People's War

What is Protracted People’s War?


October 1, 1949 is the day of founding of the People’s Republic of China. On this day hundreds of millions of Chinese workers and peasants “rose up” to defeat the forces of reaction. The Chinese Revolution stands along with the Russian Revolution, as one of the single most important events to take place in human history. The example of Revolutionary China inspired the Black Panthers as well as our comrades waging People’s War in India, the Philippines, Peru and Nepal. This essay is in service to the memory of the Chinese Revolution. Taken as a whole, it represents the view of the Maosoleum collective.

No one barring the most chauvinistic Euro-Marxist dismisses Leninism and the Soviet Union out of hand for being solely applicable to the “Third World”. For all intents and purposes Russia in 1917 was a part of the “Third World”, with only 20% of the total population being in the industrial working class; 40% of that number working in large factories. The question then is posed why do many of the detractors of Maoism make this claim? Perhaps had Mao been from an “advanced capitalist nation” not only would Maoism been applicable to the First World but the Third World as well! This misunderstanding of Maoism is based on how Maoists make revolution, which is through Protracted People’s War and our view that it is universal. While we will discuss this erroneous view of Maoism one must also see an aspect of racism here as well. The dismissal of Maoism comes down ultimately to a fear that the First World Left has of actually learning something from Oppressed Peoples around the world. Sure our enlightened friends may know of Mao, perhaps even Kaypakkaya or even Gonzalo, but it is doubtful they have heard of Comrades Ganapathi, Azad or Kishenji. Let us discuss then what non-Maoists view then as the “correct” and universal method for making revolution, especially in the imperialist nations. The people’s army is a development of world historic relevance that has been copied even by the enemy, Mao is held in high regards amongst the U.S. military, even more so than Trotsky, who is also read.

On the October Road and the Distinction Between Leninism and Social-Democracy

The supposed “universal” method for revolution in the First World is actually the mechanical re-application of the Soviet method of revolution, namely the revolutionary insurrection;  or the so-called “October Road”. Prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution, and after the conclusion of the Paris Commune, Social-Democracy had emerged as a legalistic and open working class movement that had gained ground in parliaments all across Europe, their greatest success culminated in the creation of the first welfare state by Otto Von Bismark in Germany, who acted in response to pressure put on him by the Socialists. With the possibility of war on the horizon in Europe, the working class movement in Europe was faced with the consequences of decades of legalistic struggle under capitalism that came to a fever pitch at the Zimmerwald Conference in 1915. The Revolutionary faction known as the “Zimmerwald Left”, led by Vladimir Lenin, came out strongly against the opportunism of the time, which had instead of taking the position of opposing inter-imperialist war came out in support of their home countries under the guise of “revolutionary defencism”.

The strategy for the seizure of proletarian power in Russia is the principle distinction that separated Bolshevism from Social-Democracy. Taking from the lessons learned from the failed 1905 Russian Revolution and the failure of the “inevitable” revolution in Europe since the First International, Lenin had concluded that left to it’s own devices the working class is only capable of “trade union consciousness” and that it requires “professional revolutionaries” from the ranks of the proletarian intelligentsia to guide the proletariat as a whole into seizing power. However, even with this preparation the Bolshevik Revolution was still not a likely success absent certain conditions and certainly impossible without the context of World War I. In Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, Lenin writes:

“The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realize the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way.”


The weapons change, but not the basis.

What Lenin describes here is the notion of a “revolutionary crisis” which affects not only the working class but also the bourgeoisie and it’s ability to rule in the “old way” and he poses this as the method for success for the Revolution. This application of the insurrection was successful in 1917 but only due to the fact that the bourgeois state had been decimated from years of total war and the defection of the bourgeois army to the side of the Bolsheviks. The conclusion we must bring forward to the “October Road” is that it was a historic event, but that it is not universal and that the success of the application of the “October Road” paved the way for the “failure of the Revolution in Europe” and for years to come thanks to the mechanical execution of this strategy. Part of this failure can be attributed to the subjectivity in what constituted a “revolutionary crisis” the other is the lessons the bourgeoisie had learned from World War I. The Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada (PCR-RCP) put forward four modifications the bourgeois state implemented after the war that changed the objective conditions for revolution:

1. We saw a modernization of the state, as the executive branch has centralized and now directly holds the political power;
2. Army has become a professional corps;
3. The bourgeoisie has experienced the fight against communism at the international level;
4. Capitalism in the imperialist countries has developed mechanisms that allow it to last, despite economic crisis.

The bourgeoisie demonstrated that it was more creative than the international proletarian movement since the latter had still viewed the insurrection as a legitimate and universal strategy. The greatest danger posed by those parties that had still clung to this tactic was that while waiting for their October they had become immersed in bourgeois politics and set the groundwork for revisionism to sweep these once revolutionary parties and corrupt them like a plague. This was especially so in the post-war years, when reformist victories had been gained on behalf of the working class. In the case of the CPUSA the revisionism had set in much earlier; Earl Browder’s economist line chastised Communists who had demonstrated “revolutionary impatience” and that their “desire for the overthrow of capitalism for the hard work of winning the masses for the struggle to overthrow capitalism” had to end. Marxism-Leninism had developed the recognition of the need for revolutionary war over the protracted legal struggle of social-democracy, it however differs in the aspect of the Maoist People’s Army in that a revolutionary Civil War can be carried out by the mass defection of the bourgeois army to the side of the proletariat.


The Stages of the Protracted People’s War and the Protracted Process as Universal

Our duty as Communists and Maoists especially must not be to reject any tactic which may lead to victory, and one would be mistaken to believe that Maoists reject the insurrection as a tactic. No we do not, however, we do not feel it is universal, and for reasons we have already mentioned. The doctrine of Protracted People’s War is however universal in it’s application and position as a serious threat to bourgeois rule; it’s application will of course take different forms under certain conditions in different nations. In China, Mao formulated this thesis first in a series of lectures at the Yenan Association for the Study of the War of Resistance Against Japan, these being compiled into a single work titled On Protracted War as well in “Problems of War and Strategy”.

Maoist People’s war is not simply a war of liberation but also a fundamentally different way of waging war. In the past we have addressed this issue through the example of the New People’s Army. In which we contrast Gonzaloist Total War with the NPA’s revolutionary military discipline. The classic position on war is to demoralize the enemy as quickly as possible to defeat it. Protracted People’s War poses the question in the inverse: the question is how to moralize the people for as long as it takes until victory for the dictatorship of the proletariat is achieved.

When discussing the doctrine of Protracted People’s War, we must recognize the fact that the carrying out of this revolution is as Comrade JMP stressed with the Russian revolution a “protracted process”. It cannot be otherwise, to believe otherwise is to disregard the preparation for the launching of People’s War and to entertain the possibility of a People’s Army springing forth spontaneously, this is adventurism. Indeed the training of revolutionaries to seize power is what separated the Bolsheviks from Social-Democracy, of which without such training and temperament the Bolsheviks could not have been successful, and without a vanguard party neither would the carrying out of a People’s War.

While the doctrine of Protracted People’s War is universal in all countries, even the imperialist nations, it will take on different forms based on the conditions of each nation. It could like China or the Philippines take place mostly in the countryside, or like Peru which adopted a strategy of “unified People’s War, principally in the countryside, with its complement in the city”. It is interesting to note that the concept of Unified People’s War was not first discussed by Gonzalo but actually by Enver Hoxha in Imperialism and the Revolution:

“In accord with the concrete conditions of a country and the situations in general, the armed uprising may be a sudden outburst or a more protracted revolutionary process…The Marxist-Leninist teachings on the armed insurrection are based on the close combination of the struggle in the city with that in the countryside under the leadership of the working class and its revolutionary party.”

While Hoxha does describe what can be called the “Unified People’s War” he also holds the revolutionary insurrection as universal as well as a protracted Unified People’s War (even though he disparages it by name and refers to the rural guerrilla war as an “armed insurrection”). The second half of the excerpt bears similarity with the strategy of the Peruvian Maoists, indeed there has been an argument that Gonzalo theorized the “Unified People’s War” to appeal to Hoxhaists. Regardless, “Unified People’s War” while applicable to certain countries under certain conditions is not universal, but rather an example of how the People’s War can take on a different form in other countries. While these conditions might change the nature of the People’s War it does not transform the protracted nature of People’s War, which will be carried out in three stages:

  1. Strategic Defense
  2. Strategic Equilibrium
  3. Strategic Offensive

Strategic Defense

This stage of the People’s War is marked by a number of guerrilla offensives which seek to wear down the enemy with tactical engagements that exploit the cumbersome nature of the enemy. Strategy: One Against Ten — Tactics: Ten Against One as the name suggests is a good indication of the tactics the People’s Army wages in a Protracted People’s War. At the very beginning of the Protracted People’s War the People’s Army will be numerically weaker than the enemy, this is a fundamental fact but this does not need to be seen as a detriment. By concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy one by one and only engaging the enemy when victory is certain the People’s War advances little by little:

“The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue.” (Mao Zedong, “A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire”).


In the Indian People’s War until recently the ratio between Naxals and Central Reserve Police Force personnel was 0.43 Naxals killed for ever CRPF death. This demonstrates the simple yet genius application of Strategic Defense in People’s War. The centers of operation for the Strategic Defense are referred to as base areas. In China these were in the countryside, this is also the case in Peru, Nepal, India and the Philippines. The base areas serve as centers of operation for the People’s Army as well serving as a real dual power, running parallel to the bourgeois government, “so far weak and incipient; but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing”. (V.I. Lenin, The Dual Power) In China this Dual Power was exemplified in the Hunanese Peasant Associations Mao had observed first hand in which the peasantry had forced landlords to repair roads, reduced taxes and rents, took to combating illiteracy, and as Mao said, “the forces of rural democracy have risen to overthrow the forces of rural feudalism.” (Mao Zedong, Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan“). The parallels between Hunan and India here are stark, for in West Bengal the “rural democracy” has risen to overthrow the forces of rural feudalism in the form of the People’s Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) which covers an area of over 2,000 villages. The base areas are not to be viewed as “liberated zones” which is a revisionist concept developed by the FMLN in El Salvador which viewed strength on the basis of the number of arms possessed and terrain, as opposed to the real strength in revolution which is the masses.

Strategic Equilibrium

As the Protracted People’s War advances throughout the country, and as the base areas and formation of dual power expand and drive out the bourgeois army from the areas under insurgent control the People’s War reaches the state Mao calls Strategic Equilibrium. This stage does not imply that the People’s Army has yet achieved equality with the enemy, it means that the base areas have become stabilized to the point where a revolutionary government is forming the basis for a new society. At this stage the People’s Army has already made substantial gains to where it is able to engage in larger operations but not yet to the scale as would be waged in a conventional war. It has become stronger politically and ideologically, has increased the numbers in it’s ranks and from winning battles against the bourgeois army has gained access to better weapons, as well as invaluable combat experience. Strategic Equilibrium still views the strategic reality of “one against ten, in tactics ten against one”, but it utilizes the strength of the base areas and not necessarily a primary emphasis on mobile warfare that Strategic Defense does so in carrying this out. This is accomplished by luring the enemy deep and then surrounding and destroying them little by little. As this is done the People’s Army is simultaneously building enough strength to make it possible that the enemy can be defeated completely. In June of 1991 the Peruvian military launched an offensive in the Ayacucho region hoping to destroy a major base area of the Sendero Luminoso.

Areas where Shining Path was active in Peru

Areas where Sendero Luminoso was active in Peru

The enemy was lured deep and had set up camp in the town of San Miguel. Units from the Ejército Guerrillero Popular (EGP) then proceeded to surround, besiege and ultimately destroy the Army. The town of San Miguel had served as an important launching pad for the Rondero death squads that had come as a response to Sendero Luminoso. Several days after this engagement, the Peruvian military sent out a military patrol to reorganize the Ronderos; it too was later ambushed and annihilated. A series of ambushes by Sendero Luminoso had eliminated an Army patrol only an hour away from the garrisoned city of Huanta. On September 24, Sendero Luminoso had managed to wipe out a total of four Army patrols. Just two days after the attack The People’s Army ambushed a convoy of Ronderos that had been transporting a shipment of weapons. Beginning October 7, on the anniversary of the Communist Party of Peru, Sendero Luminoso carried out a series of five military engagements targeting Army outposts, Rondero bases, as well as villages that had supported the government. In one instance even repelling a helicopter attack by firing rockets they had obtained from looted Army convoys. Nearly one hundred soldiers and Ronderos were killed in these attacks. The luring of the enemy and engaging them under favorable conditions and turning the tables on the enemy’s campaign of “encirclement and suppression” was as Mao put it “the main pattern of China’s Civil War” as well (Mao Zedong, “Problems of Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War”).

Strategic Offensive

The final development in the Protracted People’s War is what Mao calls the Strategic Offensive. It is at this point in which the People’s War begins to take on a conventional nature. In this stage the qualitative and quantitative difference between the Bourgeois Army and People’s Army lessens and then widens again as the Bourgeois Army suffers defeat, after defeat, after defeat until it ceases to properly function and the war is won. It is also at this point where we can say for certain of a real existence of two states in the country, each with its own military and institutions. In Nepal this development was announced nearly ten years ago on August 31, 2004 by the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). At the onset of this new opening in the People’s War, the Maoists had control of 80% of the countryside; here land was redistributed, taxes collected, roads built, and schools established. Like Peru, this war had taken on the aspect of “Unified People’s War” where the Maoist presence was being felt in the cities as well. This was especially true as demonstrated by the uprising in Kathmandu. In the first week of August of that year, strikes by the Maoist-led trade unions shut the city down to a grinding halt for an entire week, stopping traffic to and from Kathmandu. The Maoists had done similar actions in other cities of the country but this was the first time it had been carried out in the Capital.


In Conclusion

The revolutionary theory of People’s War must be seen as each stage complementing the next and only made possible from the one preceding it. That is that the strategic reality of Strategic Defense and Strategic Equilibrium are defensive in nature, with the latter displaying elements of what the war could later become. In contrast Strategic Offensive is as the name suggest primarily offensive in nature. The war of attrition in the first two stages of People’s War transforms into an offensive conventional war against the enemy. As such the Protracted nature of the People’s War is also universal and is necessary. It is necessary because the objective of the Protracted People’s War is not only the capture of state power, but also the development of the People’s capacity to wield this power. Thus the process needs to be protracted – as all educational processes are- it needs to be based on the People, who are the revolutionary subject; teaching and learning at the same time.


12 thoughts on “What is Protracted People’s War?

  1. Pingback: The Attack on Muñiz Air Base: On the Question of Armed Struggle in Puerto Rico | NYC en Lucha | maosoleum

  2. Pingback: Portrait of Mao and Selected quotes from Mao’s Red Book, The Quotations of Chairman Mao TseTung, ed. by Kiilu Nyasha | Moorbey'z Blog

  3. Pingback: How Islamists Beat the Western- ‘Backed’ Opposition for Leadership | Democratic Revolution, Syrian Style

  4. Pingback: McGuinness says Royal dinner is a positive step towards reconciliation | Alois Saint-Martins Irish Crossroads

  5. Pingback: Short Note on the Coup in Thailand: Universality of Protracted People’s War | maosoleum

  6. Pingback: Veteran’s Day: Support our troops! | maosoleum

  7. Pingback: Just Another MLM Study Group this Saturday - Work From Home

  8. Pingback: Just Another MLM Study Group this Saturday - test site

  9. Pingback: Sandra Bland was Murdered for her Activism | maosoleum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s