Excerpts from the Writings of Mao Zedong and Che Guevara
Mao Zedong, On Guerrilla Warfare (1937)
In a war of revolutionary character, guerrilla operations are a necessary part. This is particularly true in war waged for the emancipation of a people who inhabit a vast nation. China is such a nation, a nation whose techniques are undeveloped and whose communications are poor. She finds herself confronted with a strong and victorious Japanese imperialism. Under these circumstances, the development of the type of guerrilla warfare characterized by the quality of mass is both necessary and natural. This warfare must be developed to an unprecedented degree and it must co-ordinate with the operations of our regular armies. If we fail to do this, we will find it difficult to defeat the enemy.
These guerrilla operations must not be considered as an independent form of warfare. They are but one step in the total war, one aspect of the revolutionary struggle. They are the inevitable result of the clash between oppressor and oppressed when the latter reach the limits of their endurance. In our case, these hostilities began at a time when the people were unable to endure any more from the Japanese imperialists. . . . .We consider guerrilla operations as but one aspect of our total or mass war because they, lacking the quality of independence, are of themselves incapable of providing a solution to the struggle.
Guerrilla warfare has qualities and objectives peculiar to itself. It is a weapon that a nation inferior in arms and military equipment may employ against a more powerful aggressor nation. When the invader pierces deep into the heart of the weaker country and occupies her territory in a cruel and oppressive manner, there is no doubt that conditions of terrain, climate, and society in general offer obstacles to his progress and may be used to advantage by those who oppose him. In guerrilla warfare we turn these advantages to the purpose of resisting and defeating the enemy.
During the progress of hostilities, guerrillas gradually develop into orthodox forces that operate in conjunction with other units of the regular army. Thus the regularly organized troops, those guerrillas who have attained that status, and those who have not reached that level of development combine to form the military power of a national revolutionary war. There can be no doubt that the ultimate result of this will be victory.
Both in its development and in its method of application, guerrilla warfare has certain distinctive characteristics. We first will discuss the relationship of guerrilla warfare to national policy. Because ours is the resistance of a semi colonial country against an imperialism, our hostilities must have a clearly defined political goal and firmly established political responsibilities. Our basic policy is the creation of a national united anti-Japanese front. This policy we pursue in order to gain our political goal, which is the complete emancipation of the Chinese people. There are certain fundamental steps necessary in the realization of this policy, to wit:
1. Arousing and organizing the
2. Achieving internal unification politically.
3. Establishing bases.
4. Equipping forces.
5. Recovering national strength.
6. Destroying enemy's national strength.
7. Regaining lost territories.
There is no reason to consider guerrilla warfare separately from national policy. On the contrary, it must be organized and conducted in complete accord with national anti-Japanese policy. It is only who misinterpret guerrilla action who say, as does Jen Ch'i Shan, "The question of guerrilla hostilities is purely a military matter and not a political one." Those who maintain this simple point of view have lost sight of the political goal and the political effects of guerrilla action. Such a simple point of view will cause the people to lose confidence and will result in our defeat.
What is the relationship of guerrilla warfare to the people? Without a political goal, guerrilla warfare must fail, as it must, if its political objectives do not coincide with the aspirations of the people and their sympathy, co-operation, and assistance cannot be gained. The essence of guerrilla warfare is thus revolutionary in character. On the other hand, in a war of counter-revolutionary nature, there is no place for guerrilla hostilities. Because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and co-operation. There are those who do not comprehend guerrilla action, and who therefore do not understand the distinguishing qualities of a people's guerrilla war, who say: 'Only regular troops can carry on guerrilla operations.' There are others who, because they do not believe in the ultimate success of guerilla action, mistakenly say: 'Guerrilla warfare is an insignificant and highly specialized type of operation in which there is no place for the masses of the people' (Jen Ch'i Shan). Then there are those who ridicule the masses and undermine resistance by wildly asserting that the people have no understanding of the war of resistance (Yeh Ch'ing, for one). The moment that this war of resistance dissociates itself from the masses of the people is the precise moment that it dissociates itself from hope of ultimate victory over the Japanese.
What is the organization for guerrilla warfare? Though all guerrilla bands that spring from the masses of the people suffer from lack of organization at the time of their formation, they all have in common a basic quality that makes organization possible. All guerrilla units must have political and military leadership. This is true regardless of the source or size of such units. Such units may originate locally, in the masses of the people; they may be formed from an admixture of regular troops with groups of the people, or they may consist of regular army units intact. And mere quantity does not affect this matter. Such units may consist of a squad of a few men, a battalion of several hundred men, or a regiment of several thousand men.
All these must have leaders who are unyielding in their policies—resolute, loyal, sincere, and robust. These men must be well-educated in revolutionary technique, self confident, able to establish severe discipline, and able to cope with counter-propaganda. In short, these leaders must be models for the people. . . .
What is basic guerrilla strategy? Guerrilla strategy must be based primarily on alertness, mobility, and attack. It must be adjusted to the enemy situation, the terrain, the existing lines of communication, the relative strengths, the weather and the situation of the people.
In guerrilla warfare, select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a lightning blow, seek a lightning decision. When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withdraw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he withdraws. . . .
The unit may originate in any one of the following ways:
a) From the masses of the
b) From regular army units temporarily detailed for the purpose.
c) From regular army units permanently detailed.
d) From the combination of a regular army unit and a unit recruited from the people.
e) From the local militia.
f) From deserters from the ranks of the enemy.
g) From former bandits and bandit groups.
In the present hostilities, no doubt, all these sources will be employed.
In the first case above, the guerrilla unit is formed from the people. This is the fundamental type. Upon the arrival of the enemy army to oppress and slaughter the people, their leaders call upon them to resist. They assemble the most valorous elements, arm them with old rifles or whatever firearms they can, and thus a guerrilla unit begins. Orders have already been issued throughout the nation that call upon the people to form guerrilla units both for local defense and for other combat. If the local governments approve and aid such movements, they cannot fail to prosper. In some places, where the local government is not determined or where its officers have all fled, the leaders among the masses (relying on the sympathy of the people and their sincere desire to resist Japan and succor the country ) call upon the people to resist, and they respond. Thus, many guerrilla units are organized. In circumstances of this kind, the duties of leadership usually fall upon the shoulders of young students, teachers, professors, other educators, local soldiery, professional men, artisans, and those without a fixed profession, who are willing to exert themselves to the last drop of their blood. . . . . The more such bands there are, the better will the situation be. Each district, each county, should be able to organize a great number of guerrilla squads, which, when assembled, form a guerrilla company.
There are those who say: 'I am a farmer', or, 'I am a student'; 'I can discuss literature but not military arts.' This is incorrect. There is no profound difference between the farmer and the soldier. You must have courage. You simply leave your farms and become soldiers. That you are farmers is of no difference, and if you have education, that is so much the better. When you take your arms in hand, you become soldiers; when you are organized, you become military units.
Guerrilla hostilities are the university of war, and after you have fought several times valiantly and aggressively, you may become a leader of troops and there will be many well-known regular soldiers who will not be your peers. Without question, the fountainhead of guerrilla warfare is in the masses of the people, who organize guerrilla units directly from themselves. . . .
There is also a unity of spirit that should exist between troops and local inhabitants. The Eighth Route Army put into practice a code known as 'Three Rules and the Eight Remarks', which we list here:
All actions are subject to
Do not steal from the people.
Be neither selfish nor unjust.
Replace the door when you leave
Roll up the bedding on which you have slept.
Be honest in your transactions.
Return what you borrow.
Replace what you break.
Do not bathe in the presence of women.
Do not without authority search those you arrest.
The Red Army adhered to this code for ten years and the Eighth Route Army and other units have since adopted it.
Many people think it impossible for guerrillas to exist for long in the enemy's rear. Such a belief reveals lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops. The former may be likened to water the latter to the fish who inhabit it. How may it be said that these two cannot exist together? It is only undisciplined troops who make the people their enemies and who, like the fish out of its native element cannot live.
We further our mission of destroying the enemy by propagandizing his troops, by treating his captured soldiers with consideration, and by caring for those of his wounded who fall into our hands. If we fail in these respects, we strengthen the solidarity of our enemy.
Guevara, Guerrilla War: A Method (1963)
Note: This is, unfortunately, a pretty lame translation from the original Spanish. I've corrected some of the worst lapses, but some doubtless remain.
[T]he guerrilla war is a people's war, is a class struggle. If one pretends to realize this kind of war without the support of the people, will see the prelude of an unavoidable disaster. The guerrilla is the people's combative vanguard, situated in a certain territory, armed, disposed to realize many warlike actions who drift to the unique strategic possible aim: the capture of the power. It is supported by the peasant masses and workers of the region and of all territory. Without these premises one can not admit the guerrilla war.
In our american situation, we think Cuban Revolution has given three fundamental contributions to the mechanism of revolutionaries movements of America: First: popular forces can win a war against the Army. Second: not always one should expect the existence of all conditions to the revolution. Third: in underdeveloped America, the ground of the armed fight [the term Guevara uses is “luta armada”. It has, I think, no exact parallel in English] must be basically the countryside. (La guerra de guerrillas)
These are the contributions to the development of the revolutionary fight in America and can be applied to any of countries of our continent where one should realize a guerrilla war.
During the development of armed fight, two moments of extreme danger for the revolution appear. The first of them appears in the preparatory stage, and the condition of its resolution will give the measure of the decision to fight and the clearness of aims of popular forces. When the bourgeois state advances against the people's positions, certainly a defense process should occur against the enemy, which, at a superiority moment, attacks. If the minimum objective and subjective conditions are fulfilled, the defense should be prepared, but with a certain configuration that doesn't make the popular forces a mere receiver of the enemies' strokes; one should not permit neither the scenery of defense be transformed in a extreme refuge of the hunted. The guerrilla, a people's defensive movement in a certain moment, brings itself, and should always develop, its capacity of attaching the enemy. Little by little this capacity determines this catalyzer character of popular forces. I mean, the guerrilla is not a passive auto-defense; it is defense with attach, and, since it shows up, has as final perspective the conquest of politic power.
This moment is important. During the social processes, the difference between violence and not violence cannot be measured by the quantity of shots; it corresponds to concrete and drifting situations. One must see the moments which popular forces, conscious of its relative weakness, but at the same time of its strategic power, should force enemy to step out in order to not going back the situation. One must violate the oligarch dictatorship-popular pressure equilibrium. Frequently, one tries to exert dictatorship without apparent use of the power; to oblige it to show itself without the use of masks, i.e., with its true aspect of violent dictatorship of reactionary classes, will work in order to unmask it, what will make the struggle becomes stronger, making it irrevocable. The strong beginning of a long range armed fight depends on the configuration of the people's forces devoted to work of compelling the dictatorship to define itself – to walk back or to unleash the fight.
To avoid another dangerous moment depends on the power of ascendancy of popular forces. Marx always recommended that, once the revolutionary process began, the proletariat had to strike without stopping. A revolution that doesn't advance constantly is a revolution that retreats. . . .
Let's think about how a revolutionary focus could begin.
Groups with a relative little volume choose propitious places for a guerrilla war, whether with the intention of counter-attacking or to wait to best conditions, and there they start to act. One must settle with clearness this: at the first moment, the weakness of the guerrilla is so large that it should work only to establish, in order to break land, to make contact with the people and to reinforce the places that eventually will be its support area.
A guerrilla that follows the premises above mentioned has to execute three conditions: constant mobility, constant vigilance, constant suspicion. Without the adequate use of these three elements of military tactics, the guerrilla will hardly survive. . . .
During the first periods the military situation will be very hard; and if only one mistake can finish the guerrilla, a political mistake can stop its development for long periods.
It is a politic-military struggle – that's how it has to be decided, and hence understood.
During the process of the growth of the guerrilla, a moment where its capacity of action covers a certain area with more men than necessary rises, and there is much concentration at the zone. A beehive effect begins; one of the leaders, experienced warrior, pass to another region and repeats the guerrilla development net of guerrilla war, subordinated, always, to a central command.
But we need to repeat that one cannot desire the victory without the formation of a regular army. The guerrilla forces will be able to extend themselves till a certain magnitude; the popular forces, in the cities and in other places where the guerrilla can penetrate, may cause damage, but the military potential of reaction would stay still untouched. One must always bear in mind that the final aim is the annihilation of the enemy. . . .
The explosion of [latin] american struggle has already begun. Will its hurricane be in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, or Equator? Are these current disputes only manifestations of a frustrated inquietude? It doesn't matter the results of current struggles. It doesn't matter that this or that movement may be briefly defeated. The important thing is the decision of the war ripping every day; the consciousness of the necessity of the revolutionary fight, the conviction about its possibility.
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