The Strategy of Protracted People's War

D. Asumir's Approach Cuts Against the Strategy of Protracted People's War

One of the great contributions of Mao Tsetung was his development, in theory and practice, of protracted people's war. Mao was able to show that in China (and he later came to hold this to be generally true of the countries oppressed by imperialism), it was possible and necessary for the proletariat to engage the reactionary classes in a lengthy war, beginning from a position of weakness and gradually developing to a position of strength. In the document Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism!, our Movement has united around the understanding that, in the oppressed countries, armed struggle is the main form of struggle and the people's army is the main form of mass organization.

Protracted war is imperative for being able to ride out the twists and turns of the war and accumulate forces. Chairman Mao says that making the war protracted is a strategic aim.

An important quality of the People's War in Peru under the leadership of the PCP has been its success in avoiding being aborted by the enemy or becoming diseased by a wrong line; thus, preserving and developing the war, growing from small to big, from weak to strong, represents a tremendous achievement. Chairman Mao stresses that the revolutionary army must strive to gain the ability to prolong the war in order to strengthen its forces step by step and help hastening/awaiting the emergence of a favourable situation for the nationwide seizure of power. A protracted war is a disadvantage to the enemy and an advantage to the revolutionary army; it is crucial for the revolutionary army for gaining and regaining initiative and for achieving the aim of preserving-destroying. Pessimistic evaluations of the situation, like what we can see in Asumir and the prison article, will lead to adopting defeatist measures that are detrimental to the objective of prolonging the People's War and therefore preserving and developing the forces of revolution. When a revolutionary army loses initiative because of any number of reasons (wrong analysis and policies, or the enemy's all-around pressure that cannot be withstood), it can only regain it through applying the laws of this revolutionary warfare.

Terminating the war in the face of difficult or even seemingly impossible conditions would go against the laws of protracted people's war, because if the objective of prolonging a people's war--through twists and turns--is not achieved, then the forces of revolution will not be able to gather enough strength and ability to defeat the enemy. As comrades from Turkey have summed up: "In this manner, there is no way to experience the accumulation of the forces of the armed struggle, the development of a social and political base! Just think about it, you build your army, your guerrilla forces; then comes peaceful struggle.... Such a point of view, what will it cost the party...?"*

In order to preserve guerrilla warfare and develop it, one can never underestimate the role of the base areas. This is the vitally important factor in making protracted war possible and building its armed strength. Being able to keep the flame alive so long that it gave rise to base areas (at any level) has been an invaluable achievement for the revolution in Peru. This is to be used now in order to repulse the enemy's advances and preserve the People's War and develop on that basis. Anyone concerned with preserving the revolutionary forces in Peru today must be concerned with consolidating and developing the revolutionary army and the base areas. "The concrete solution depends, of course, on the circumstances", as Mao put it. ("Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla War", chap. 6, p. 101) To argue that solving these problems successfully depends upon taking new conditions into account is one thing, and to argue that it is not possible to preserve the core of these achievements is quite another. The latter will go against the fundamental interests of the people.

E. Once the Red Flag Has Been Raised, There Is No Bringing It Down

Asumir and the prison article treat war as though it were a plaything. Well, it is not! Especially because of its social content, a revolutionary war is a passionate and furious war. As Comrade Gonzalo pointed out, "Marx taught us you cannot play with insurrection, with revolutions; once you have raised the flag of insurrection, once you have taken up arms, there is no bringing it down; you have to hold it high until victory and never bring it down. This he taught us and it does not matter what price we have to pay." (Chairman Gonzalo, Interview with El Diario, 1988)

Our war is judged by its social content. The fundamental point of all wars is "to preserve your forces and destroy the forces of the enemy". But these laws operate in interaction with social content and the context in which the war is being waged. The more thoroughgoing the political goal and deep-rooted the hostilities, the more comprehensively this principle is embraced. "As policy becomes more ambitious and vigourous, so will war, and this may reach the point where war attains its absolute form." (Clausewitz, On War, p. 606) For example, when the imperialists fight each other, they don't annihilate each other because this is not in the interests of their capitalist base of production. They just force capitulation and extract concessions. But when it comes to people's war, they will not rest short of annihilating it, and their activities to this end will cease only when they are defeated and their state power is overthrown. Even after a proletarian state is firmly established, the imperialists will try to overthrow it. "When we say imperialism is `ferocious', we mean that its nature will never change, that the imperialists will never put down their butcher knives...till their doom". (Mao, Red Book, "War and Peace")

To seize power, the proletariat must destroy the old state, the heart of which is the army, which must be defeated and subdued by the revolutionary army. This is a sharply antagonistic war in which great social forces come into play, and the stakes are very high for both sides. If the proletariat could simply take over the old state machinery and put it into use, this war probably would have been less ferocious and intense. There are many kinds of just wars, but the social content of all the rest of them is qualitatively limited in comparison to proletarian wars. Proletarian-led wars have as their ultimate aim shattering and sweeping aside the material underpinnings of imperialism and all forms of oppression and exploitation, and they are able to unleash the full energy of the masses. The reactionary states will not stop at extracting capitulation and concessions from the proletarian-led revolutionary wars; they will use any such concessions to attain the political objective of their side of the war--to annihilate the people's war. This is only natural, because war is an instrument of policy and must necessarily reflect its character and be measured by its standards. They also judge our war by its social content.

As Comrade Mao pointed out, "Mankind's era of wars will be brought to an end by our own efforts, and beyond doubt the war we wage is part of the final battle. But also beyond doubt the war we face will be part of the biggest and the most ruthless of all wars." (Mao, "Problems of Strategy in China's Revolutionary War", `The Aim of War Is To Eliminate War', SW, v 1, p. 183) How could it be otherwise? Communism, as Marx said, is the most thoroughgoing rupture with the old property relations, with the social relations that arise on that basis, with the political ideological superstructure that guards and enforces these, and with old ideas and habits. How could a war with the goal of bringing such a society into being not be the most ferocious and ruthless; how could the bourgeoisie not be fired with passionate hatred towards this war and those who wage it? No war in history has demanded so much audacity and sacrifice.

Exactly because of the nature of revolutionary warfare, once such a war is started we cannot return to mainly peaceful struggle. However, this is something that the armed revisionists and bourgeois nationalist forces often do. Why and how is it possible for them, and not for us? Because of the reformist nature of their "war"; because their strategy is not to destroy the old state but to win a place in it. This is nothing more than a kind of armed struggle or at best "minimal or limited war", which consists in merely threatening the enemy, with negotiations held in reserve. "They are not gambling high stakes but haggling petty concessions", Clausewitz remarked, and he explained this phenomenon: "When the motives and tensions of war are slight we can imagine that the very faintest prospect of defeat might be enough to cause one side to yield. If from the very start the other side feels that this is probable, it will obviously concentrate on bringing about this probability rather than take the long way round and totally defeat the enemy.... Suppose one merely wants a small concession from the enemy. One will only fight until some modest quid pro quo has been acquired, and a modest effort should suffice for that. The enemy's reasoning will be much the same." (Clausewitz, On War, p. 604)

However, history shows that even the revisionist and bourgeois nationalist forces should not always count on this. The imperialists and their reactionary clients in the countries dominated by imperialism usually do not take chances with anything that might become (even if its initiators do not intend it that way) a spark in the powderkeg of the masses and inflame the unquenched desire of the oppressed to take revenge against them and set their house on fire. A good example is the war led by the FLN for the independence of Algeria. At the very outbreak of the war, the FLN called for negotiations with French imperialism, and in fact in their programme they called for a negotiated settlement. But the French responded with a counter-revolutionary war that took one million Algerian lives. Only then did the French agree to negotiate.

Also, the world situation is a decisive element bearing on how the imperialists would treat a revisionist armed force. For example, during the "cold war" period the Yankee imperialists and their Western allies and clients were ruthless against any attempt on the part of the revisionist or bourgeois nationalist forces that would have opened cracks and fissures for Soviet influence in the countries dominated by the Western bloc imperialists.

* It is extremely enlightening to cite from one of the experiences of our Movement. The following is taken from a polemical document of the two-line struggle in the Communist Party of Turkey (Marxist-Leninist) (TKP/ML) in 1985.

"Such an armed struggle, the armed struggle promoted by the CC, cannot be waged comrades! ... Armed struggle, then peaceful struggle, then again armed struggle, again renewed peaceful struggle! It is not possible to carry out such an armed struggle! At least it is not possible to wage this kind of armed struggle for Marxist-Leninist targets; this runs against the very dynamics of armed struggle itself.

"The interruption or ceasing of armed struggle is a very important issue. It brings serious things onto the agenda. It brings onto the agenda collapses, important phenomena, even on a world level, tremendous events nationally, such as the disintegration of the party. In other words, this kind of interruption occurs in accordance with this kind of conditions.... It is not possible to establish the continuity of armed struggle in this way. This is armed economist logic. Once it is launched, there are many kinds of tactics in waging the armed struggle. But all of them are based on carrying out armed struggle principally, to overcome difficulties in all conditions. After commencing this work, the task of the party, the task of a party waging armed struggle, is, under all circumstances to render armed struggle continuous. It is a must to maintain the continuity of the armed struggle in spite of changing conditions, to make the effort to keep its continuity as a whole and to strive for its development; if it is impossible to develop it, then to maintain it and sustain it at the current level, or, under much worse conditions, to maintain armed struggle as the main task even if it has to be narrowed down, while still keeping it as the main activity. Let's not be confused. This is not the logic of heroic dogmatism; once you fall out of this logic, then armed struggle is ruled by the existing conditions, not by the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. The circumstances keep pushing you around, here and there, to the driver's seat, to the back seat. These conditions go away, others come. Now peaceful, now armed. The end of all this is crisis. Political, ideological, organizational crisis. There is no way that the communist party will not see the initiative slip out of its hands. It definitely will!"

--From the TKP/ML (Maoist Party Center), "On Strategy and Tactics:
Armed Economism--A Caricature of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya's Views"