G. Munis, Observations on the Guerrillas, Fourth International, November 1944.
Originally from Contra La Corriente, March 1944.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Comrade Munis points out in this article the character and limitations of guerrilla movements and struggles. He emphasizes correctly that “The place for revolutionists is in the factories.” In an article published in the October issue of the Fourth International, The Real Situation In France by our Paris Correspondent, the writer relates that “the Stalinists urged the workers to leave the factories and join the Maquis, where invariably the workers were integrated under the leadership and control of ex-officer cadre. The Trotskyists, on the other hand, urged the workers to stick to their factories which were their stronghold and not allow themselves to be dispersed and thus lose their class coherence.”
A certain amount of confusion has been created on the nature of the so-called “resistance” groups because the capitalist correspondents indiscriminately label all the movements, whether in Yugoslavia, Greece or Italy and France as guerrilla or partisan. We do not yet possess complete and reliable information on the precise makeup and composition of these different movements and organizations. We therefore do not know to what degree some of them represent guerrilla movements of the type described by Comrade Munis or armed workers’ guards and detachments, which are attached to the labor movement or the factories and which can become the nucleus for the armed militia.
We already know that many of these “resistance” movements are largely under Stalinist influence; that means they are led by the agents of the Kremlin bureaucracy, which aim to sell them out to the capitalist oppressors and the Allied imperialists, as chattels of Soviet diplomacy. It is the duty of the revolutionary vanguard to penetrate into all important organizations of this kind when they assume a mass character, in order to win the masses away front the reactionary Stalinist influence and to forge the alliance of the workers and peasants under the banner of the Socialist revolution. – Ed.
The history of guerrilla warfare is as old as the military history of mankind. From the earliest times men have on occasion resorted to it. There have been guerrillas in Asia, in Europe, and in America. Their appearance has invariably been a phenomenon resulting from the military incapacity of a country, which brings them on the scene in order to put up opposition to the attacks or invasions of an enemy. The guerrillas try to fulfill the mission of national defense, which the regular army was incapable of carrying out; and if they are successful, the necessity is posed of their transformation into a new national armed force. Directly or indirectly, they constitute in fact a disorganization of the latter.
If after the destruction of a nation’s armed forces and the subjugation of the country, there remains any breath for the struggle for independence and if the geographic conditions make it possible. guerrilla bands appear. Not a single case is known in history in which they have succeeded by themselves in conquering the invader. Either they have been exterminated in greater or less time, or, with the help of supplies and troops of countries hostile to the invaders, the latter have been finally conquered. And at this conjuncture the guerrillas have been converted into the base of a new national army, that is the armed instrument of the owning class.
The most characteristic, because the most general and positive, example is that of the Spanish guerrilla warfare against the Napoleonic invasion. In spite of the considerable number of the guerrillas. the daring which they showed and their independent spirit, in spite of the favorable Spanish topography and the limited development of the military technique of the period, the expulsion of the French troops could not be achieved until the English troops established a continuous front on the peninsula. As this situation developed, a new Spanish army was reconstituted into which the majority of the guerrillas were incorporated. However, there existed between the monarchy, defeated and imprisoned by Napoleon, and the majority of the guerrillas a serious political opposition. When the monarchy was restored to power through the joint action of the guerrillas and the English army and the new regular Spanish army, the guerrillas either remained in the latter or were dissolved by the monarchy, and their leaders, hostile to the Bourbon absolutism, were hanged. The struggle for a constitution and for democratic liberties undoubtedly was the principle motive force of the guerrilla actions. But not having been able to open up the battle against absolutism on the social field, the only one in which political victories could be gained, the guerrilla actions served, in the end, the interests of the feudal monarchy.
During the long civil war following the Russian Revolution of 1917, numerous guerrilla hands arose spontaneously in aid of the Bolsheviks. The revolutionary government gave them directions, armed them, tried to coordinate their actions. Certain groups gave important services in the war against the White armies. Nevertheless, the balance-sheet of the guerrilla actions was more negative than positive. The high command of the Red Army – Trotsky supported by Lenin – had to declare against the guerrillas and to speed up their full incorporation into the Red Army. The disorganization which they caused far outbalanccd their usefulness in the rear of the enemy. Not even in the service of a revolutionary power, as an auxiliary force to an army of genuine liberation, were the guerrillas able to fulfil a serious mission, to say nothing of achieving a social objective. Less than ever can they do so under the present military and political conditions.
Certainly what has been said about the guerrilla actions in the USSR, the Balkans, and France – and even of those groups operating in the most rugged terrains – is much exaggerated by propaganda. The quality of modern arms, by itself alone, rules out for the guerrillas any strictly military actions on a broad scale. In case they succeed, with the help of other powers, in extending the scale of their actions, the guerrillas will be converted into an army, and this army into an instrument of the helping powers (e.g., Tito and Mikhailovich). But what chiefly hinders the guerrillas, however revolutionary they may be considered, from a really positive action, is the contradiction between their methods of struggle and the methods necessary for the social transformation called for today. This contradiction is a practical expression of another more general and principled one: the contradiction between the struggle for the national bourgeois state and the struggle for the proletarian revolution. The former finds outlet in guerrilla methods, regardless of their degree of military effectiveness; the latter finds outlet through the social struggle, uses the method of class against class, without distinction of frontiers or uniforms. Each method contradicts and, in proportion as it expands, weakens the other. To the predominance of one or the other, corresponds the predominance of the national-bourgeois or the proletarian-international objective. The latter possesses immeasurably more numerous and effective methods of fighting in the enemy’s rear and weakening it. Modern military technique itself offers great possibilities which can be used against the enemy, without the enemy being able to use them against us.
The guerrillas who we have seen springing up in Europe, far from being led by a revolutionary authority, are in general led by reactionary authorities. Those groups who are holding themselves independent, whether for technical or political reasons, will inevitably fall under the yoke of the same reactionary powers as the others, or else they will be exterminated between the Axis and the Allies. Those who save themselves will have to be integrated in the social struggle, the place where they should have begun. In general, they are led by persons whose interest is in the reconstitution of the old bourgeois nationalities, which is the same as saying, by counter-revolutionists. Their own composition is undoubtedly far better, fundamentally peasant with a minority of discouraged workers, fugitives from the occupying authorities or simply impatient by nature and deceived as to the possibilities and the objectives of the guerrillas.
In a situation where the native capitalist oppressors join in various degrees with the oppressors of a foreign capitalism, it is not to be wondered at that sections of the national bourgeoisie try to confine all the hatred of the masses for capitalism into a channel solely against the foreign oppressor. The response which they find among the middle and prosperous farmers is a reaction consistent with the long individualistic tradition of these social layers, even though already in contradiction with the real interests of the latter. In the retarded education of the peasantry are concretized all the social tasks bequeathed by capitalism and even previous epochs. Without material possibility of betterment under capitalism, they keep hoping to own a piece of land, or, as in France, look nostalgically backward to the times when cultivation of the farm allowed them to give a dowry to their daughters and to put by a few small reserves in the local savings hank. The last to he mobilized against oppression, the peasantry tends, when mobilized, to adopt extreme and anti-social forms of struggle if the opportunity is given there. These are the characteristics which will make them the last to be freed. Furthermore, no time better than the present in Europe to give rein to the particularist tendencies of the peasant; this suits perfectly the national bourgeoisie dominated by Hitler. All that is necessary under these conditions is any sort of a gun and a mountain. Certainly the peasants of Central Europe will not receive land from the bourgeoisie, nor will the French peasants be able again to give dowries to their daughters. When they begin to understand that, the stage of alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry will begin, and the incorporation of the latter in the socialist revolution. To precipitate this moment, it is essential to fight against the particularism of the peasant, and to draw him out of the guerrilla struggles into the social struggle.
Such efforts will not be necessary with the proletariat. The number of workers among the guerrillas is certainly insignificant, although we have no data for exact verification. But his position in the economic mechanism obliges the worker to consider his problems in conjunction with the class to which he belongs. He does not dream of the past, nor can he aspire to become a property owner. The logic of his self-defense lead: him to set forth his demands in union with his fellow workers. This course in its extension leads him to the struggle against private property in general, and in particular against the government which represents it. But it is not excluded that the proletariat, even without lending much active support to the guerrillas, may allow itself to be misled by their actions. This would necessarily result in the weakening of its own struggle. But the proletariat is pushed in this direction by the pro-Allied sections of its own bourgeoisie, and by the counsels of the Stalinist and Socialist organizations. It would not be surprising in this atmosphere of pro-Allied blandishment and Nazi terror, if honestly revolutionary groups should be taken in by the guerrilla actions and should regard them, if not as a panacea, then as an important aid in the general revolutionary struggle, to which the population should therefore give every support.
A dangerous, tendency which must be fought. The barbaric oppression which Nazi-German imperialism has spread over Europe necessarily had to arouse in the peoples a powerful resistance. If the Nazi oppression is pictured in its true terms and the dormant necessities of the peoples of Europe and of the world taken into account, their the increasing resistance reveals itself as the process of turning the imperialist war into a civil war. If the normal and necessary development of the movement is not upset by disorganizing factors, its culmination would be the triumph of the proletarian revolution, the death blow to the capitalist system of property.
Now the guerrilla movements in general, and more precisely those of Balkan and central Europe, interfere with this turning of the imperialist war into a civil war by pushing the revolutionary resistance of the masses towards bourgeois objectives. They turn an essentially revolutionary and international resistance into a national and bourgeois resistance auxiliary to imperialism. Thus the bourgeoisie hopes, on the one hand, to reconstitute its own army, friendly to the Allies; on the other hand, to canalize the hatred of the poorer classes for fascism towards capitalist goals. In opposition to the already advance transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war, the national bourgeoisies, aided by the guerrillas, the Stalinists and the Social Democrats, are trying to return it to an imperialist war.
The duty of revolutionists in Europe is to help all they can in the full flowering of the now budding civil war, and to fight everything which stands in its way. A task impossible of accomplishment without mobilizing the exploited masses for their own special interests. The problem of ending the oppression is not military, but social; not national but international. The guerrillas, besides representing a backward direction, try to pull away from the class struggle the most militant elements. They weaken more than they strengthen the revolutionary struggle, and they prepare a foundation for their own bourgeoisie. The intentions of the individual members of the guerrillas are beside the point. The place of revolutionists is in the factories, the fields, in the deportations to Germany, where the masses have to find the solution to their own situations, where there are the forces capable of resolving the problems which grind down the peoples.
The necessity of social revolution is so urgent for Europe that the nationalist tendency represented by the guerrillas is prejudicial as much to the peasantry itself as to the proletariat. The latter will understand this easily; the former with greater difficulty. But the revolutionists must direct themselves to both, showing them methods of struggle adequate for a socialist solution. The peasant must be wrenched away from the bourgeois influences and must weld his alliance with the proletariat. If the particularism of the peasant continues to be exploited by the bourgeoisie, the European proletariat will pay for it very dearly in the near future. On the other hand, the socialist revolution will not have to wait long if the proletariat succeeds in detaching the peasantry from their bourgeois – and Stalinist and Social-Democrat – ideologists.
The poverty-stricken masses are especially likely to take the wrong road when what are called their organizations, which continue to have a monopoly of the forces of propaganda, have sold out to the class enemy. The new revolutionary leadership must form itself and open the new road by fighting against the Stalinist and Social-Democratic organizations, teaching the masses the opposite of what these latter have rammed into their heads. The future of the European revolution depends on the capacity of the revolutionary minorities to combat now the nationalist course marked out jointly by the bourgeoisies, the Stalinists and the Socialists. Against these, the revolutionists must raise the program and the methods of the European proletarian revolution. Struggle of the masses, fraternization of soldiers and the exploited, deepening of the civil war against the bourgeoisie in general, drawing of the peasantry into the orbit of the proletarian struggle, removing every possible mass base from the exploiters and their accomplices who either in exile or in Africa are awaiting their turn.
The people will understand; they will understand much more rapidly than it seems at first. Those who, without fear of and uninfluenced by the stupidities of today’s propaganda, know how to bear aloft the standard of the objectives and methods of the proletarian revolution, will not be long in gaining the confidence of the masses and opening a new chapter in the history of humanity.
Last updated on 25.9.2004