The party began as one of three movements (MPLA, UNITA, FNLA) advocating Angolan independence from Portugal. Its core base includes the Kimbundu ethnic group and the mixed-race intelligentsia of the capital city, Luanda. It formerly had links to European and Soviet communist parties.
A 1974 coup d'état in Portugal established a military government that promptly ceased pro-independence fighting in Angola and agreed to hand over power to a coalition of the three movements. The coalition quickly broke down and Angola broke down into a state of civil war.
The United States, Zaïre and South Africa intervened militarily in favor of the conservative FNLA and UNITA. In response, Cuba, backed by the Soviet Union, funneled resources to the communist MPLA. In November 1975, the MPLA had all but crushed UNITA, and the South African forces withdrew. The United States Congress barred further U.S. military involvement in the country.
Maintaining control over Luanda and the lucrative oil fields of the Atlantic coastline, the MPLA declared Angola's independence on November 11, 1975, the day the Portuguese abandoned the capital. Poet and freedom fighter Agostinho Neto became the first president upon independence, and he was succeeded by José Eduardo dos Santos in 1979.
Protracted periods of civil war commenced until 2002, when UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was killed. The two parties promptly agreed to a ceasefire, and a plan was laid out for UNITA to demobilize and become a peaceful political party.
See also: History of Angola