People's War Digest №1

Protracted people’s war is the only way to make revolution

First published in French in Socialisme Maintenant!, No. 8, Spring 2002. Socialisme Maintenant! was then the magazine of the RCP(OC).

“Every just, revolutionary war is endowed with tremendous power and can transform many things or clear the way for their transformation.”

– Mao Zedong On Protracted War, 1938

In imperialist countries, several questions are raised inside the revolutionary movement. How will a revolutionary war be fought? How can the revolutionary politics of a Communist Party be carried out? What lessons can be learned from the International Communist Movement of the past? What can we learn from it to define our method of struggle? On what theoretical and practical foundations must we rest the revolutionary struggle of a party that is aiming for state power? The problem at hand is how to shape and organize a revolutionary force in a historical period that is objectively revolutionary.

Our organization-the RCP(OC)-is putting forward that the transformation of the rotting capitalist system is only possible through implacable revolutionary struggle. Our war is different than those led by the bourgeoisie. It takes root in the only truly revolutionary class, i.e. the proletariat, and sets its goal on the takeover of state power. The communist movement, which represents the most advanced political expression of the proletariat, has always asserted that the seizure of state power and the holding of it are essential conditions to society’s transition towards communism. Surely enough, some will claim that we are a long shot from our goal. However we must recognize that the broad masses are starting to rise, though not always to the extent we would wish, and that more and more workers are rejecting the old political alternatives used to trick them and maintain them in their misery.

Who must take on the task of transforming the anger of the masses and turn it into a revolutionary force? With what program and what instruments shall this be accomplished? What strategy should be used? The masses are already experiencing in a direct, confused, and episodic way the contradictions of this mode of production and through their struggles, catch a glimpse of ways of overcoming them. The proletarian vanguard’s most important task is to learn how to draw together, unite, and systemize these nascent mass upsurges, and link them to a strategy that will allow the workers to make gains, to become stronger. Addressing the question of military leadership, Mao Zedong said that it comes from one simple principle: “to preserve our forces and hit the enemy” (On Protracted War). This principle can be applied to all revolutionary activity. The task of communists is not to maintain capitalism, but to demonstrate through the course of struggle, the superior character of the communist project in confronting the bourgeoisie in every way, this means by leading a war against capitalism, a revolutionary war.

Generally speaking, revolutionary wars share common basic characteristics: they are a people’s war and revolutionary, their struggle is just and their political line is proletarian. But to hope leading a revolutionary war, one must, in Mao’s word, “put these conclusions to the test of our own experience, assimilating what is useful, rejecting what is useless, and adding what is specifically our own” (Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War).

In synthesizing revolutionary theory and practice and applying it to Canada’s concrete conditions, and by affirming that Canada’s path to revolution is protracted people’s war (PPW), we are taking recourse in an adequate military strategy that at this time of imperialist development and with sufficient practical experience (among which the revolutionary war led by the Communist Party of China, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution under the leadership of Mao, the protracted people’s war led by the Communist Party of Peru, and fighting experiences in Europe) will enlighten us in regard to all our tasks and to the strategy that must direct the work of the Communist Party that will be taking on the bourgeoisie.

This conception of PPW (that cannot be reduced to its purely military aspect) allows the forces of revolution to reflect on, learn about, prepare and organize revolution; this is important, especially in a period where the revolutionary communist forces worldwide are reshaping. The rapid surge of the Marxist-Leninist movement in the 1970’s and its spectacular collapse showed that many organizations that thought they had broken away from revisionism had in fact been only breaking away from its most obvious aspects (peaceful coexistence, parliamentarism…), but not from organizational practices and ideological conceptions that 150 years of communist experience have proven to be useless.

In deepening our understanding of revolution and its requirements, we are struggling against those who conjure up abstract ideas, empty from any meaning. We also vigorously oppose all those who wish to mechanically reproduce, without any changes, historical experiences from abroad and of the past, which they wish to apply as home made recipes. These people do not take into consideration the specific conditions of a given country; they limit themselves to one form of struggle, one way of fighting, without understanding that the workings of revolutionary struggle are extremely complex. To hope win, the great Marxist thinkers always stressed the importance of taking into account all methods of struggle. Lenin sum this up by writing that “in order to accomplish its task the revolutionary class must be able to master all forms or aspects of social activity without exception [and] be prepared for the most rapid and brusque replacement of one form by another” (Collected Works, Vol. 31). Mao said that the revolutionary initiative “is not something imaginary but is concrete and material” (Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War); this endeavour rests on the concrete analysis of a concrete situation.

We have already shown (in an article published in the Winter 2000 edition of our magazine “Socialisme Maintenant!” entitled “Le parti communiste doit mener la guerre révolutionnaire dans les pays impérialistes!”-namely “Communist Parties must wage People’s War in imperialist countries“) how bourgeois discipline (struggles within legal means, elections, parliamentarism and general liberties granted to the workers movement) have completely disarmed the proletariat and its organizations: “The proletariat is paying a high political price for its obedience to the rules of bourgeois democracy. Its level of organization is weak. Its understanding of the methods and forms of struggle is largely deficient. Overall, it is not prepared-or ill prepared-to take on the great upcoming historical clashes with the bourgeoisie.

Scientific communism took hold in its struggle against the various tendencies that have crippled the workers’ movement. Social democracy and modern revisionism have kept the proletariat under the tutelage of the bourgeoisie, excluding from their analysis and actions the necessity of vying for state power. They have posed themselves as the theoreticians of future revolutions, otherwise remaining basically passive. They have put together paper “revolutionary parties”, refusing to actually make revolution. They are useless for the proletariat, and a deep chasm separates their theory from their practice. These parties had to go through many lengths to conciliate their reformist practice (parliamentarism, reformism) and their petitioning in principle for revolution.

Every time the working class played by the rules of bourgeois democracy, imperialism did not hesitate to resort to massacres and massive repression (Indonesia), coups (Chili) and in provoking and dividing worker movements in order to call them back to order. As the (nuovo)Partito comunista italiano (now in the making) wrote in its Draft Programme, “historical experience has confirmed what Engels pointed out in 1895: the bourgeoisie, faced with the working class political seasoning, will be the first to violate its very own rules; consequently, accumulation of revolutionary forces cannot take place within the framework of written procedures and liberties.” (Our translation)

In theory and in practice, after each victory and each defeat, “one becomes two”, which means part of the movement draws good from the acquired experience and moves on with the struggle; the other part holds on to its old beliefs. On one part, new experiences are made good on, experiences that permit to translate defeats into victories; on the other part, the other organizations remain basically passive, let themselves become discouraged, or still worst, join enemy ranks. But revolution is not passive: it overcomes obstacles one by one and keeps moving forward “by creating a counter-reaction that is paramount, that is the only thing that allows the whole of the workers’ movement to acquire more experience and leap forward, generalize its experience and verify it; […] but so that the movement can advance, mature, verify its experience and generalize it, the vanguard must open the way and make efforts to draw proper conclusions.” (“La lutte révolutionnaire dans les métropoles impérialistes”-namely “The revolutionary struggle in the imperialist metropolises“, “Socialisme Maintenant!” magazine, No. 7, Summer 2001) However one must know how to go about this task!

A century of insurrections

For the bourgeoisie, the XXIst century will be a tumultuous century, let’s say a revolutionary one. As we have already mentioned in the Spring 1998 edition of our magazine, at the top leadership of NATO during a meeting on strategy, several conclusions were drawn at the dawn of the century. The XXIst century, according to them, will be “a century of insurrections“. “So far events didn’t take place quite as we had expected, nonetheless a century of insurrections has begun. The first 30 years of XXIst century will be a period of revolutionary uprisings.

The period we are embarking in may be profitable for the revolutionary forces, as long as they develop strong ideology, politics and practice (developing the subjective forces of revolution) corresponding to the realities of the moment (objective laws) and give birth to an activity that allows gathering strength and shifting the balance of power in favor of the proletariat. We must however recognize that not all of those within the revolutionary movement are embarking in this period with a combative spirit and coming forth with constructive ideas that will allow to reorganize the proletarian struggle.

Some only construe from a historical experience specific to a given period; others are bent on interpreting from each and every new method of struggle only what can be reproduced in a particular circumstance. This way of conceiving things is sometimes expressed in the following words: “Lenin said such and such a thing, but it was in a period of civil war“, or “Mao developed protracted people’s war, but China was an oppressed country“. This type of reasoning completely strips Marxism of its living essence and prevents the masses from learning on the various experiences that would otherwise allow them to more fully embrace revolution, including situations that are more pointedly revolutionary. This false conception also entraps the vanguard’s activity within the sole limits of propaganda and agitation, alienating revolutionary practice from its proper function.

In imperialist countries, it is precisely against this conception that we must struggle to overcome the obstacles that block the development of a correct political line. We must struggle against the separation of theory and practice by forging “the indispensable unity that must exist between revolutionary content and revolutionary activity-between statement and action/what we say and what we do-too often dissociated in proletarian practice“. (“Socialisme Maintenant!“, No. 5)

Revolution cannot be correctly understood: 1) if we don’t strive to link our work to surrounding phenomena; 2) if we only then move on to consider this linkage to broader phenomena and their overall dialectal nature, but overlook the specific nature and development of the process as a whole; 3) if we perceive this process as a series of small quantitative changes, that follow a progressive development (reformist thesis), instead of understanding them as a process that goes through leaps and bonds and brings about qualitative changes (revolutionary thesis)-this is why the development process of protracted people’s war must be seen as a progressive movement, that encompasses things that are simple and others that are complex, things that belong to inferior stages of its development and things that belong to superior ones, and that this movement is not harmonious but takes place within the struggle between contraries (positive and negative, old and new, inferior and superior, etc); 4) if we do not take into account that this process depends on specific conditions, countries and historical settings.

A struggle led by vigorous social forces

Lenin wrote that to understand revolution in a truly Marxist way, one must see it “like a fight carried out by lively social forces. When these forces are placed under given objective conditions, they act in a manner or another and apply with more or less success such or such forms of fights“.

When writing about revolution, Lenin isn’t describing abstract social forces but objective material conditions (military, economic, political). Even if the working class cannot hope for victory by extending its reach beyond material reality, it however strives for victory within these very same limits-small triumphs allowing the workers’ movement to systemize its experience. Because in the end, the proletariat’s victory depends on its subjective capability in determining the kind of struggle that is the most suitable to its reality.

The current period is characterized by: fiercer economic and military confrontation between imperialist countries and the people in oppressed countries; development of contradictions between imperialist countries; relations that are once again becoming antagonistic; fiercer exploitation and oppression, between the ruling classes of imperialist countries and their working classes in which the former is on the offensive and eliminating the conquests that the latter had achieved; the capital’s destructive quest for surplus value, destroying all barriers that prevent its free circulation (whether it be investments in the Health care system, education, labor legislation, work security, etc.) These attacks are proof that the bourgeoisie is experiencing problems and is unable to maintain its domination as in the past, by distributing crumbs from its superprofits to the working class as it then did.

All these contradictions weaken every imperialist country. From this ensues an uneven development of an overall revolutionary situation, comparable to the first revolutionary surges that took place after the First World War. It is a crucial period in which Communist parties contend with the bourgeoisie to win over to their side the masses. The masses are either organized by the vanguard and wage struggle against the imperialist bourgeoisie for the conquest of state control, or else the bourgeoisie wins and enrolls the masses to take part in its wars of plunder abroad.

These general objective conditions lead us to postulate certain proposals to vanguard elements and the masses: 1) that we have entered a period of revolutionary upheavals; 2) that this period is taking place in the most advanced historical stage of imperialist development; 3) that the proletariat must devise a strategy to seize power in line with the specificity of this particular historical period; 4) that protracted people’s war-a product of 150 years of struggle within the communist movement-is the only viable strategy in an imperialist country. Thanks to PPW the proletariat now has a revolutionary theory and a revolutionary strategy that enables it to defeat the bourgeoisie. In the imperialist metropolises, PPW takes on the following form: accumulation of forces – strategic defensive – strategic stalemate – strategic offensive, each of these steps introducing the next one. Armed propaganda is tied into this process.

1. A period of social upheavals

If the communist movement in imperialist countries wants to overthrow the bourgeoisie, along with the proletariat, it must develop a much more thorough analysis of the contradictions of imperialism in the current period. It must determine whether the objective conditions exist to make revolution-whether we are able or not to achieve this goal immediately; in the affirmative, it must determine what are our tasks. Lenin had assigned to the revolutionaries the “indisputable and fundamental duty […] of revealing to the masses the existence of a revolutionary situation, explaining its scope and depth, arousing the proletariat’s revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary determination, helping it to go over to revolutionary action, and forming, for that purpose, organizations suited to the revolutionary situation“.

The leader of the Russian revolution demonstrated that revolution is only possible if their is a revolutionary situation, which means a crisis involving all of society. He went on to explain that the vanguard must be able to grasp the development of this crisis. Consequently, seizure of power must be planned following careful consideration of the objective conditions of a revolutionary situation. Otherwise, one’s analysis stems from voluntarism and subjectivism, meaning a more or less conscious will to make revolution without the masses, outside of the true conditions of struggle, in an imaginary world… In fact, the revolutionary movement’s greatest difficulty resides in defining and adopting a strategic orientation that will allow it to exploit to its fullest a revolutionary situation, one that will permit the broadest masses possible to achieve in the most favorable conditions the overthrow of the bourgeoisie.

Lenin pointed out that a revolutionary situation is comprised of three things: “1) when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes’, a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way; 2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual; 3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peace time’, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the ‘upper classes’ themselves into independent historical action. Without these objective changes, which are independent of the will, not only of individual groups and parties but even of individual classes, a revolution, as a general rule, is impossible.

Lenin also insisted on the fact that “it is not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over.

How can we grasp Lenin’s teachings, and mostly how do we apply them to today’s conditions? Mao always stressed that to determine what is important and decisive, one should be determined “not by general or abstract considerations, but according to the concrete circumstances“. In the final analysis, the characteristics of each epoch, place and style of combat determine the nature of warfare.

It is normal that in imperialist countries, where communist parties and Marxist-Leninist organizations have gathered little experience on the subject of warfare and achieved little in the way of advancing the practice of revolutionary war, the revolutionary movements disagree on this subject. For the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), only a revolutionary situation can afford the necessary impetus to kick start a revolutionary war: “the launching of the revolutionary war depends on the eruption of a revolutionary crisis in society as a whole“; without such a crisis, the party must take root in the foundations of “the political organizing and the struggle of the masses“. For the RCP, the most important task in the current “peaceful” period is to “Create Public Opinion, Seize Power-Prepare Minds and Organize Forces for Revolution“. Behind this catchy phrase, the reality that underlies it is however a little less original: the “Seize Power” of the RCP rests more or less on the theory of insurrection, comprised of a long period of propaganda and agitation work and of legal struggle that leads, according to them, to insurrection and civil war.

Lenin’s analysis of a revolutionary situation is quite to the point when applied to a concrete context. When Lenin talked about a revolutionary context he was talking about the period at hand, the one that comes just before the insurrection and the conquest of power, and not of the longer period of accumulation of forces. In this way, the RCP is right in saying that the conquest of power is only possible through particular objective conditions and accumulation of subjective forces-or as Lenin put it, “without a shift in the opinion of the majority of the working class, the revolution would not be possible“. On the other hand, it is wrong to assume that during the period that precedes this “shift in public opinion”, the vanguard must strictly limit itself to propaganda and agitation work, disregarding all other means of struggle as the situation is developing into a revolutionary one (economic crisis, more and more poverty, contradictions within the upper class, etc.). Lenin has carefully pointed out that this change could not be the sole product of mere propaganda: “Propaganda and agitation alone are not enough for an entire class, the broad masses of the working people.

When Mao stated, concerning the specific character of imperialist countries, that “it is the task of the party of the proletariat […] to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism“, he wasn’t telling the communists of these countries not to engage in armed conflict; on the contrary, he pointed out, like Engels and Lenin had done before him, that to hope to overthrow the bourgeoisie, the proletariat must accumulate forces through a more or less lengthy period of “legal” activity, more important in scope then “illegal” activity. Mao, Lenin or Engels never claimed that the working class should prefer one method of struggle over the other: they postulated that both methods were narrowly linked to one another. Moreover, they claimed that legal activity depended on illegal activity, and that our capacity to take on rapid and vigorous action depended on our analysis of the universal traits (of all countries in all historical periods) and of the analysis of particular traits (a given country) of a concrete situation serving as guidelines to determine our course of action in developing the forces of revolution. To perceive the existence of a revolutionary situation once it is upon us and that revolution is already under way, strips of all meaning the usefulness of trying to grasp the movement under its concrete form and condemns the forces of revolution to tailism in regards to the unfolding events.

One of Mao’s greatest contributions, which was very useful to the Communist Party of Peru (PCP), was to demonstrate that a revolutionary situation is a situation in continual development that stretches over a relatively long period of time in which the various imperialist bourgeoisies are unable to gain solid foothold because of their inherent contradictions. In this period, the revolution can only be successful if revolution’s subjective forces are properly harnessed each step of the way to actions linked to its objective laws (and by the same token, its defeat comes from its estrangement from this principle). Instead of paving the way for the proletarians, of striving to derive proper examples, one would be in a position of “trail[ing] behind them, gesticulating and criticizing” (Mao).

2. Imperialism in an advanced phase

As it matured, imperialism brought upon modern capitalist states new structures and purpose, among which are: legal state authority (repressive laws); covert support and procedures free from any hindrances; state apparatuses used for various purposes (secret services); state apparatuses given discretionary powers and means of support written in different bourgeois constitutions (secret funds, foreign secret service agencies); and finally paramilitary and organized police (security agencies, specialized antiterrorist groups). We can also add to this the shift, in about every imperialist country, the use of regular armed forces instead of mandatory military service. These transformations can be witnessed in most imperialist states.

Sharpening class confrontation explains them. The counter-revolution forces naturally seek to prevent any offensive from the proletariat (reacting in some cases to prior attacks). To wage battle against the proletariat, the strategy of the bourgeoisie rests on two main axis: on the one hand, politics (laws, special rules, formation of specialized agencies); on the other, the courts and armed repression. The courts and armed repression axis consists of pre-emptive police and military work: infiltration, investigation, identification, securing of targets (buildings or certain people), pre-emptive arrests, etc. Frisking, searches, arrests, confrontation, selective elimination, etc. also serve to prevent political actions or come in their aftermath. These tactics can be somewhat likened to the “encircling campaigns” that were led by reactionaries against communist bases.

To counter attack, the proletariat must break this encircling and accumulate forces. Thus, the traditional political work of communist parties-gathering of strength through “peaceful” means-doesn’t hold true under these circumstances. Communists must push harder to spark greater confrontation.

This evolution of modern bourgeois states in all advanced capitalist countries forces the revolutionary movement to adapt its conceptions, its political line, its functioning, its tactics. Any resistance to change, any refusal to adapt to new situations, among other things recourse to ancient forms of struggle elaborated and predominant in the pre-imperialist phase, are at the root of the revolutionary movement’s failure in its struggle for state power.

3. The proletariat must conceive a strategy for the conquest of state power

At the beginning of capitalism, the proletariat, in terms of political knowledge, was at the stage of first hand perception. The destruction of productive machinery as one of its forms of struggle against capitalism shows its inexperience. Spontaneous actions took precedence over conscious actions. It was a period where emerging forms of struggle where coexisting with previous forms of struggle that had taken place during the bourgeois revolution (struggle against the aristocracy, emergence of the bourgeoisie)-a period that Engels characterized as one of revolutions serving a minority: “All revolutions up to the present day have resulted in the displacement of one definite class rule by another; all ruling classes up till now have been only minorities as against the ruled mass of the people. […] All revolutions of modern times, beginning with the great English revolution of the seventeenth century, showed these features, which appeared inseparable from every revolutionary struggle.” (Introduction to “The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850”)

Marxism renders the proletariat with a theory that allows it to go from spontaneous forms of struggle to conscious and organized ones. Marx and Engels were the first to recognize the proletariat as a key historical actor. Their work linked the theory and the practice of class struggle in one cohesive, inseparable whole. “In the two revolutionary years of 1848-49 the [Communist] League proved itself in two ways. First, its members everywhere involved themselves energetically in the movement and stood in the front ranks of the only decisively revolutionary class, the proletariat, in the press, on the barricades and on the battlefields. The League further proved itself in that its understanding of the movement, as expressed in the circulars issued by the Congresses and the Central Committee of 1847 and in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, has been shown to be the only correct one, and the expectations expressed in these documents have been completely fulfilled. This previously only propagated by the League in secret, is now on everyone’s lips and is preached openly in the market place.” (Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League)

The 1848 revolution, which Marx qualified as “the first great battle […] fought between the two classes that split modern society” (The Class Struggles in France, 1848-1850), revealed to the working class, despite the failure of the insurgency, that abolishing the exploitation that took place in a bourgeois republic was possible. In a certain way, the proletariat had itself been caught up in the illusions of bourgeois society, thinking that a bourgeois republic was somehow a social republic, one that supported bourgeois interests but also proletarian ones. It is Marx who showed that it is only in a life and death struggle against the bourgeoisie that the proletariat was able to gain consciousness of its own class interests. It was only after the defeat in June, noted Marx, that was proclaimed “the bold slogan of revolutionary struggle: Overthrow of the bourgeoisie! Dictatorship of the Working class!“.

Following the June defeat of 1848, the First International allowed the triumph of Marxism-Leninism over anarchists and petty bourgeois conceptions of socialism. This gave Marxism world wide credence among workers. Waging struggle for the emergence of a revolutionary theory and for the formation of a revolutionary movement, Marx and Engels fought tirelessly against proponents of Proudhon and Bakunin’s theory allowing scientific communism to permeate all fundamental decisions of the proletarian movement.

In March 1871, working districts broke out into insurrections, and as the government fled to Versailles, Parisians voted in the Commune: a government that proclaimed itself revolutionary, patriotic and for the workers. From the 21st to the 28th of May, 1871, in what was named the “bloody week of Paris”, the last great revolt of the 19th century was squashed. The Paris Commune, while defeated by the bourgeoisie, gave the working class an example of how it could exercise state power. It also provided revolutionaries with priceless examples of the necessity to bolster actions with correct theory. This is why “the Commune was also the grave of the Proudhon school of socialism” (Engels, Introduction to “The Civil War in France” from Karl Marx); this experience demonstrated the need for a Communist Party and proved that the task of the proletariat was not to “transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is essential for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.” (Marx)

Let’s see how Lenin summed up the basic mistakes made by the Commune and what he considered its greatest merit: “The two errors consist in the lack of offensive, conscience and resolution to break the bureaucratic and military machine of the state and the power of the bourgeoisie. And for what reason Marx admired the Paris Commune? Precisely because of the flexibility, the historical initiative and the spirit of sacrifice these Parisian demonstrated when they tries to ‘conquer the sky’.

In Russia, the emergence of organs of power created by the proletariat and serving to counter state power allowed communists to make revolution. Soviets made their appearance in 1905. They served to undermine the monopoly of bourgeois power. Speaking of the Soviets, Lenin said they heralded the end of bourgeois parliamentarism and inaugurated the beginning of a new historical era: the epoch of the dictatorship of the proletariat. At the First Congress of the Communist International, he carefully pointed out: “It would be sheer nonsense to think that the most profound revolution in human history, the first case in the world of power being transferred from the exploiting minority to the exploited majority, could take place within the time-worn framework of the old, bourgeois, parliamentary democracy, without drastic changes, without the creation of new forms of democracy, new institutions that embody the new conditions for applying democracy.” (Collected Works, Vol. 28)

The defeat of the Commune also marked the disappearance of forms of struggle that were no longer useful. We are primarily referring here to conspiracy, the plotting of a coup to be executed by small groups. Marx and Engels brought to light the nature of these conceptions inherited from bourgeois revolutions, that didn’t fit the conditions in which the proletariat had to struggle within the newly created bourgeois society. The teachings of Marx and Engels add great credibility to the thesis of Lenin that demonstrated that the success of insurrection couldn’t take root in a conspiracy or rely only on a Party, “but upon the advanced class“. That insurrection had to come from a revolutionary upsurge of the people: “Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at its height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism.” (Selected Works, Vol. 2)

The experience of the Commune also marked the end of a strategy that put to use barricades; not that barricades from that point on had become useless, but that they weren’t central anymore to insurrection theory because of the passive nature of their use. Perfected equipment, reliance on instructions, unique leadership of the army’s chain of command and its overall discipline, as well as the use of railroads in swiftly displacing troops, gave the reactionaries a cutting edge that forced the insurgents to modify their strategy, opting for open attack rather than the use of barricades.

Lenin, who was the leader of the first socialist revolution, didn’t have to profoundly reflect on the issues of war and military strategy. When the Russian revolution was unfolding, the political struggle of the masses overshadowed the question of warfare, because tactics weren’t centered on armed struggle and armed revolution, save in brief periods.

This period that kicked off at the turn of the century and came to an end with the October Revolution was marked by quick spurts of legal and illegal forms of struggle that moulded very specific political and organizational developments. These developments were to be found in great concentration in the Bolshevik Party. Among them, the struggle to develop a centralized semi-clandestine organization that served to carry out all types of struggles is noteworthy. In “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, Lenin wrote that to defeat the bourgeoisie, one of the essential conditions for the victory of the Russian revolution was “absolute centralization and the strictest discipline of the proletariat“. Such discipline was reinforced: “First, by the class consciousness of the proletarian vanguard and by its devotion to the revolution, by its perseverance, self-sacrifice and heroism. Secondly, by its ability to link itself, to keep in close touch with, and to a certain extent, if you like, to merge itself with the broadest masses of the toilers-primarily with the proletarian, but also with the non-proletarian toiling masses. Thirdly, by the correctness of the political leadership exercised by this vanguard and of its political strategy and tactics provided that the broadest masses have been convinced by their own experiences that they are correct.

Even if Lenin’s analysis of revolutionary struggle (and the forms of struggle that proceed from it) purports mainly to an insurrection strategy bearing the immediate and practical aim of destroying the enemy rather than the politico-ideological aspects of revolutionary struggle-hence depicting a situation that is quite different from ours (partisan actions of a PPW serving to gather strength)-it gives us however some indications as to the importance of armed actions serving to support propaganda. Lenin speaking out on the 1905 upsurge gives us a good idea of how the work of the Party should be linked to armed struggle. He then proposed at the R.S.D.L.P. congress in 1906: 1) that the Party recognized the armed actions of combat units belonging to the Party or struggling at its side were in principle, “permissible and advisable in the present period“; 2) that the character of these actions “must be adjusted to the task of training leaders of the masses of workers at a time of insurrection, and of acquiring experience in conducting offensive and surprise military operations“; 3) that the most important immediate goal must be the destruction of government, police and military machinery; 4) that it was also important to seize the enemies financial belongings; and finally, 5) that armed actions had to be conducted “under the control of the Party and, furthermore, in such a way as to prevent the forces of the proletariat from being frittered away“.

Lenin wrote in an assessment of the Moscow insurrection and the revolutionary struggles of 1905 that the forms of struggle used by the proletariat have been transformed: “From a strike and demonstrations to isolated barricades. From isolated barricades to the mass erection of barricades and street fighting against the troops. Over the heads of the organizations, the mass proletarian struggle developed from a strike to an uprising This is the greatest historic gain the Russian revolution achieved in December 1905; and like all preceding gains it was purchased at the price of enormous sacrifices. The movement was raised from a general political strike to a higher stage. It compelled the reaction to go to the limit in its resistance, and so brought vastly nearer the moment when the revolution will also go to the limit in applying the means of attack.” “Let us remember that a great mass struggle is approaching. It will be an armed uprising. It must, as far as possible, be simultaneous. The masses must know that they are entering upon an armed, bloody and desperate struggle. Contempt for death must become widespread among them and will ensure victory. The onslaught on the enemy must be pressed with the greatest vigour; attack, not defence, must be the slogan of the masses; the ruthless extermination of the enemy will be their task; the organization of the struggle will become mobile and flexible; the wavering elements among the troops will be drawn into active participation. And in this momentous struggle, the party of the class-conscious proletariat must discharge its duty to the full.” (Selected Works, Vol. 1)

Contrary to what one may think, the October Revolution is not only the product of the insurrection of the masses and the takeover of the Winter Palace: it is the end product of a process of gathering of forces made possible by the incremental role of the Bolshevik Party, with Lenin at its head, that started to gain in momentum as soon as 1903 and culminated in the October 1917 Revolution.

The efforts of Lenin and the Russian communists will allow to shepherd the masses thanks to: the fashioning of a revolutionary strategy (partisan war, insurrection and dictatorship of the proletariat); struggle against deviations from revolutionary Marxism, at the state level among other things (instrument for exploitation of the oppressed classes); analysis of imperialism as the supreme phase of capitalism. “On the one hand, Bolshevism arose in 1903 on the very firm foundation of the theory of Marxism. On the other hand, having arisen on this granite theoretical basis, Bolshevism passed through fifteen years (1903-17) of practical history which in wealth of experience has had no equal anywhere else in the world. For no other country during these fifteen years had anything even approximating to this revolutionary experience, this rapid and varied succession of different forms of the movement-legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, circles and mass movements, parliamentary and terrorist.” (Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder)

Lenin, in his well known text on Guerrilla Warfare pointed out how the Russian communists-and this still holds true nowadays-faced with a rapid unfolding of events and struggles grasped new forms: “In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognizes the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not ‘concoct’ them, but only generalizes, organizes, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. […] In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism. […] To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given movement at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position. These are the two principal theoretical propositions by which we must be guided.

It is however obvious that all forms of struggle are not revolutionary forms of violence. Only revolutionary actions from the masses and the vanguard are considered true revolutionary actions. These actions reject institutionalized bourgeois legality. They go beyond the framework of domestication thrust upon the working class by the bourgeoisie. Once the contention for power becomes clearly at issue, the goal is of course to overthrow the control exerted over the state by the upper class and replace it with that of the people. These are the kind of revolutionary actions we must systemize and apply, because “as long as proletarian struggles, here and abroad, are not part of a comprehensive plan aimed at doing away with capitalism and geared at building socialism through application of Maoism to the concrete conditions of class struggle, and that the reign of the bourgeoisie goes unchallenged, the latter will continue to exert its domination over the proletariat and will prevent it from doing revolution.” (“Socialisme Maintenant!” magazine, No. 7)

Lenin clearly proved that revolution isn’t possible without a revolutionary context, and that the Communist Party must assume leadership, enlightened by a thorough understanding of the developments that take place in such a context through ideological work and multiple struggles. This also includes partisan actions, armed struggle, riots, parliamentary struggle. This is how the Bolshevik Party was able to allow the revolution to triumph.

4. Protracted People’s War in imperialist countries

It is Mao Zedong who gave the proletariat with a military doctrine suited to its needs. Through transformation of guerrilla war, he devised a strategy that allowed the proletariat (the leading force of the revolution) and peasantry (the main force) to carry through socialist revolution in China. From a Marxist-Leninist standpoint and an analysis of concrete conditions in China, guerrilla strategies and those of people’s war were transformed into a full scale military strategy-protracted people’s war-applicable everywhere and of universal value. Contrary to the Russian revolution, all other revolutionary wars waged through conventional warfare led to the demise of the revolutionary army, as was the case in Spain between 1936-39 where the Republican side tried to take arms on an equal footing with its adversary, tried to fight the same war. This gave the fascist an unspeakable advantage. The revolutionary forces were soon overpowered. In his struggle against mechanical application of bourgeois military principles and blind application of the insurrection theory advocated by the Third International, which led to the crushing of the revolutionary movement in Shanghai in 1927, Mao developed the PPW strategy.

Among the principles that he elaborated, let’s mention:

  • the role and the necessity of revolutionary violence to transform society and profoundly transform social relations;
  • participation of the masses as a decisive factor in war;
  • the building of base areas and the beginning of social transformations even before the complete conquest of state power;
  • the building of a Red Army and the Party’s leadership over the army;
  • the Communist Party as a leading force;
  • the necessity to gain insight from revolutionary theory.

In China, the victory of the revolution proved that Mao Zedong was right in applying Marxism-Leninism to the objective conditions of China, and in this way “to march at [peasants’] head and lead them” through revolution. We are the ones who must organize the people, we must fight tenaciously against all those who think that problems will be solved only through political lobbying. As Mao said, all that is reactionary is similar: “As long as it is not struck, it is impossible to make it fall.

In December 1998, 22 Marxist-Leninist parties and organizations got together at Mao’s 105th birthday and adopted different resolutions, namely a General Declaration that distinguished between “the general theory of the people’s war” (applicable everywhere), and “the strategic line of protracted people’s war [only applicable in countries] where the peasant masses are in the majority among the basic producers and fight for agrarian revolution is the main component of the democratic revolution“. By introducing this distinction, the signatories were able to claim that “the strategic line of protracted people’s war is not applicable in industrial capitalist countries. But the general theory of people’s war is undeniably of universal significance. It is likewise of universal significance that the class struggle in the imperialist countries and the protracted people’s war in semicolonial and semifeudal countries are dialectically interconnected.

This way of construing protracted people’s war leads to incorporating tactical elements into strategic theory, to derive from what is specific that which is universal, and conversely. For example, encircling of cities by the countryside is only thinkable where the peasantry is the main force; but the fact that this does not apply in an imperialist country where the proletariat constitutes the main revolutionary force as well as the leading one doesn’t change an iota to the universality of protracted people’s war.

Under the terms of the above statement, the fight against right wing opportunism and revisionism-the main threats in imperialist countries-are greatly hindered because of the dissociation between armed revolution and the “protracted legal struggle” that precedes it. The revolutionary experience of the 1970’s and 80’s in major imperialist cities clearly indicated that the combination of armed struggle with the mass struggle and the agitation and propaganda work of the Communist Party allowed to break with electoralism, parliamentarism and revisionism, when guided by correct theory.

In imperialist countries, the vast majority of the Marxist-Leninist organizations didn’t go beyond the limits prescribed by bourgeois legality and stuck to the role of being a leftist opposition, zealously engaging in the protracted political activity of agitation and propaganda which, whether one likes it or not, only goes beyond the permissible limits of capitalist society on very rare occasions. This leftist opposition unwillingly showed its opportunistic character because in truth of fact the tenants of the “October Road”, while promoting the insurrectionist theory, handed the initiative of revolutionary movement over to the bourgeoisie and gave it all the leeway it needed to prevent this very insurrection.

Alongside this movement and in opposition to it, proletarians and young revolutionaries born out of mass movements from which the demands raised the question of state power attempted to creatively, sometimes instinctively put into practice, within big imperialist countries Mao’s conceptions regarding revolutionary war. As in 1905 when the workers overstepped the social democratic movement, moving beyond economic strikes that had then become useless and embarked in the preparation of armed insurrection, these proletarians and young revolutionaries demonstrated that “armed struggle is a form of proletarian struggle under imperialism. Its size and its role will increase or diminish according to the material conditions in which it takes place. It follows the ebb and flow of mass movement. Armed struggle doesn’t suddenly appear at the precise moment of the decisive clash, it is part and parcel of the period of gathering of forces that prepare and favorably condition the success of the revolution.” (“Socialisme Maintenant!” magazine, No. 7)

Fighting communist organizations have demonstrated time and time again that armed struggle heightens class consciousness; whether it’s used as a propaganda tool to show the existence of a revolutionary initiative or whether it is used to wage combat and win victories (even partial ones); or that it serves to anticipate and prepare future phases of the revolutionary movement (strategic defensive, insurrection).

The practice of armed propaganda at the stage of gathering of strength, at least in regards to the experience of the Red Brigades in their ascending period (1970-1976), demonstrated that armed actions are at first mostly ideological and political tools (less importantly of a military character). Furthermore, if they are guided by correct theory, they allow to reinforce and accelerate the formation of the main nub for the power grab: the Communist Party. Armed propaganda has proven to be incremental for political revolutionary struggle and political propaganda. It is a means to permeate the proletariat with the communist project through an active struggle to defeat revisionism. Armed struggle also introduces revolutionary optimism by putting an end to the demoralization of the masses; by the same token, it is a strong educational tool to educate new generations of young proletarians to revolutionary struggle.

Far from being a mechanistic reproduction of Mao’s strategy thrust upon imperialist countries, armed struggles that were waged in Europe have proven to be an original development of the proletariat in imperialist countries. In this regard, P. Becker, who wrote in the name of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) in a brochure titled The False Path of the West European “Armed Guerrillas” estranged himself from Communism and made himself guilty of partaking in the domestication of the proletariat by asserting this point of view: “Guerrilla warfare in ‘normal’ non-revolutionary times, in the imperialist countries can do none of the principal things it does in oppressed countries, and attempts to launch it there in such times are generally doomed to remain isolated military attacks by relative handfuls. […] Protracted people’s war [is] a generally applicable path in the oppressed countries, whilst efforts to transplant it to the imperialist countries distort it into a static an useless, even harmful, ‘model’.

On the opposite, the following statement, quoted from the famous interview given by Chairman Gonzalo of the Communist Party of Peru and printed in the paper El Diario in 1988 presents another viewpoint about that:

As for the armed actions in Europe, we’ve seen protracted armed struggles. They are an expression of objective reality. Therefore, the task is not to condemn them, but to understand, study, and analyze them to see how they are an expression of the fact that there is also a revolutionary situation in old Europe. And beyond that, that there are those who have taken up arms, understanding that that is the only way to seize power. This is a powerful blow to revisionism, because in Europe itself, considered to be one of their bastions, revisionism is beginning to be abandoned. Regardless of the level reached, and the problems that remain to be solved, this is undeniably an important advance.” (Our emphasis.)

In some cases, the national question is involved, as in Ireland. In other cases, the issue of how to make their revolution is raised. We believe that these struggles must be studied seriously. The problem is in understanding what their ideology is, what politics guides them, what class they serve, and how they approach the question of the superpowers. We believe that they deserve a lot of attention, especially when there are organizations that propose taking up Mao Zedong again, or that are starting to raise the need for a Party, or that the armed struggle alone is not enough. We must look at this as a new awakening and understand that they might make a lot of mistakes when you get right down to it, who doesn’t? But they themselves will sum up lessons from their errors, as they are doing, they’ll advance, grasp Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and form Parties and wage people’s war in accordance with the socialist character of their revolution and in accordance with their specific conditions.

In sum, to repeat, it is proof that in Europe, too, there is a revolutionary situation developing unevenly (Our emphasis). There are people who are sick and tired of rotten revisionism who, in such difficult conditions, within the belly of imperialism where the struggle is complex and difficult, are taking up arms to change the world, which is the only way it can be done. This provides more hope, and helps us see that the main trend is revolution, and to see how Europe is also turning toward revolution. Let’s also recognize that, after having been pioneers in the past, they are opening up a path and, in the end, providing more hope. And they deserve greater understanding from us since there are already those who are concerned about the Party and are taking up Mao Zedong again. That is, they want to return to Marxism and to grasp it completely as Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. These struggles being waged in Europe also have their limitations and errors, as all struggles do, but we should see them as an expression of the irrepressible advance of revolution and how more and more countries and peoples are coming forward to take up arms to overthrow the existing order. They are summing up experience, and setting their course toward the Party and the ideology of the proletariat, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism.

For me, seeing revolution begin to open a path in Europe is reason to rejoice. And regardless of possibly stumbling and falling along the way, we must have confidence in the masses and in the peoples-confidence that, as in other places, they will make revolution with arms in hand, following Marxism. They will do it there as well, that is how we must think. I emphasize that we must see this in historical perspective, take a long-term view, study these movements seriously, and encourage everything that tends towards Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, forging a Party and developing people’s war.” (“Interview with Chairman Gonzalo“, El Diario, 1988)

Chairman Gonzalo is a great Marxist. He clearly understood that even though armed struggles from different groups bore their share of contradictions and shortfalls, they had however objectively allowed to highlight the fact that the struggle of the masses and armed struggle went hand in hand and bolstered one another and that, at a certain point of development, the struggle of the masses generated new forms of struggle. These struggles, those of armed combat organizations for example, chart the course of revolution. They clearly indicate the necessity of grasping Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and leading protracted people’s war.

P. Becker’s pamphlet is proof that “being incapable of understanding what historical conditions give rise to this struggle, we are incapable of neutralizing its deleterious aspects. Yet the struggle is going on. It is engendered by powerful economic and political causes. It is not in our power to eliminate these causes or to eliminate this struggle. Our complaints against guerrilla warfare are complaints against our party weakness in the matter of an uprising.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 11)

It is the material conditions which we live in, among other things the intensification of the proletariat’s exploitation and the opposition to this exploitation, that create and generate new forms of struggle that, at any given time, will take on a different nature and become the main source of struggle; all other forms of struggle must then conform to it. Mao and Lenin clearly established that the role of the vanguard is in fact to generalize, organize and give a conscious character to these new forms of struggles. Lenin’s summation of the new methods of struggle that arose during the aborted 1905 revolution is of special importance: “The guerrilla warfare and mass terror that have been taking place throughout Russia practically without a break since December, will undoubtedly help the masses to learn the correct tactics of an uprising. Social-Democracy must recognize this mass terror and incorporate it into its tactics, organizing and controlling it of course, subordinating it to the interests and conditions of the working-class movement and the general revolutionary struggle.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 11)

Marxism teaches us that all revolutions are centered around the struggle for power. Billions of people throughout the world struggle, directly and indirectly, to free themselves from imperialism. In this regard, communists don’t invent forms of struggle, they only structure already existing forms. Communists don’t command the masses, they study their prevailing forms of struggle. The role of communists is to produce a twofold analysis. As the political process seasons and gains in scope, the goal of seizing power and destroying the bourgeoisie becomes more imminent.

In imperialist countries, armed struggle has also proven to be the main and leading force of revolution. The Communist Party must assume leadership of this armed struggle in order to stimulate and organize a revolutionary struggle that isn’t exclusively peaceful and legal, or military and illegal, but a dynamic combination of all existing forms. This armed struggle is conditioned by circumstances, countries, epochs.

Save for the Russian revolution, the principles of protracted people’s war have championed each and every revolutionary victory and advancement. Revolutionaries from imperialist countries are urged to carefully study protracted people’s war. Brilliant examples of it are offered to us by Mao in China, the PCP in Peru, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the Communist Party of the Philippines, among others. These revolutionary examples clearly illustrate the importance of simultaneously building a Communist Party, a Red Army and a counter-opposition by transforming the fury of the masses in a mighty revolutionary force. In an imperialist country, this task however requires what we call Maoist urban bases.

In general, to make revolution in an imperialist country, today’s communists must, in addition to spreading as widely as possible Marxist-Leninist-Maoist teachings within the proletariat, aim at: 1) forming a Revolutionary Communist Party; 2) put together the nucleus of a Red Army; 3) gather strength, form leaders, strengthen fighting structures (learn through fighting) and transform the fury of the masses as a mighty force for the revolution; and through integration of all these tasks 4) fighting for the conquest of power. Only the struggle for power confers a necessary continuity to the expansion and the degree of success of the revolutionary process. As is written in our Draft Programme: “The socialist revolution can not be restricted to the moment of the seizure of power by the proletariat. It is at first a struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie, followed by the actual overthrow of its power, then the work to build a new society; each of those steps prepares the one to come. It is a ‘protracted and painstaking’ historical process, for which violence not only plays a key role at a given time, but is also part of it as a fundamental and permanent subject.

Protracted people’s war in an imperialist country must be planned in accordance to a proper analysis of the existing and prevailing material conditions at the disposal of the ruling class (sophisticated technologies, a modern state apparatus). This struggle will engage us in a long and protracted process. Armed propaganda must be thought out from this perspective, and from this very same and broadened perspective, guerrilla activity. Today, it is hard to imagine how we could simply reproduce the October 1917 pattern and “take by surprise” the bourgeoisie with an insurrectionist movement that would suddenly explode and rapidly expand throughout the country.

What path must we follow to make revolution? A discussion with the RCP, USA

In its new Draft Programme, the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA argues that “the conditions in the imperialist states are generally ones where the grip of the ruling class on society is centralized in a strong national government and at the same time is powerfully and fairly uniformly extended throughout the country. The level of technology, including means of transportation and communication, is highly developed. Except in situations of serious crisis, the ruling class can concentrate massive armed force in any particular place-or even in a number of places-within a short period of time.” (Draft Programme, Appendix, p. 41)

Hence, the proletariat would have to wait till the bourgeoisie is at its weakest before launching an armed insurrection. At that moment in time, according to the RCP, the revolution in the United States “would begin with mass insurrections centered in the urban areas“. “This would lead to the establishment of a revolutionary regime in as much of the territory as possible, and then the waging of a civil war to finally and completely defeat the old ruling class and its counter-revolutionary armed forces and to consolidate the rule of the proletariat in as great territory as possible. Such a war should only be launched when the proletariat has a real chance of winning. This requires three basic factors: first, a serious crisis in society and in government; second, mass upheaval and rebellion among the proletariat and other sections of the people; and third, a vanguard party capable of turning the mass upheaval and rebellion into an organized insurrection and giving it overall leadership and direction.” (Draft Programme, Part 1, p. 27)

This is more or less the same stance adopted by the RIM (of which the RCP is part of) in regards to strategy in imperialist countries: “The strategy of the party […] must be based on seizing hold of such upsurges, launching the insurrection and immediately taking the offensive, bringing significant forces rapidly to bear on the enemy so as to prevent it from gathering its initially far superior military strength, to win victories day by day, retaining the offensive long enough to prepare conditions for then pushing through with civil war. Through this insurrectionary process a revolutionary regime can be established and thus serve as a genuine red base area for the civil war, however, unlike in the oppressed countries, the establishment of such a regime cannot be done bit by bit, but is concentrated into a relatively short period, which then is followed by all-out civil war, a contest of strength between the new-born revolutionary regime and the remaining areas of bourgeois control.” (P. Becker, The False Path of the West European “Armed Guerrillas”)

In his book entitled A Horrible End, Or, an End to the Horror (1984), Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP exiled in France, stressed that in the United States, revolution will have to wait for the moment until “there is a decent chance of coordinating uprisings of the basic masses concentrated in the urban areas into a general armed insurrection which can seize power at least in a number of the major cities and quickly advance from that initial breakthrough“.

Now, having said that, it is also very important to emphasize that things you’ve done leading up to the launching of the armed struggle would count for something. In the case on countries like the US this means a period of political work and political battles and preparing public opinion, preparing minds and organizing forces for revolution, building the party and building broad organized ties with the masses-all these things count for something. They count for a great deal in fact. So you wouldn’t be literally starting with nothing. But in terms of actually having an army in the strict sense you’d be starting basically nothing. So two things: first, you wouldn’t want to go up against the full power of the imperialist armed forces right away; and two, you wouldn’t want to go up against an imperialist regime when it has the most favourable situation and there is no serious economic or political crisis.” (Bob Avakian, Could We Really Win?)

The RCP and RIM place emphasis only on the military aspect of armed action. This is the main weakness of their stance. No mention is made as to its role or potential as a tool for political propaganda to gather forces. It limits in advance other forms of struggle (that is no armed struggle before insurrection) by making to sharp a discrepancy between the current level of consciousness of the masses from their actual struggles in any given situation. During this time, the bourgeois state is preparing itself for a stand off. What the RCP is saying to the masses in actual fact is “Don’t take up arms!“. They seem to believe that once a revolutionary situation breaks out, the proletariat will be able to launch an armed offensive against the imperialist state and its army without any prior military preparation.

Fearing direct confrontation with the imperialist bourgeoisie, the RCP refuses to engage in the development of any kind of revolutionary initiative, whether it be of an offensive or defensive character. In the current historical phase, bourgeois authority must be challenged through armed propaganda. By the same token, the RCP contributes in safeguarding bourgeois rule and its monopoly over the use of weapons and violence. In our opinion, their understanding of revolutionary violence and use of weapons is erroneous. We will not be able to properly educate the most advanced elements of the proletariat in the use of revolutionary violence without any practical experience within the context of tactical and organizational conditions-even though limited-that could pave the way for a final victory. We cannot let the masses solely advance their struggle by means of spontaneous fighting.

The main difference between our stance and that of the RCP is that for the latter, guerrilla and armed struggle in general are components of civil war that arises at the time of insurrection; as for us, we believe that armed struggle is part of the work that communists must develop in the period of accumulation of forces. In this regard, it is necessary to understand armed struggle as something that must flow from the entirety of historical development and the objective material conditions in which class struggle is today taking place within capitalist countries and thus incorporate it in a revolutionary strategy. Strikingly enough, it is ironic that the objective conditions the RCP refers to, which force the Communist Party into a long legal battle to prepare insurrection, are likened to the conditions that generate armed struggle.

What do 150 years of communist struggle tell us? It tells us that there is no possible discrepancy to be made between the goal (revolution) and the way struggle must be waged. For a Communist Party genuinely wishing to be revolutionary, speedy preparation of the overall conditions of revolutionary mass struggle in every way and in every realm (including armed struggle) is of the utmost importance. Does this conception of the activity of the vanguard exclude the work of a party, ideological and political struggle, organizational tasks? No, of course not. On the contrary, it presupposes and reinforces it; it makes it necessary while imparting to the vanguard’s activity a much more conscious character.

To claim that a swift series of insurrections in imperialist countries will enable the creation of red bases is an ideological construction of reality that estranges itself from Mao’s teachings. It is also a wrong summation of the first wave of Russian and Chinese revolutionary experiences.

If we take the period that extends from October 1917 to the Second World War, the attempts to imitate the Russian revolution through insurrection, prevalent in the conceptions of the Third International, availed themselves to no good, rightly enough: they were based on a misconception of the historical reality of the time. “In fact, one can say that an insurrectionist strategy presupposes exceptional conditions, as was the case with the Russian revolution which triumphed over a divided enemy (between feudal and bourgeois, absolutists and parliamentarists, etc.) weakened by the crisis and a war which turned to the rout, etc. And when the International Communist Movement believed to have found in the Bolshevik insurrectionist tactics a strategic model applicable to all the revolutionary fights over the world (from Berlin in 1919 to Canton in 1927), it underwent defeat over defeat…” (Fighting Communist Cells, La Flèche et la Cible, Our translation)

Insurrection as a building block (with ensuing civil war) turned out to be a strategic option that didn’t permit to grasp the nature of capitalism’s crisis between the First and Second World War. It also prevented, among other things, to grasp the changes that had taken place within the modernized state, the nature of imperialism at that point of its development, the treason of social-democracy, which should have forced the revolutionary movement to adopt long term strategy. This stopped the Komintern from developing a correct line, neglecting the task of accumulation of force and the perspective of overthrowing the bourgeoisie.

By separating the revolution in two distinct phases (legal work followed by insurrection), the movement as a whole, without barely any exception, abandoned in practice the preparation of the insurrection. As legal work became more distinct from preparation for insurrection, the revolutionary program soured into an opportunistic, pacifist and legalist program. The wide credence that this opportunistic line had gained pushed back all the more the moment of insurrection instead of making it more imminent. For example, in Germany the Red Army had not been organized for a correct strategy of seizure of power, and the Communist Party was unable to lead one single army detachment to defend itself. It witnessed the destruction of huge structures of people’s organizations it had painstakingly built and that regrouped 5 million voters and a Red Front of 100,000 men when the fascists came into power.

The complete collapse of the parties of the Third International is costly proof of the falsity of the insurrectionist theory. Everywhere, the bourgeoisie regained the initiative from the proletarian masses: in Italy in 1922 (march on Rome by the fascists), in Bulgaria (military coup), in Spain in 1923 (dictatorship of the Voldemaras), in Portugal in 1932 (Salazar), in Germany (seizure of power by the Nazis and destruction of the Party), and in Austria in 1933 (civil war that ended in the defeat of the Republic in 1939).

Successive experiences have demonstrated that the insurrectionist theory is far from being conclusive for communist parties in imperialist countries; quite the contrary, while failures were accumulating and as no imperialist wars were looming, capitalism conceded a few goodies to the workers. Opportunists made good on this by introducing reformism, economism and revisionism within workers’ organizations. By neglecting to accumulate revolutionary forces, by skirting the vanguard’s task of developing through a long drawn process the conscious practice of partially staking with the masses the future instruments and conditions of state control within the very heart of bourgeois society-process which is called protracted people’s war-the revolution’s defeat is inevitable, wherever it takes on the form of insurrection.” (“Socialisme Maintenant!” magazine, No. 7)

The summation we must come to is that despite important breakthroughs, the communist movement in imperialist countries that was born out of the Third International was unable to ascertain the new conditions in which the revolution was going to take place (or if they were understood, it was unable to translate them into appropriate political action). As Mao pointed out: “The legal existence of the Communist Party is tolerated in some capitalist countries, but only to the extent that it does not endanger the fundamental interests of the bourgeoisie; it is not tolerated beyond that.” (On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People). The brunt of the communist movement in imperialist countries was unable to grasp the fact that the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat under imperialism was in great part taking place as an undeclared and permanent civil war.

Concretely, the Third International, at a certain point, splitted into two currents. One was backing a screwed up version of Lenin’s insurrectionist theory, partly put into theory by Neuberg (pseudonym of a group related to IC); the other, protracted people’s war. On one side, Thorez and Togliatti; on the other, Mao Zedong. Through mechanical application of the insurrection theory, communist parties were led into repeating the errors of the parties and organizations of the Second International, which consisted in separating legal from illegal work. They were led into making armed struggle and illegal actions in general subservient to legal activities. For the most part, the first phase (the long work involved in agitation and propaganda) ceased in practice to be considered as a preparatory step for the second phase.

Protracted people’s war in Canada

Now that we have taken a look at the overall evolution of revolutionary strategy, that we have considered its insufficiencies, boldness, strong and weak points, we must strive to overcome its fallbacks by incorporating improvements in our revolutionary practice, here in Canadian society. We would be very bad communists if “we have a correct theory but merely prate about it, pigeonhole it and do not put it into practice, then that theory, however good, is of no significance. Knowledge begins with practice, and theoretical knowledge is acquired through practice and must then return to practice.” (Mao, On Practice)

We still don’t have a clear idea of how protracted people’s war is going to unravel in Canada; we need to study, among other things, the role of First Nations in the revolution. But we are able to grasp the ideological and material bases for its application. As Mao said, “Reading is learning, but applying is also learning and the more important kind of learning at that. Our chief method is to learn warfare through warfare.” (Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War). Our strategy is devised for seizure of state power, dictatorship of the proletariat and the development of socialist society towards communism. This process takes place step by step in an uninterrupted revolutionary process.

The transformation of the imperialist state, the revolutionary situation that is in the making and the weakness of the revolutionary forces impose upon us the protracted people’s war strategy. Our enemy is quite superior to us. This inequality forces us to gain in strength in order to overcome this political imbalance.

In his famous text On Protracted War, Mao studied different elements that define and characterize a situation where revolutionary forces are weaker than reactionary forces. Far from limiting himself to a mechanical assessment of the forces in presence that could have been summed up like this: our enemy is much stronger than us so it is impossible to wage war against him-Mao analyzed all the contradictions that opposed the two sides (revolution-reaction) and highlighted the aspects that divided them and those that linked them. “Why a protracted war? Only by referring to all the contradictions in between us and our enemy can we come to a just conclusion.” Our conclusion must rest on “the appreciation, in their reciprocal action, of all the particularities that characterize the enemy as well those of our country“.

What are Canada’s characteristics?

Canada is an industrially developed imperialist country, dominated by a monopolist bourgeoisie that possesses a centralized state and a powerful police force and army. The Canadian bourgeoisie, though made up of different regional fractions, wages war against oppressed people abroad to safeguard its interests. It also wages war against its own proletariat, the popular masses and the First Nations. The bourgeoisie represents about 5% of the population. It is contending with other bourgeoisies of imperialist countries through economic competition. This competition tends to become more and more antagonistic.

The proletariat is far superior in number but is poorly organized, not very politicized and divided by bourgeois agents who work essentially within the domesticated pressure movements. In the proletariat, the hard nucleus of potential revolutionary forces is to be found among the most exploited workers that come from immigration, youth, Native proletarians and doubly-oppressed women. They are the ones who weather the brunt of the attacks from the bourgeoisie.

According to a report on poverty produced in 2000 by Statistics Canada, poverty has been on the rise for 25 years. The poverty rate among households, according to this government agency, was higher in 1997 (22.4%) than in 1989, 1981 and 1973. This means 1.3 million households that have become poorer since 1973.

Poverty has greatly increased among young households. In 1981, a young family (that is the oldest adult being under 25) risked being poor on a 21.7% average; since 1997, this risk doubled, climbing to 46.1%. Poverty among the next age group is also higher: among the 25 to 34 year old group, the poverty rate went from 12% in 1981 to 18.9% in 1997. As for single headed families headed by women, the poverty rate that was at 53.3% in 1981, oscillated between 55% and 60% during the last decade.

The highest rate of poverty is to be found among First Nations, “visible minorities” and disabled people. According to a census done in 1996, 43.4% of Natives, 35.9% of visible minorities and 30.8% of disabled people were poor in 1995. These rates are a lot higher then the national average (about 22%).

The increasing rates of poverty in the active population reflect the insufficiency of earnings derived from the work market. The number of working poor, that is those who have been employed for at least 49 weeks a year, has markedly increased from 1981 to 1987 going from 14.7% to 21.9%. Taking solely into account earnings, close to 1.6 million families in the active Canadian population were living under the poverty threshold in 1997, compared to 1.1 million not taking into account government transfers.

The reach of poverty-estimated at how much lower than the poverty line a given person’s income has fallen-has also greatly been on the increase. From 1981 to 1997, the poverty gap for all poor households has almost doubled (86.4%). Taking into account solely earnings from the work market, the poverty gap has increased 96% in this same period.

For about 40% of Canadians, poverty is a persisting problem. Some groups are more vulnerable to long periods of poverty: single-headed families, people belonging to a visible minority, newly arrived immigrants, people with little education and those who live by themselves. The longer one has lived in poverty, the harder it is to get out of it.

The main contradiction in Canada lies between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie: revolution will have a socialist character. Canada’s concrete conditions determine its political orientation, the military strategy and tactics on each side, the protracted character of the war and also heralds the final victory of the revolution. For the time being, without getting into details concerning different stages of revolutionary warfare (strategic defensive, strategic stalemate, and strategic offensive), we can, following concepts elaborated by Mao, highlight certain aspects that can be applied to war in imperialist countries.

Of the three instruments the proletariat needs for revolutionary struggle, the Party is the most important one. Without a leadership based on Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, a revolutionary army will inevitably succumb to adventurism and armed revisionism.

The second instrument the proletariat needs for warfare is a revolutionary army. We are not talking here of adventurists looking for kicks, or a group that is in a rush to settle accounts with the bourgeoisie: we are referring to an active organ, distinct from the Party, that follows the latter’s political leadership and fully assumes the military objectives that the Party sets for it.

In semi-colonial and semi-feudal countries, armed struggle is the main activity of the revolutionary armed forces. Without armed struggle, there would be no place for the proletariat, or the people, or the Communist Party or for the victory of the revolution.

In an imperialist country, the armed struggle of the Red Army takes on a different form. At first, armed propaganda actions serve to thoroughly introduce the principles of the Communist program to the working class; this form of activity consists of small scale operations executed by small groups that aim at political objectives (sometimes military ones). In this phase, we are not occupying areas, but waging surprise attacks, consisting of concentration of forces for short periods of time, meaning the time to accomplish any one of these given tasks. Protracted people’s war will hence go though a preparatory stage consisting of the construction of a Revolutionary Communist Party, the development of an embryo of the Red Army and mass struggle. This step (the military tactic relies on the level of military technique: it is Engels that pointed out this truth) goes through a transition leading to the next step-strategic defensive-in which the demands and political nature of mass movement will transform themselves, as well as their revolutionary political and combative activity. To sum up, this period is strategically defensive, but tactically offensive.

At another phase of development, the Red Army will fight to annihilate the enemy forces, while assuming propaganda tasks aimed at the masses and fostering their organization in order to create a counter-power. Because the Red Army is a people’s army, organizing the masses in war is also an aim, members of the Party can fight from within this army, according to Party needs. However all Army fighters are not Party members.

The third “magic sword” that the proletariat needs is a united front in the masses. The experience derived from the first wave of proletarian revolutions showed the need to create organs of counter-power at the very heart of imperialism; the experience of armed struggle in Western countries during the 1970’s and the resistance waged by communist partisans during the Second World War showed that it was possible to develop a counter-power within imperialist countries.

Systematically, the Party will encourage the masses to set up truly authentic proletarian organizations, entirely independent from the State, and establish multiple networks controlled and organized in an autonomous fashion. These organizations, which they will generate themselves at need, will be from the very start at the heart of the struggle for the proletarian revolution. The Party will call for the formation of Soviets, worker committees where the masses will be able to organize and express themselves on a strict class based viewpoint. These organizations will work together in building and developing a whole network around the Party and the revolutionary army: the embryo of a new power will be hence in the making. “It is in the name of these new organizations, authentically proletarian, in which they will have learned to defend themselves, to engage in battle against the enemy but mostly-and with help from the party-to assume leadership of society, that the masses will then rise. They will be ready for any sacrifice to defend their organizations, as well as the vast network built around the party. They will do this bearing arms, as soon as they understand that the bourgeoisie will be endeavouring to destroy them.” (From RCP(OC)’s Draft Programme)

What must we do? Declare war on imperialism? This may sound funny, but we are rightly dealing here with a war, and even though it is not declared, objectively the bourgeoisie is leading a generalized offensive to prevent the proletariat from regrouping its forces. The bourgeoisie is leading its struggle its own way, the proletariat must also fight its own way by developing protracted people’s war.

In imperialist countries, the bourgeoisie is well in command of the situation: it is from this position of weakness that the proletariat begins its struggle. Reactionaries, although smaller in number, have at their disposal a powerful military force, a strong economy and a strong state apparatus; in counterpart, the system they defend spreads war, misery and is backward in character. This system is bogged down in insurmountable contradictions. These are the characteristics of the enemy. As for the revolutionary camp, it is the contrary; even though it is much more numerous, its military strength is relatively weak, it has no state apparatus, but its struggle is a just and progressive one. It also has at its helm a Communist Party that is guided by correct theory, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and is bolstered by the most revolutionary and numerous class-the proletariat.

Canada is strongly urbanized and the majority of its cities occupy small portions of its surface. The protracted people’s war will take place mostly in the big cities and urban areas. “It is there that the nascent proletarian power will appear. The support and the participation of the masses, once again, are of the utmost importance in this process. The revolution will be built around a vast and underground network led by the party.” (RCP(OC)’s Draft Programme)

At the stage of strategic defensive, “the fact is that the disparity between the enemy’s strength and our own is now so great that the enemy’s shortcomings have not developed, and for the time being cannot develop, to a degree sufficient to offset his strength, while our advantages have not developed, and for the time being cannot develop, to a degree sufficient to compensate for our weakness. Therefore there can as yet be no balance, only imbalance. […] Hence during a certain stage of the war, to a certain degree the enemy will be victorious and we shall suffer defeat. […] But circumstances are continually changing. In the course of the war, provided we employ correct military and political tactics, make no mistakes of principle and exert our best efforts, the enemy’s disadvantages and China’s advantages will both grow as the war is drawn out, with the inevitable result that there will be a continual change in the difference in comparative strength and hence in the relative position of the two sides. When a new stage is reached, a great change will take place in the balance of forces, resulting in the enemies defeat and our victory.” (Mao, On Protracted War)

The major difference in the application of protracted people’s war in imperialist countries is the duration of each of its transitory steps and their content. In an oppressed country, guerrilla warfare can remain for a long time at the stage of strategic stalemate because it can rest on stable base areas. In an imperialist country, this phase consists of the moment when guerrillas and the revolutionary masses concentrate their forces in order to launch an insurrection to take possession of a major city that will allow the mass-generated organizations to take solidly and permanently root (on an open basis). This period marks the transition between strategic defensive and strategic offensive.

The period that will follow insurrection and the seizure of a major city will represent a new phase in the civil war with the bourgeoisie. We could have tried to speculate on the way the civil war will be carried out from this point on, but this would be of no help to the revolutionary movement. Our position as communists in an imperialist country forces us to endeavor in trying to understand and assimilate as best as possible the most advanced teachings of the communist movement, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, and apply them in practice in our struggle for revolution.

Christophe Jacobson
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