and festivals (such as the National Festival of People's Dance in 1978); the establishment of local cultural centers, or casas da cultura, to stimulate and consolidate artistic practice under the guidance of party representatives (grupos dinamizadores, or dynamizing groups); and a major, nationwide survey of existing cultural production. The revolutionary culture that will inevitably emerge from such initiatives, it is argued, will be a key engine of social change that will not simply be reflective of society but will work to reconstruct society on radical new terms.

While Frelimo was not alone in turning to socialism as a resource for rebuilding society in the wake of anticolonial struggle, this deployment of both orthodox and more contemporary Marxist theory to develop a postcolonial cultural policy was in many ways particular to Mozambique. In contrast to approaches such as that of Julius Nyerere, who argued for the indigenous origins of socialist society in precolonial Tanzania, from the early years of anticolonial struggle, FRELIMO's thinkers had advocated for a radical new society, casting local authority and tradition as a counterrevolutionary force. This position on culture has been consolidated in the context of the liberation struggle, intensely discussed during a series of seminars held in Tanzania in the early 1970s, and trialed in the northern liberated zones, where FRELIMO had formed collectives of blackwood sculptors and issued specific directives for artists.3

In many respects, the announcement translated here therefore follows clear, long-established party lines. On closer reading, however, the text also gives insight into some of the major dilemmas and ambiguities that FRELIMO's policymakers were wrestling with at this pivotal moment. While it was agreed that culture should be revolutionary, what was less clear was the form that this culture should take. The text hints at at least three tensions around this question. First, while the Cultural Offensive sought to generate and gather culture from the ground up, it was also issued as a top-down, centralized vision of what that culture should comprise. Second, Frelimo had to navigate a line between an official declaration of international socialist friendship and solidarity and an incumbent need to foster national unity and autonomy from perceived neocolonialism. Finally, the text hints at an ongoing tension around the role and place of tradition. The fact that neither tradition (comprising culture that was seen to be overtly religious, ethnic, or regional) nor colonial culture (understood as art for art's sake and bourgeois, individualist, commercial, or decorative artworks) was to have any place in the new culture of Mozambique raised a particular dilemma for policymakers, who were cognizant that they would nevertheless need to rely on both local practitioners of visual, religious, and performing arts and long-established artists in Maputo as the main body of workers who would build this new culture.

One solution to the latter problem was a repurposing and resignifying of existing practices for national, revolutionary ends, of which an oft-cited example was the adoption of dances from one region by troops from different parts of Mozambique during the liberation war. The Casas da Cultura and other new cultural institutions, such as the Centro dos Estudeis Culturais, which would open in the following month, were also intended as nodal points that would allow such questions to be resolved under the guidance of the Party. These tensions would nevertheless continue to plague FRELIMO over the years that followed and would be fiercely debated at the cultural seminar convened later that year by the minister of education and culture, Graça Machel.

Original caption text: “In Mozambique, a new culture is developing, the culture of men and women who fight exploitation, who fight the elite, who fight against all traces of bourgeois culture.”

Original caption text: “In Mozambique, a new culture is developing, the culture of men and women who fight exploitation, who fight the elite, who fight against all traces of bourgeois culture.”

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Frelimo's vision for a new, revolutionary national aesthetic found enthusiastic support in some cultural circles, but the centralization of culture was bitterly resisted by others, and the Party's ongoing tension with local authority was at times leveraged by RENAMO to gather support. In 1984, seven years after this announcement had been published, a group of artists staged a protest in Maputo against the government's collectivist cultural policy, demanding compensation for the work they had produced for the party. Around this time, FRELIMO began quietly retracting many of its socialist policies, ultimately abandoning Marxism-Leninism in 1989 and systematically erasing archival traces of its former leftist commitment. Nevertheless, documents such as this survive as evidence of a brief moment in which it was hoped that culture could, and would, be used to produce a brighter and fairer new postcolonial world.


Bulletins 9 and 10 (Congress Special Issue), Mozambique Information Agency (1977): 19.


Louis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses” in Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays (New York: New York University Press, 2001) pp. 121–76.


Alexander Bortolot, “Artesãos da Nossa Pàtria: Makonde Blackwood Sculptors, Cooperatives, and the Art of Socialist Revolution in Postcolonial Mozambique,” in African Art and Agency in the Workshop, eds. Sidney Kasfir and Till Forster (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press), 252–73.