Guerrilla war, a method
Original Publication: Obra revolucionaria. Ed. Era, Mexico, 1973, p.551-52 and 556-63.
Copyright: © 2005 Aleida March, Che Guevara Studies Center and Ocean Press. Do not reproduced in any form without the written permission of Ocean Press. For further information contact Ocean Press at email@example.com and via its website at www.oceanbooks.com.au.
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The guerrilla war was utilized many times in history under different conditions and following distinct objectives. Lately, it has been used in several popular emancipation wars, when the people's vanguard has chosen the way of irregular war against enemies who have bigger military power. Asia, Africa and America were targets of these actions when they tried to obtain the power against feudal exploration, neocolonial or colonial. In Europe, it has been utilized as complement of regular armies themselves or allied.
In America, one has searched the guerrilla wars in several opportunities. We can quote the experiences of Augusto Cesar Sandino as the nearest antecedent, fighting against yankee expeditionary forces in Nicaguara Segovia. And recently Cuban revolutionary war. From then on, the problems of guerrilla wars were mentioned during the theoretical discussions of progressists parties in continent, and the possibility and convenience of its utilization generated contradictory polemics.
These notes will try to express our ideas about guerrilla wars and how would be its correct utilization.
First, one has to elucidate that this modality of fight is a method; a method to obtain a result. This result, indispensable, unavoidable to all revolutionaries, is the conquest of politic power. Hence, analyzing specific situations of different countries of America, one must use the concept of guerrilla reduced to the simple category of a method of war to obtain a result.
Almost immediately arises the question: is the guerrilla method the unique formula to conquest politic power in all America? Or, anyway, will it be the predominant formula? Or, simply, will it be one more formula between all used to fight? After all, they ask, will Cuban example be applicable to others continental realities? During these controversies, it is used to criticize those who want to adopt guerrilla war, saying that they forget the class struggles, as if they were opposed. We refuse the concept inherent to this position; the guerrilla war is a people's war, is a class struggle. If one pretends to realize this kind of war without the support of the people, will see the prelude of an unavoidable disaster. The guerrilla is the people's combative vanguard, situated in a certain territory, armed, disposed to realize many warlike actions who drift to the unique strategic possible aim: the capture of the power. It is supported by the peasant masses and workers of the region and of all territory. Without these premises one can not admit the guerrilla war.
In our american situation, we think Cuban Revolution has given three fundamental contributions to the mechanism of revolutionaries movements of America: First: popular forces can win a war against the Army. Second: not always one should expect the existence of all conditions to the revolution. Third: in underdeveloped America, the ground of the armed fight [the term Guevara uses is “luta armada”. It has, I think, no exact parallel in English] must be basically the countryside. (La guerra de guerrillas)
These are the contributions to the development of the revolutionary fight in America and can be applied to any of countries of our continent where one should realize a guerrilla war.
During the development of armed fight, two moments of extreme danger for the revolution appear. The first of them appears in the preparatory stage, and the condition of its resolution will give the measure of the decision to fight and the clearness of aims of popular forces. When the bourgeois state advances against the people's positions, certainly a defense process should occur against the enemy, which, at a superiority moment, attacks. If the minimum objective and subjective conditions are fulfilled, the defense should be prepared, but with a certain configuration that doesn't make the popular forces a mere receiver of the enemies' strokes; one should not permit neither the scenery of defense be transformed in a extreme refuge of the hunted. The guerrilla, a people's defensive movement in a certain moment, brings itself, and should always develop, its capacity of attaching the enemy. Little by little this capacity determines this catalyzer character of popular forces. I mean, the guerrilla is not a passive auto-defense; it is defense with attach, and, since it shows up, has as final perspective the conquest of politic power.
This moment is important. During the social processes, the difference between violence and not violence cannot be measured by the quantity of shots; it corresponds to concrete and drifting situations. One must see the moments which popular forces, conscious of its relative weakness, but at the same time of its strategic power, should force enemy to step out in order to not going back the situation. One must violate the oligarch dictatorship-popular pressure equilibrium. Frequently, one tries to exert dictatorship without apparent use of the power; to oblige it to show itself without the use of masks, i.e., with its true aspect of violent dictatorship of reactionary classes, will work in order to unmask it, what will make the struggle becomes stronger, making it irrevocable. The strong beginning of a long range armed fight depends on the configuration of the people's forces devoted to work of compelling the dictatorship to define itself – to walk back or to unleash the fight.
To avoid another dangerous moment depends on the power of ascendancy of popular forces. Marx always recommended that, once the revolutionary process began, the proletariat had to strike without stopping. A revolution that doesn't advance constantly is a revolution that retreats. The combatants, tired, begin to lose faith and then some maneuvers to which bourgeois has so well habituated us can rise. These can be: elections where another man with a most mellifluous voice and most angelical face in comparison with the dictator of the moment wins the power; or a coup d'etat done by reactionaries, lead, usually, by an army, and being supported, direct or indirectly, by progressists forces. There must be others, but it is not our aim to analyze stratagems.
We call attention first and foremost to the chance of military coup d'etat above mentioned. Who can give the army the true democracy? What loyalty can be asked for them, if they are merely instruments of reactionary classes and imperialist monopolies, and, as caste [the word is casta] , who has value only due its weapons, only want to maintain their prerogatives?
When, during hard situations to the oppressors, militaries conspire and throw down a dictator, actually beaten, one has to suppose that they do that because that man is not anymore capable of preserving his prerogatives without extreme violence, what generally does not befit the interests of the oligarchies in present time.
This affirmation doesn't mean absolutely that we refuse a utilization of militaries as individual soldiers, disconnected from the social atmosphere where they had actuated, and, actually, raised against it. This utilization should be done under the context of the revolutionary direction to which they will belong to and not as representatives of a caste.
In distant times, Engels wrote in the preface of the third edition of The Civil War in France:
The workers, after every revolution, were armed: because of that, their disarmament was the first order of the bourgeoisie who controlled the State. Hence, after every revolution won by the workers, came a new combat that brought their defeat. (Quotation from Lenin's State and Revolution)
This ongoing game of combats where one obtains a formal change of any kind and after strategically retreats repeated too many times in capitalist world. And worst, the permanent mistake of the proletariat regarding to this occurs periodically for years ago.
It is dangerous that, taken by the wish of maintaining, during some time, more favorable conditions to the revolutionary action by means of the use of certain aspects of bourgeois legality, the leaders of progressists parties disarray the terms, and forget the definitive main strategic objectives: the capture of the power.
These two hard moments of revolution, which we briefly analyzed, become evident when the leader Marxists-Leninists parties are capable to see with clarity the implications of the moment and of putting in motion the classes, taking them by the just way of resolution of the main contradictions.
We supposed during the development of this text that sometimes we'll accept the idea of the guerrilla and the formula of the guerrilla as a combat method. Why do we suppose that, in this time, the correct way is the guerrilla war?
First: accepting as truth that the enemy will always fight to maintain his power, we should think about the destruction of the oppressing army; to destroy it, we should build a popular army. This army does not rise with spontaneity; it should be armed at the enemies' arsenal, and this stipulates a very hard and long conflict, where popular forces and his leaders would be always exposed to the attach of superior forces without the appropriate conditions of defense and capacity of movement.
Nevertheless, the warrior nucleus, placed at a favorable seat to the fight, guarantee the security and stability of the revolutionary command. Urban forces, driven by the major-state of the popular army, can realize actions of non-calculable importance. The eventual destruction of theses groups would not kill the soul of the revolution and his command, who, from the rural fortification, would be continuing to catalyze the revolutionary spirit of the masses and preparing new forces to the coming battles.
Moreover, at this zone begins the new state display who will take upon, with a capable way, the class dictatorship during al the transition period. The longer the battle, bigger and most complex will be the administration problems, and, for their solutions, member of the party will be trained, to the hard task of the consolidation of the power and of the economic development, in the future.
Second: the general situation of latin-american peasants and the more and more explosive character of their struggle against the feudal structures, in a context of alliance between local and foreign explorers.
Returning to the Second Declaration of Havana [Segunda Declararo de Havana]:
The peoples of America got free of the Spanish colonization in the beginning of the last century, but not of the exploration. Feudal big land owners took the authority of the Spanish governments, the Indians continued under hard servitude, the latin-american man in any way continued to be a slave, and the minimum hopes of the peoples ended under the power of the oligarchies and the international monopolies.
And before the objective reality of the latin-american revolution, what is the attitude of Yankee imperialism? To prepare to realize a colonial war against latin-american peoples; to create a force equipment, the political excuses and the pseudo-legal instruments carried by the representatives of the reactionary oligarchies, in order to repress latin-americans' contest.
This objective situation shows us the force which lies, without application, in our peasants, and the necessity to use that to set free America.
Third: the continental character of the fight.
Could this new step of the emancipation of America be conceived as the combat of two local forces fighting for the power in a given territory? Unlikely. The fight will be till its end between all popular forces and all repression forces. The foregoing paragraphs also foresee this.
Yankees will intervene for solidarity and because the fight in America is a decisive one. Actually they already intervene in preparation of repressive powers and in the organization of a continental equipment of repression. But, henceforth, they will do that with all their energy; they will punish popular forces with all guns of massive destruction within their grasp; they will not permit the revolutionary government to consolidate and, if it succeeds, they will attack again, not recognizing it, trying to disunite the revolutionary forces; they will infiltrate all kind of sabotage, will create frontier problems, will throw reactionary states against it, will try to asphyxiate the new State economically – to annihilate it, in few words.
The victory will be very difficult to obtain in an isolate country, assuming this scenario in America. One has to place in front of the repressive forces the union of popular forces. In all countries where repression reaches unsustainable levels, one must fly the flag of the rebellion, and this flag will have, because of historical determinations, continental features. The Cordillera dos Andes is faded to be the Sierra Maestra of America, as Fidel said, and all immense territories of this continent are faded to be scenarios of the violent war against the imperialist power.
We cannot preview when will the fight reach this continental features, not even how much time will it take; but we do can preview its arrival and victory, because it is the result of historical, political and economic inevitable determinations, and its course can not be turned aside. To begin it when the conditions are prepared is the task of the revolutionary movement in each country, no matter the situations in other countries. The development of the fight will be stipulating the general strategy; the prevision about the continental character is a result of the analyses of the forces of each contender, but it does not exclude the independent explosion, by no means. As well as the begin of the war at a certain point of the country is faded to develop it entirely, the begin of the revolutionary war contributes to develop new conditions in the other countries.
The development of the revolutions has occurred as usual by inverted proportions of flows and reflows; the counter-revolutionary reflow corresponds to the revolutionary flow, and vice-versa; during the moments when the revolutionary moments is weak rises the contra-revolution etc.. During this period, the situation of the popular forces becomes arduous, and they have to search the best ways of defense themselves, in order to suffer less damage. The enemy is too much strong; he is continental. So one cannot analyze the relative weakness of the local bourgeois to make choices of limited scopes. One could not still less think about doing a popular pact with these oligarchies. The Cuban Revolution was the alarm bell. There will be a total polarization: explorers and exploited; the mass of the little bourgeois will tend to choose different sides, in conformity to her interests and the political decisions made in each country; the neutrality will be an exception. That's how is going to be the revolutionary war.
Let's think about how a revolutionary focus could begin.
Groups with a relative little volume choose propitious places for a guerrilla war, whether with the intention of counter-attacking or to wait to best conditions, and there they start to act. One must settle with clearness this: at the first moment, the weakness of the guerrilla is so large that it should work only to establish, in order to break land, to make contact with the people and to reinforce the places that eventually will be its support area.
A guerrilla that follows the premises above mentioned has to execute three conditions: constant mobility, constant vigilance, constant suspicion. Without the use of the adequate use of these three elements of military tactics, the guerrilla will hardly survive. One has to record that the heroic character of the guerrillero, during these moments, consists in the amplitude of the purpose to obtain and in the big sacrifices that will have to make to obtain it.
These sacrifices will not be the daily and face-to-face combat; will contain more tenuous and hard features to the body and the mind of the individual who is a guerrillero.
It might be that they be hardly punished by the opponent army; divided in groups, sometimes; the prisoners will possibly suffer tortures; will be chased as animals in the zones chose for the combat; will suffer the permanent inquietudes of having enemies chasing the guerrilla; they will have to suspect of everything, because sometimes afraid peasants will betray them, in order to, with the disappearance of the pretext, send away the repressive armies; they will not have another alternative between death or victory, during moments where death is one thousand times present and the victory a myth with whom only a revolutionary can dream about.
This is the heroic character of the guerrilla; that's why one use to say that walking is also a way of fighting, that avoiding the combat in a moment is another way of fighting. In front of the general superiority of the enemy, one has to find the tactic form of obtaining a relative superiority in a chose point, how to concentrate a larger number of troops, to guarantee an advantage using the terrain in order to unbalance the correlation of forces. At these conditions one guaranties the tactic victory; if the relative superiority is not clear, one should not take action. One does not have to effectuate a combat that is not triumphant, since one can choose “how” and “when”.
Under the context of the big politic-military action, the guerrilla will grow and consolidate itself; new bases of support will take form, a fundamental element to make prosper the guerrilla army. The enemy only can invade these areas with large damage; pillars of the revolution, refugee and stimulus of the guerrilla for each time more distant and bold incursions.
One reaches this moment in case of overcoming tactics and militaries difficulties. The guerrilleros can never forget their function as the people's vanguard, their charge; hence, they have to create politic conditions to the creation of the revolutionary government based upon the total agreement of the people. The big demands of the peasants must be attended in conformity to the measures and shape requested by the circumstances, transforming all the population in a decided and compact conglomerate.
During the first periods the military situation will be very hard; and if only one mistake can finish the guerrilla, a political mistake can stop its development during large periods.
It is a politic-military struggle – that's how it has to be decided, and hence understood.
During the process of the growth of the guerrilla, a moment where its capacity of action covers a certain area with more men than necessary rises, and there is much concentration at the zone. A beehive effect begins; one of the leaders, experienced warrior, pass to another region and repeats the guerrilla development net of guerrilla war, subordinated, always, to a central command.
But we need to repeat that one cannot desire the victory without the formation of a regular army. The guerrilla forces will be able to extend themselves till a certain magnitude; the popular forces, in the cities and in other places where the guerrilla can penetrate, may cause damage, but the military potential of reaction would stay still untouched. One has always to record that the final aim is the annihilation of the enemy.
After a point of equilibrium, where both enemies respect among themselves, the guerrilla acquires new characteristics in the course of its development. The concept of maneuver; big columns that attack strong areas; war of movements with translation of forces and means of attack of relative potency. But, due to the capacity of resistance and counter-attack the enemy still has, this kind of war does not substitutes the guerrilla war, definitely; it is just a way to proceed of the guerrilla; a larger magnitude of guerrilla forces, until, in the end, a popular army if formed. Even under these conditions, being the vanguard of the actions of the main forces, the guerrillas will, with its “purity condition”, destructing all communications, sabotaging all enemies' defensive equipment.
We mentioned above that the guerrilla would be a continental guerrilla. That also means guerrilla will be long; there will be many zones of conflict, it will demand too much blood; numberless deaths during a long time. But the polarization of forces that is occurring in America, a clear division between explored and explorers that will exist during the future revolutionary wars means that, when the vanguard of the people takes the power, the country, or the countries that achieve, will have demolished at the same time the oppressors, the imperialists and the national explorers. The first step of the socialist revolution will be concluded; the people will be ready to treat their wound and start the construction of the socialist society.
May less waste possibilities exist?
A few years ago the last division of the world was done, and United States got their lion's share of our continent; now a day, the old imperialists of the old world are rising again, and the power of the European Common Market [Mercado Comum Europeu] makes north-americans worried. All this could make us think about a possibility of watching as expectants the imperialist dispute in order to get new advances, perhaps through an alliance with the stronger national bourgeoisie. But a pacific politic never brings good results during the class struggles; however much it may appears at the first sight, they have only a transitory character; there are reasons that induce another way. The profundity of the main contradiction seems to be so fast in America, that it disturbs the “normal” development of the contradictions of the imperialist fight for markets.
The majority of national bourgeoisie united the north-american imperialism, and may have the same fate in each country. Even during the cases where pacts between national bourgeoisies and others imperialisms occur or even contradictions with regard to north-american, this happens under conditions of a fundamental struggle between explores and explored, that will develop during the course. The polarization of the antagonist class enemies is faster than the contradictions between explorers, for the division of the booty. There are two sides: the alternative becomes clear to each one, and to each class of society.
The Alliance for the Progress is a trial to stop the irremediable.
But if the advance of the European Common Market or any other imperialist group over the americans were faster than the development of the main contradiction, what we should do is to conduct the popular forces as a wedge on the open wound, making them conduct all the combat and using new intruders with a clear conscientiousness of their final aims.
One should not reveal any position, abandon any weapon, deliver any secret to the enemy, otherwise everything may be possibly lost.
Actually, the eclosion of [latin] american struggle has already begun. Will its hurricane be in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, or Equator? Are these actual disputes only manifestations of a frustrated inquietude? It doesn't matter the results of actual struggles. It doesn't matter that this or that movement may be briefly defeated. The important is the decision of the war ripping every day; the conscience of the necessity of the revolutionary fight, the conviction about its possibility.
It is a prevision. We make it convinced that history will show we are quite right. The analyze of the objective and subjective conditions of America and imperialist world denotes the certainty of these affirmations based upon the Second Declaration of Havana.