Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 4

The Franklin Group

On the Military Aspect of the American Revolution

As Communist revolutionaries, we have dedicated ourselves to the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We know that this can only be achieved through armed struggle led by a democratic centralist organization guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. But so far our theory of the American proletarian revolution has been incomplete and one-sided in that it has consistently excluded the military aspect. We have seen that the United Front Against Imperialism is both the strategy for proletarian revolution and the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat. We have shown that the basis for the United Front lies in the five existing spearheads of anti-imperialist struggle. But we have treated the United Front as though it were isolated from the actual conditions and forms of armed struggle, neither influencing nor being influenced by these objective conditions. We have worked hard on developing our theory and practice of democratic centralism. But again we have approached the question of organizational forms as if it made little difference that the revolutionary party in the U.S. will emerge during a period when sections of the bourgeoisie attempt to consolidate fascism and sections of the masses strike back with revolutionary violence. We have in general tended to act as though the extensive military theory of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao were not an intrinsic part of the science of Marxism-Leninism but was some kind of added bonus we could pick up at the right time. This paper is an attempt to begin to develop a Marxist-Leninist understanding of armed struggle in the American revolution and what that means for our tasks.

Today the revolutionary peoples of the entire world surround and batter the dinosaur of U.S. Imperialism from every side. Trapped in the storms of people’s war abroad, the ruling class faces chaos at home. The ferocious bellowings of U.S. Imperialism come from the agony of its death-bed struggle.

Yet we must not fool ourselves. Though the ruling class is doomed historically, it is still very powerful tactically. The consciously revolutionary forces at home are still small and very weak, particularly in theory, organization, and the material ability to wage even defensive fights. Lashing out in its final throes, imperialism turns to genocide abroad and fascism at home.

At this historical moment, a revolutionary organization must put forward the all-sided Marxist-Leninist strategy that the revolutionary masses need in order to win. It would be criminal to present ourselves as organizers and leaders unless we have this strategy. And the masses know this. They reject idealists as dangerous dreamers. Poor and working people do not need to be convinced that they would be better off if they ruled the country. But they don’t believe that this is possible. Even the most advanced s proletarian people will be unwilling to commit themselves to revolution unless they see a realistic strategy for defeating the ruling class.

On the other hand, the correct Marxist-Leninist strategy for proletarian revolution is not some abstract plan concocted in the privacy of a scholar’s library or by a gang of conspirators in a smoke-filled hideaway. Like all correct ideas, it emerges from the efforts of the masses themselves to change social reality. The possible forms of revolutionary armed struggle in any particular time and place are determined by the actual material conditions, the development of the primary and secondary contradictions, the current levels and forms of struggle, and – key to all – how the revolutionary masses are developing consciousness of all these factors. The winning strategy in one situation may be suicide in another, and no strategy can be successful unless the masses can understand and apply it.


As Lenin pointed out in 1906 in “Guerilla Warfare,” Marxism “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.” So American Marxist-Leninists at this point must sum up the forms of armed struggle engaged in by the revolutionary masses, just as conscientiously as we try to sum up the experience of strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations, caucuses, workers’ committees, electoral politics, serve-the-people programs, etc.

Probably the best framework for this summary is the one provided by our Chinese comrades, as they analyze the U.S. scene: “In this revolutionary struggle, more and more people have embarked on the road of hitting back at counter-revolutionary violence with revolutionary violence. The workers’ struggle, the student movement, and the Afro-American struggle have gradually merged into a gigantic revolutionary torrent.” (Peking Review, August 28, 1970.)

A) revolutionary violence in the workers’ struggle

Throughout the history of the U.S., class struggle has been bloody. The working class, particularly miners and industrial workers, have often used bombs and guns to fight back against the violence of the ruling class. The Molly Maguires of the mid-19th-century coal-mining regions of Pennsylvania were spectacular in the organization of terror and sabotage, but more important is the everyday level of violence today. Out of 5,000 bombing... in 1969, 60% occurred in labor struggles. In achieving every major victory, the working class has had to fight back against the organized violence of the state. Almost every strike, no matter how economist its demands, of any duration uses bombs (as in the recent burning down of the scab Garden City warehouse in San Jose) and guns (as in the recent shooting of the dynamite truck in the mid-west). There is one unifying characteristic in all these actions. No matter how large the masses participating in the struggle, as soon as it advances beyond fists, pipes, picket signs, and chains, workers begin to move in very small groups, usually three’s and four’s. These actions assume the character of guerilla activity. And they usually last as long as the struggle, and often grow in number and intensity as the strike drags on.

The American working class also has a long tradition of two basic principles home defense and community defense. Not all aspects of these principles are progressive, particularly where racism has been dominant. And the pig media are quick to blow up any incident where white workers attack Blacks. But the most significant recent applications of these principles were quite revolutionary. In the Black uprisings of 1964-1968, whenever police and troops advanced into mixed neighborhoods, poor and working white people opened fire on them. In fact, more whites than Blacks were arrested for shooting and sniping at police and national guard! (This may be partially explained by their being more easily isolated and identified.) These white snipers ”appeared to come disproportionately from lower socio-economic strata of Whites, and were just as likely to be unemployed and to have previous arrest records as Blacks who were arrested.” (New York Times, Jan. 22, 1970)

B) revolutionary violence in the student movement

The student movement started out very strangely for an American political movement in that it was pacifist. This may have been its most un-American characteristic, and may even have helped to isolate it from the masses. During this phase, students were subjected to increasing violence not only from the state but also from vigilante groups, who often used bombs and guns against both Civil Rights and Peace organizers. (It is interesting to note that when a pro-Nazi group conducted a series of 38 bombings and shootings in the Palo Alto-Mountain View area of California they attacked the homes and offices of only pacifists and liberals, very carefully avoiding the revolutionaries.)

In 1966-1967, there were scattered instances of student and youth anti-war demonstrators fighting back with fists, shields, sticks, and stones against police assaults. The most important was during Stop the Draft Week in October, 1967, at the Oakland Induction Center, where a few prisoners were actually freed and 10,000 people held the police at bay throughout the entire downtown section of the city for four and a half hours. But this was still unarmed, and by no means particularly violent.

Then in the summer of 1968, a few molotov cocktails were thrown at police during mass demonstrations of street people and students on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and a few shots were actually exchanged in an uprising in the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco. Since then there have been occasional incidents like this in various sections of the country.

Attacks against property began fairly early in the movement, and were often committed by pacifists. By 1968 the destruction of draft files and the sabotage of buildings housing the ROTC and Selective Service were becoming quite widespread. From 1968 through 1970, there was a new phase, marked by mass attacks against war research, facilities, banks, and other imperialist buildings. Generally this amounted to little more than window-breaking, but in some cases buildings were actually burned down, including the famous Bank of America branch in Isla Vista. Later in 1970, a small section of the movement, led by the Weathermen, began fairly systematic attacks with explosive and incendiary bombs against armories, ROTC buildings, Selective Service offices, war research centers, courts, corporate headquarters, banks, and government offices throughout the country. According to the California National Guard, there are now approximately twenty such bombings each week in California alone. The Weatherman and similar groups are organized into underground cells and see themselves as forerunners of more advanced guerilla formations.

None of this includes the actions of the Black and other Third World students, who are less part of a student movement than of the national liberation struggles of their peoples. Black students were forced into armed self-defense in the early 1960’s, even prior to the emergence of a student movement as such. At each point where Black and other Third World students have moved on predominantly white campuses, they have consistently raised the level of struggle. At Cornell, Black students defended a sit-in with rifles and shotguns. At the College of San Mateo and San Francisco State, a movement with Third World leadership produced a number of bombings in the course of mass struggle.

C) revolutionary violence in the Black liberation struggle

The Black nation has engaged intermittently in armed struggle ever since the first Black slaves were brought to the American colonies. The most characteristic early forms were slave revolts, assassination of slave owners, am sabotage. After Emancipation and Reconstruction, Black people were subjected to systematic campaigns of terror and violence, and they were forced to develop a very deep tradition of armed self-defense, which is reflected even in the constitution of the NAACP.

Until 1963, the term “race riot” referred to massive assaults by White against Blacks. But in that year a new phenomenon appeared briefly: massive Black uprisings occurred simultaneously in Detroit and New York. The White press called these “race riots,” but in reality they were rebellions sparked by particularly outrageous dents of police brutality, and they took the now famous form of burning and looting of the white exploiters within the Black ghetto.

But for almost twenty years after World War II, Black people relied almost exclusively on unarmed, and even in one period on consciously non-violent forms of struggle. Even armed self-defense played a very minor role. The 1957 case of Robert Williams, who helped lead the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter of the NAACP in armed self-defense, created quite a national sensation.

Then in 1964, long after most people had quite forgotten those 1943 uprisings, began what Mao described as “a storm such as has never taken place before in the history” of the U.S. In the summers of 1964, 1965, 1966, and 1967 the broad masses of Black people rose up in armed rebellion, using the molotov cocktail as a people’s bomb, and inflicting billions of dollars in material damage on U.S. Imperialism. This reached a climax in April, 1968, when simultaneous rebellions took place in one-hundred-and-twenty-five U.S. cities. In order to put down the rebellion in Washington, D.C. alone, 14,000 federal troops had to go into action within the capitol.

These 1964-1968 Black rebellions marked a turning point in U.S. history. For the first time, the revolutionary forces were aligned in a revolutionary manner, with the Black nation leading instead of being allowed to fall in the rear under cover of the slogan “Black and white, unite and fight.” Our entire strategy of the United Front Against Imperialism is a reflection and accurate summing up of this reality.

Many Black revolutionary organizations were born in the course of this tremendous historical event, often created in the very midst of the action. The League of Revolutionary Black Workers of Detroit, for instance, emerged during and after the great Detroit rebellion of the summer of 1967. It was during the course of these mass actions, in early spring of 1966, that SNCC adopted the position of “Black Power,” and moved from being an integrated, non-violent, student-led group to a Black organization aspiring to be revolutionary. But certainly the organization that has had the greatest historical importance so far is the Black Panther Party.

The Panthers began in Oakland in 1966 as a consciously revolutionary group organized around the traditional Black idea of armed self-defense, but unfolding around the gun an all-round program of self-defense in a much larger sense, including demands for the fulfillment of all basic human needs. This was a minimum program designed to unfold into the maximum program of socialist revolution. From the beginning, the Panthers attempted to lead the Black masses from the extremely self-destructive mass uprising to a higher level of armed struggle, moving from groups organized for self-defense to guerilla groups to forces capable at some future point of moving toward the actual seizure of state power. Every major Black ghetto in the U.S., and virtually every minor one, has had a mass uprising, with one notable exception-Oakland, birthplace of the Panthers.

April, 1968, represents a turning point in the forms of struggle for the Black liberation movement. That was the last of the mass uprisings, and the beginning of armed military attacks by the police against revolutionary Black organizations, particularly the Panthers. In Oakland in April, 1968, the police ambushed a group of leading Panthers, killing Bobby Hutton and wounding Eldridge Cleaver. In the two and a half years since then, dozens of Panthers have been killed, scores shot, and hundreds jailed. In one aspect, this phase was part of a revolutionary offensive; it represented a rapidly growing revolutionary consciousness and organization. But its primary aspect was defensive, as the Panthers bore the brunt of the reactionaries’ counter-attack. If there were a few carrots thrown to the masses, there was a huge stick to try to break the back of the Panthers.

In most of these police military operations, the Panthers came out on the losing side. Throughout the ghettoes, there was much criticism of the Panthers for talking a better game than they were prepared to fight. This reached its most disastrous point in the Chicago raid which murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. That was December 4, 1969. Four days later, events reversed again. The Los Angeles Panthers repelled a surprise early-morning pig raid and then held off hundreds of L.A. pigs for almost five hours, suffering no casualties. Late that afternoon, the pigs in San Francisco cleared a few streets and began to surround the S.F. Panther headquarters and the pigs in Berkeley seemed to be poised for an attack on national Panther headquarters. Numbers of supporters rushed to defend the Panthers, and the pigs backed down. Since then, police raids have noticeably slowed down, though of course they have by no means stopped.

Meanwhile, Black revolutionary forces have begun limited offensive operations, as part of a strategic defensive. Small groups of Black guerillas have ambushed hundreds of-police, killing dozens. In Cairo, Illinois, a town of only 8,000, a uniformed guerilla force turned the tactic of armed assault on an isolated headquarters back on the pigs. Three waves of about thirty fighters pinned the pigs in their pen for hours with automatic weapons and rifle fire and then retired safely to a Black housing project. Throughout the Black nation, particularly in the great urban centers but also in the countryside in the South, small groups of Black guerillas are arming, training, and beginning to undertake small scale guerilla actions.

D) other revolutionary violence

Within the cities, the Chicano liberation struggle and the Puerto Rican movement have developed forms of revolutionary violence roughly parallel to those of the Black movement. There have been mass uprisings in Spanish Harlem, the Puerto Rican sections of Brooklyn, and the barrio of East Los Angeles. More recently, there have appeared guerilla actions in all these areas.

But two important additional contributions have been made by Latin peoples. In New York, the Young Lords Party has organized armed seizure of part of an imperialist institution (Lincoln Hospital) and armed defense of neighborhoods seized by the squatters’ movement. In New Mexico, Chicano forces have actually seized and defended sizeable, tracts of land.

Native Americans have also begun to reopen the question of whose guns are going to control what land, particularly in incidents in the Pacific Northwest and California. And on the island of Puerto Rico itself, U.S. imperialist institutions have come under waves of guerilla attacks, inflicting hundreds of millions of dollars of damage and inspiring the liberation struggle of the nation.

Finally, the struggle within the armed forces can hardly ever avoid actual combat. It is difficult inside this country to get any accurate information on the extent of mutinies, sabotage, and offing of lifers and officers. But we do know that this armed resistance is quite widespread.

As early as the spring of 1967, full-scale mutinies were occurring with some regularity according to the Press Agency of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and New China News Agency. As one of many examples:

On April 14, 1967, a fully armed mutiny occurred at the base of Dau-Tiend (province of Thu Dau Mot) among elements of the 3rd Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division. A unit was ordered to proceed on a ”search and destroy” mission in the vicinity where another unit had just been decimated. Several men refused the order directly. The enraged commanding officer ordered another group to open fire on the rebels, who then returned the fire. In the resulting battle, about fifty GI’s were killed, thirteen tents were burned, and three helicopters destroyed. The base was sealed off, and no outside personnel were admitted for three days. (L’Humanite, 24 April 1967 and Le Monde, 27 April 1967.)

Another kind of action, which represents an advanced internationalist consciousness, occurs when GI’s actually join the Vietnamese and fight on their side. Most, but not all, of these are Black. According to some reports, there is a special Green Beret unit now assigned to the one task of killing or capturing these GI’s. Minor sabotage and assassinations continue on a daily basis. But we only hear of an occasional spectacular and hard to hide incident. Some of these occur within mass struggle, like the burning of a barracks in Da Nang or the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. Others are the acts of a few conscious individuals (Let’s not condemn them as Weathermen.), like the two or three sailors who recently put a cruiser out of operation and forced it to limp back home to California.


All Marxist-Leninists recognize that “the seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution” and that “this Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally.” (Mao, “Problems of War and Strategy.”) We also all recognize the universal truth of Mao’s next sentence: “But while the principle remains the same, its application by the party of the proletariat finds expression in varying ways according to the varying conditions.” Mao then goes on to distinguish China’s concrete conditions from those prevailing within the bourgeois democracies in order to show that armed revolutionary war was essential in China at that time.

In the bourgeois democracies as they existed in that period, Mao says that “the task of the party of the proletariat” is to “educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle,” using electoral politics, strikes, trade unions, and education in a long ”bloodless” struggle to prepare “for the final overthrow of capitalism.” Mao here refers to capitalist countries quite different both internally and in their world relations from the present U.S. empire. At that time, the principal contradiction in the world was between the fascist states and the emerging United Front against Fascism. The Soviet Union was attempting to ally with the bourgeois democracies, particularly France, Britain, and the U.S., against the fascist powers (Germany, Italy, Japan, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria). Within the bourgeois democracies, particularly where the Communist Party participated in a Popular Front government, such as France, or where the capitalist government could be moved toward an alliance with the Soviet Union, as in the U.S. and Britain, legal, bloodless struggle could accomplish important historical tasks. On the other hand, within the fascist states, it was the clear responsibility of the Communist Party to organize underground, military operations against the government. And when these states attacked the Soviet Union, it would have been criminal for Communists not to organize sabotage and guerilla operations as their main task. In Italy, the first fascist state, the Communists organized an advanced military-underground, able to conduct large-scale guerilla operations, and largely because of this they emerged at the end of World War II as the party of the proletariat, the largest and most powerful political force in the country.

Some people misunderstand Mao’s analysis, and think that it applies to the U.S. empire a third of a century later. But Mao says explicitly that the long legal, bloodless struggle is demanded only “because of these characteristics”: “Internally, capitalist countries practice bourgeois democracy (not feudalism) when they are not fascist or not at war, in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations.” (Italics ours.)

The U.S. empire, on the contrary, is permanently at war. And it wages this war not against other imperialist states, but against socialist countries and national liberation movements throughout the world. Therefore, one of the main spearheads of struggle in the United Front Against Imperialism is “Against Imperialist Aggression, Support for Colonial Liberation.” As RED PAPERS 2 explains, Communists within the belly of the beast have “an imperative proletarian duty” to build “concrete support” (Italics ours) for the liberation forces fighting against our rulers.

Secondly, the U.S. empire is not a bourgeois democracy, but a developing fascist state. Almost a quarter of a century ago, Mao pointed out: “The U.S. government still has a veil of democracy, but it has been cut down to a tiny patch by the U.S. reactionaries and become very faded .. . The reason is that the class struggle has become more intense. When the class struggle becomes still more intense, the veil of U.S. democracy will inevitably be flung to the four winds.” (“Why Is It Necessary to Discuss the White Paper,” 1949.)

As Peking Review No. 35 (1970) points out, “This wise prediction of Chairman Mao’s has been fully borne out by the historical facts of class struggle in the United States over the past 21 years. .. . Since coming to power, the Nixon government, faced with the American people’s raging revolutionary struggle, has recklessly resorted to the counter-revolutionary tricks of deception, and at the same time stepped up its tempo of fascistization, discarding completely the veil of democracy which had already been torn to pieces by the reactionary U.S. ruling circles, thus entirely revealing its hideous fascist features.” (Italics ours) Therefore, another one of the main spearheads of struggle in the United Front Against Imperialism is “Against Fascism.” RED PAPERS 2 here explains that the fight against fascism must be conducted “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.” It goes on to condemn “social-pacifism clothed in the most revolutionary rhetoric,” and points out: “To build the mass movement against fascism without preparing for offensive, illegal action, is to lead the masses Into an ambush.”

Constant war abroad and growing fascism at home are both characteristics of the U.S. empire. But these are not unique. Other empires have conducted their business in similar ways. But there is one special, unique feature of the U.S. empire which constitutes the single most important objective condition in developing the strategy of the American revolution. Mao’s analysis of the bourgeois democracies shows up this fact by contrast: “in their external relations, they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress, other nations.” RED PAPERS 1 bases itself directly on this fact. It forms the basis of the very first spearhead in the United Front Against Imperialism. This fact is that the U.S. empire oppresses other nations in its internal relations.

Two of the nations oppressed by the U.S. empire, the Black nation and the Chicano nation, exist within its own heartland. If these were external colonies, our duty to them as Communists would be the same as our duty to other national liberation struggles. The fact that they exist inside the boundaries of the so-called United States does not lessen this duty but makes it more imperative. ”Concrete support” here at home must mean concrete military aid, both in supplies and deeds, as well as mass political support. This would be true even if the Black and Chicano nations were only fighting for their own national liberation.

But the most important fact about the Black and Chicano nations is not their geographic location but their class position. Both these nations, together with the national minorities, constitute the most oppressed section of the U.S. proletariat. Although many people of these two nations work as ah agricultural proletariat, Blacks in the South and Chicanos in the Southwest, the majority of both Blacks and Browns live in the great cities and work in the most advanced industries. The heart of the American economy remains the auto industry, which supports steel, oil, rubber, glass, machine tools, and many service and finance branches. The overall membership of the United Automobile Workers is now over 50% Black.

Actual production workers are probably 65-80% Black. Detroit itself is overwhelmingly a Black city. The industrial proletariat in San Jose and Los Angeles is largely Chicano, in New York largely Puerto Rican. In all sections of the country and in all the basic industries, Black and Brown workers are increasing as a percentage of production workers. The industrial proletariat of the imperialist homeland to a large extent consists of people from the internal colonies. Furthermore, Washington, the capital itself, is 80% Black, and every government office is largely staffed on the lower levels by Black workers. The entire strategy of the Revolutionary Union has been consistently based on the dual role of the internal oppressed nations, who experience both neo-colonial oppression and capitalist exploitation, and who therefore fight back against the empire in a national liberation struggle that unfolds into proletarian revolution.

However, this is not an automatic process. It can occur only if the proletariat is united, with the white proletariat as well as the Black and Brown understanding that the “oppressed peoples’ movement” plays ”a special and leading role in both the overall struggle of the proletariat and in the united front.” (RED PAPERS 2) In explaining the final spearhead of struggle, ”Unite the Proletariat,” RED PAPERS 2 points out: “A primary manifestation of white chauvinism among revolutionaries is the marked tendency to consider armed struggle the domain of Blacks and ideological struggle the domain of whites. Somehow, white skins are assumed to be too valuable to sacrifice to a pig’s bullet, while Black and Brown minds are seen as unable to cope with the theory of Marxism-Leninism.,’ But that part of the question is only the tip of the iceberg. The main strategic problem of the U.S. revolution fat the present period lies in the extremely uneven development between the white and non-white sections of the proletariat. The oppressed peoples participate directly in the principal contradiction within the world and are moving rapidly into armed struggle against U.S. Imperialism. In so doing, they help to reveal the fundamental contradiction within the U.S., between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

But that can only become (he principal contradiction if conscious revolutionaries can rally the rest of the proletariat and its allies to the side of the oppressed peoples against the ruling class. Unity cannot be achieved by asking the vanguard forces to slow down and wait for their, white class brothers and sisters. In fact, this can only block i unity, for there is enough revolutionary consciousness throughout the oppressed nations to understand that the most advanced forces should not be asked to follow the leadership of middle or backward sectors. Unity can be achieved only when and as the most advanced sections of the white proletariat show in practice that they are in fact class brothers and sisters. As RED PAPERS 2 puts it: “It is the special duty of white communists and revolutionaries to arouse white, working people to their true class interests, to an understanding of the vanguard role of Black and Brown people, and to the fulfillment of the historic role of the proletariat as a unified class in smashing imperialism and remaking the world.” And RED PAPERS 2 points out that in order for this to take place, “white revolutionaries must join now with Black and brown revolutionaries in armed self-defense and other forms of armed struggle.”


There are some who believe that revolutionary war cannot begin until the masses are objectively ready to seize state power and are willing to fight and die for that objective. A few even go so far as to say that armed struggle cannot begin until that point is reached. The essence of their argument is the flip side of the Weathermen’s attack on the United Front Against Imperialism. The Weathermen argue that since “the anti-imperialist revolution and the socialist revolution” are ”one and the same stage,” there is no basis for programmatic revolutionary unity short of the maximum program, the seizure of state power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They point out that in China the various non-proletarian classes in the United Front Against Imperialism all had both an objective class interest in “actually winning against imperialism” and a consciousness that that was the goal of the struggle. They correctly argue that in China, protracted war was waged first to achieve an historical task that was not socialist revolution, but the defeat of imperialism and feudalism and the establishment of New Democracy. They contrast this to the U.S., where imperialism is not an invading force but the very nature of the system, where “throwing it out” is “the same thing as overthrowing it.” They argue that since “someone not for revolution is not for actually defeating imperialism either,” there is no basis for a United Front Against Imperialism within the U.S.

What is wrong with this argument? The mistake lies in the words “actually defeating,” and it is precisely the same mistake made by those who argue that people will only fight against imperialism when they are consciously revolutionary. The United Front strategy rests solidly on the assumption that people will struggle against imperialism long before they understand that they must overthrow it, and that they can inflict actual defeats on imperialism without totally defeating it. This second part is extremely important, because otherwise the United Front strategy would be false advertising, a phony gimmick to sucker people into a fight solely to arouse revolutionary consciousness: Long before the final victory over imperialism, some oppressed peoples abroad and perhaps even some at home will win their national liberation and others will make great gains, some imperialist wars will be smashed, women within the U.S. can win important victories against oppression, fascism can be slowed or halted, and the proletariat will be united and will certainly resist the monopoly capitalists’ attack on living standards. But of course none of this can happen unless people engage in active struggle against imperialism in each of its aspects. Only as this struggle unfolds will it become increasingly revolutionary – that is, aimed at the actual seizure of state power by the proletariat and its allies. But then comes the key question: Does this mean that the struggle will not and can not take the form of armed struggle until it becomes revolutionary? We don’t have to look into crystal balls to find part of the answer: in at least four out of five of the spearheads of struggle, armed conflict has already played some part.

The liberation struggles of the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and Native American peoples have produced mass armed uprisings as well as guerilla activity. The fight against imperialist aggression has included mutinies, sabotage, and even active participation of GI’s on the side of the Vietnamese people. The fight against fascism has involved armed self defense, ambushes, and attacks on pig stations and cars. The struggle against the monopoly capitalists’ attack on living standards has often meant the use of bombs and guns in strikes. So it is clear that there are at least some elements of the masses who are ready to fight and die in anti-imperialist struggle far short of any consciousness of the necessity to fight for state power.


Revolution is always a protracted struggle. The specific forms of this struggle have varied according to differences in national and world conditions at the time and place of each revolution and its class nature. There may be long period of relatively bloodless struggle punctuated or climaxed by episodes of upon warfare, or the revolutionary process may take the form of extremely protracted open warfare, interspersed with relatively peaceful lulls. There are several interconnected reasons why revolution is always a protracted struggle.

The ruling class has a deeply developed economic and cultural base as well as a monopoly on the “legitimate” tools of violence: the courts, prisons, police, armed forces, in short, the entire state apparatus. Combatting the ruling class, which is armed to the teeth, always takes time, and for a long period the revolutionary forces are always relatively weak in relation to the ruling class.

The revolutionary forces remain for a long time weak not only materially but also in consciousness. The ruling class understands the society and knows what its job is. It spreads false consciousness throughout the classes it rules over. The revolutionary masses can only become aware of all this as they actively attempt to change social reality. As Lenin puts it: “The real education of the masses can never be separated from their independent political, and especially revolutionary, struggle. Only struggle educates the exploited class. Only struggle discloses to it the magnitude of its own power, widens its horizon, enhances its abilities, clarifies its mind, forges its will.” (“Lecture on the 1905 Revolution.”) That is how Lenin explains why in 1905 while “the narrow-minded and overbearing reformists” claimed “that there was not yet a revolutionary people in Russia,” the proletariat could initiate a revolution while at first thinking that they were merely fighting for an economic reform: The proletariat “set out to win the eight-hour day by revolutionary action. ’An Eight-Hour Day and Arms!’ was the fighting slogan of the St. Petersburg proletariat.” (Ibid.)

A revolutionary class is one that is growing in material power, bursting its own bonds, challenging and then smashing the forms of the existing society. In the dialectic of the revolutionary process, the revolutionary class gains consciousness as it discovers its growing material power and the ruling class becomes confused as it discovers its own material inability to rule. The revolutionary class develops its strength and the ruling class weakens, not separate from each other, but locked in class struggle. The triumph of the revolution, the actual seizure of state power, comes only when this long process has reached a point where the ruling class is so objectively weak that it can no longer rule in the old way, and the revolutionary masses have understood that they must overthrow the old system and have the material ability to do so.

Revolution in this country will also be protracted. In fact, the protracted process of revolution has already begun. The ruling class is still relatively strong and the revolutionary forces are now and will be for some time relatively weak. But historically, it is the imperialists who are weak and the revolutionary masses who are strong. The masses of people pushing forward the separate spearheads of anti-imperialist struggle move toward a recognition that these are aspects of the same fight, the fight against imperialism. Within the principal contradiction the balance of forces keeps shifting away from the imperialists. As imperialism is battered by national liberation movements at home and abroad, its internal contradictions increase from day to day, moving inevitably toward the moment when the American masses recognize that the fundamental contradiction If that between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and that it an be resolved only by the dictatorship of the proletariat, the triumphant form of the United Front Against Imperialism. Our situation internationally is almost precisely the opposite of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which was surrounded by hostile forces determined to smash the proletarian victory. Now the balance of forces has shifted. Today, for the first time in history, we are surrounded by the world’s revolutionary masses. The revolutionary peoples of the world are our fighting allies, concretely supporting our struggle as they defeat the imperialists on every kind of battlefield, from the jungles of Vietnam to the factories of Shanghai. As we concretely support them, we grow and develop. From a position of weakness, our own revolutionary forces are moving toward a position of strength.

But even the real and potential strengths of the revolutionary forces cannot change the fact that U.S. Imperialism is a ferocious enemy. We stand face to face with the most dangerous ruling class in all of human history. It already has shown its willingness to use genocide against people’s war abroad and at home to combine general political repression with selective massacres. Every day the imperialists show their preparation for fascism, which will become more brazen and more vicious as resistance and revolutionary struggle increase. Again and again the ruling class will try to liquidate the revolutionary forces, which will be able to survive and grow only as they are able to mobilize the masses to meet counter-revolutionary violence with revolutionary violence. Every revolutionary would agree that to defeat this enemy we must prepare in every way for a long drawn-out struggle, a struggle that will have to overcome the sum total force that this most powerful ruling class in the history of the world is able to bring to bear. But the key question remains unanswered: To what extent will this struggle be armed?

In trying to predict the form of revolution in the advanced capitalist countries, Lenin said, just prior to the February 1917 Revolution, that he agreed with an earlier prediction that it ”will be less like a spontaneous uprising against the government and more like a protracted civil war.” In fact, he said that ”undoubtedly that is how it will be in the coming European revolution.” (“Lecture on the 1905 Revolution”) Now we can get into metaphysical arguments about exactly what Lenin did or didn’t mean by that, but it is clear that he was recognizing that the powerful nature of the bourgeois state meant that overthrowing it would involve some long period of revolutionary warfare. And in Russia, despite the fact that the bourgeoisie was not able to entrench itself in power and despite the fact that the state had been tremendously weakened in World War I, the Bolsheviks did have to lead a four-year protracted civil war against the counter-revolutionary forces even though they had already seized state power.

There is one gigantic fact that we must face honestly and squarely: there has never yet, in the entire history of the world, been a successful proletarian revolution in an advanced capitalist country. Lenin understood quite well that the Bolsheviks were not organizing against an established bourgeois state. As a matter of fact, he saw clearly after the February revolution in 1917 that it would be a criminal mistake to allow the bourgeois state the opportunity to establish itself, as was advocated by various fools, opportunists, cowards and pigs in the Central Committee.

’Why have all attempts at proletarian revolution in advanced capitalist countries failed? It’s true to say that they failed because conditions were not ripe. It’s equally true to say that they failed because their theory was inadequate. And of course the two go together. Revolution cannot win without correct revolutionary theory, and practice always marches ahead of theory. Bui one thing is clear: the “Communist Party’’ of every single capitalist country, without exception, is revisionist, non-revolutionary, or downright counter-revolutionary. This includes the parties of France and Italy, where the overwhelming majority of the industrial proletariat consider themselves Communist revolutionaries and accept the leadership of the Communist Party, the large Japanese party, and the feeble parties of “West Germany,” Britain, and the U.S.

Most of these parties began as revolutionary, not revisionist, parties. Many of their members and leaders were dedicated Communist revolutionaries. How did they change from red to pink or white? There are of course many reasons. But one thing they all have in common. Their idea of the revolutionary process is: we organize and organize and organize and organize, and then some day when we’re Strong enough we seize state power. They not only separate political organizing from armed struggle against the state, but consistently pose each against the other. The revisionists do not deny the need for armed self-defense, including mass self-defense, or the eventual need for the armed overthrow of the bourgeois state. What they do attack is revolutionary armed struggle as part of the process that makes that overthrow possible. The Communist Party, U.S.A., for instance is quite ready to say: “The big job whether in the ghettoes or elsewhere, is to organize the people and give them leadership. This must include the right of armed self-defense against police or racist violence, and the organization of mass self-defense by a variety of means. But the slogan, ’Pick up, the gun,’ is another matter.” The “tactical slogan ... would result only in individual actions, if any, and it would alienate larger masses who are moving into struggle.” (“Terrorism – Is It Revolutionary?,” by Gil Green, CPUSA, July, 1970.) What the revisionists consistently fail to see is that it is impossible to organize to the point of being able to seize state power without first greatly weakening the power of the state in protracted struggle. Yes, that struggle takes place in the realm of consciousness, but it is also a material struggle, and the two are dialectically related.

The fundamental error in the revisionists’ thinking on the question of armed struggle lies in this metaphysical separation of revolutionary dialectics. The ruling class and its state do not weaken of their own accord, but only as the revolutionary class fights against them, using all forms of struggle. And only in the process of this struggle does the revolutionary class develop the consciousness, will, and material power capable of seizing and holding state power.

The bourgeois state does not just fall apart as its rule becomes more irrational. Quite to the contrary, the historical tendency of the bourgeois state is to consolidate itself, to become more and more centralized and omnipotent: ’The modern State, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit.” (Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific) This applies as well to the present state in the Soviet Union, which the Chinese comrades accurately label “Social-Fascist,” as it does to the state in the U.S. And a fascist state, contrary to what the German Communist Party thought in advance, is far stronger internally than a bourgeois democracy. Unless the state is actively fought, state power will continue to grow more powerful. That is why the initial revolutionary armed struggle is primarily defensive in character. Its goal is not to seize state power, but to prevent the further consolidation of state power into fascism. (That is why the correct focus of armed struggle within the Black and Brown liberation movements is against the police.) The revolutionary forces survive and grow only as they are able to lead this defensive struggle in all its forms.

As this struggle unfolds, it more and more takes on the recognizable form of armed struggle against the state. But throughout this first phase, armed struggle is neither offensive nor the primary form of struggle. This phase has already begun. Open legal and semi-legal mass organizing and propaganda remain primary. But a secondary aspect of the United Front Against Imperialism already has seen the following: Armed self-defense of homes, offices, printing facilities, mass leaders, cadre. Unarmed physical self-defense by mass demonstrations, backed up by the threat of using arms if the pigs do. Mass physical attacks and small-group sabotage against imperialist facilities, particularly those singled out during mass movements: draft boards, induction centers, banks, ROTC buildings, pig stations, management offices and the homes of company officials, corporate headquarters. Guerilla actions against the police. Bank robberies. The seizure of arms from armories, military bases, trains, trucks, mail, and weapons factories.

As the defensive struggle develops, armed struggle bit by bit becomes more and more important and aggressive. When armed struggle becomes both primarily offensive and the primary form of struggle, a qualitative change takes place. At that point, the goal of the United Front Against Imperialism becomes the seizure of state power.

This overall understanding of the role of revolutionary warfare within protracted struggle must be transformed into a practical strategy to defeat the dual errors of adventurism and revisionism. Adventurism comes in many forms but in essence it believes that victory is nearer and easier than it really is. Adventurism is dangerous, but far more deeply destructive is revisionism, which, seeing that victory is not near, shuns armed struggle and spreads defeatism. By harping on the present invincibility of the ruling class, it leads to class collaboration. And in order to avoid the struggle, it makes the weaknesses of militant groups primary and thus becomes sectarian and “pure.” It combines right opportunist practice (economism, and social pacifism) with left opportunist rhetoric (attacks on militant actions because they are not sufficiently revolutionary). In one sense, adventurism and revisionist social pacifism are opposite sides of the same coin. For instance, in evaluating sabotage (or window breaking), social pacifists will point out that these actions will not by themselves destroy imperialism while adventurists believe that they will. The correct evaluation of acts of sabotage, whether committed by workers, students, sailors, or lumpen, is to see them both as secondary aspects of the mass movement an J as part of a protracted revolutionary war of attrition against the ruling class. The principle here is one of protracted war: the accumulation of small acts, engaged in by larger and larger groups of people, constitute strategic action.


When revolutionary armed struggle breaks out during a period when the revolutionary forces are weak and the ruling class strong, it must rely largely on guerilla actions. This is true whether or not these actions actually add up to a condition of guerilla warfare. In protracted revolutionary war, guerilla warfare characterizes the period of strategic defensive, which acknowledges the relative weakness of the revolutionary forces and the strength of the enemy. The goal of this stage is to initiate attacks on the enemy, while preserving and developing the revolutionary forces. Guerilla warfare is primarily a war of attrition, in which a relatively weaker force is able to mobilize and grow over time, moving to a position of strength. The power of revolutionary guerilla warfare lies in its dialectical character. Far from being some fantasy of some bourgeois strategist, it wholly conforms to the dialectical development of the protracted class struggle. It develops unevenly, but can begin very early, and it moves inevitably from low levels to higher levels of warfare.

The revolutionary armed struggle in the U.S. will certainly be waged primarily in the cities. Unlike other peoples’ wars, which inspire us and teach us valuable lessons, ours will not be one fought from rural base areas. Rural areas are primary in the Third World because there the majority of the oppressed and therefore revolutionary population are mostly peasants (small farmers) and rural proletariat. There, in order to rely on the masses, the war has to be essentially rural in character, using the countryside to surround the seat of reactionary power, the cities. In the U.S., the revolutionary masses work and live for the most part in urban areas. Our revolutionary countryside primarily lies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, though there may indeed be extensive fighting in our own rural areas, particularly in the Black Belt and Aztlan.

In order to understand how protracted war, or for that matter protracted struggle accompanied by armed actions, is possible in the U.S., we have to understand the special role of urban guerilla warfare. To do this, we must see how and why urban guerilla warfare has developed historically.

Capitalism developed in the cities and developed two new military tools to secure power: guns and the modern army. Arabs brought gunpowder to Western Europe at the beginning of the 14th century, and soon guns were invented, just as the merchants in the towns began piling up capital. Ever since the time that the first capitalists used guns to get political power from the feudal lords, it has been true that “All political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The feudal lords ruled the countryside, surrounded by stone walls in their castles. The bourgeoisie (“bourgeoisie originally meant people who lived in a town) didn’t have stone walls and huge tracts of land.

What they did have was lots of money, and with that money they could hire workers to produce guns and gunpowder and unemployed people to fight for them. The first modern armies appeared in Italy in the 15th century. The stone walls and castles of the feudal lords fell in the face of manufactured cannons and hired armies.

From this time forward, the armies of the capitalists are mercenaries and conscripts. That is, they are either paid to fight or forced to fight. This was how modern army discipline became developed. Because severe discipline is necessary in order to hold a capitalist army together, strategy has to be built on this. Here was an army equipped with lethal weapons and fighting against its will. How could they go into combat? For three centuries the answer was: in a straight line. (Those of us who have been in the military understand how serious it still is “to get out of line.”) The entire mass of infantry had to move all at once, could only move on absolutely level ground, and once locked in combat either won or lost almost at a single blow. The first American revolution changed much of this. The rebels were fighting for their own interests, and they didn’t ”fight fair.” They moved and fought in small groups. The line was powerless, faced with an invisible enemy melting away into the forests arid into the masses of the people. From this point on, guerilla warfare has become increasingly important.

In the French Revolution, and even more in the proletarian revolutions of 1848, guerilla warfare moved into the cities. Early 19th-century cities were overgrown medieval cities, filled with mazes of narrow streets and alleys. So barricade and street fighting was quite effective for the workers and their allies. But as the bourgeoisie consolidated its own power, they leveled the existing workers’ quarters in the central cities and built in their place broad, long, straight thoroughfares which could be commanded by the artillery and machine-guns developed in the 1860’s and mass produced in their factories. The armies of the state now had almost insurmountable physical advantages over the revolutionary proletariat. This, together with the ability of the bourgeoisie to rally urban petty-bourgeoisie, led Engels to conclude that “rebellion in the old style, the street fight with barricades, was to a considerable extent obsolete.”

The 1905 Russian Revolution changed all this, as Lenin pointed out in “Lessons of the Moscow Uprising” (August, 1906). Lenin drew several lessons from die spontaneous actions of the masses, including, ”As is always the case, practice marched ahead of theory.” First of all, ”the general strike, as an independent and predominant form of struggle, is out of date.” Second:

It is not enough to take sides on the question of an armed uprising. Those who are opposed to it, those who do not prepare for it, must be ruthlessly dismissed from the ranks of the supporters of the revolution, sent packing to its enemies, to the traitors or cowards; for the day is approaching when the force of events and the conditions of the struggle will compel us to distinguish between enemies and friends according to this principle.

And then the specific conclusion. Lenin saw that “it is high time now ... to review Engels’ conclusions” because new class relations and new military factors had created “new barricade tactics”:

These tactics are the tactics of guerilla warfare. The organization required for such tactics is that of mobile and exceedingly small units, units of ten, three or even two persons. We often meet Social-Democrats now who scoff whenever units of five or three are mentioned. But scoffing is only a cheap way of ignoring the new question of tactics and organization raised by street fighting under the conditions imposed by modern military technique.

Lenin understood the changes that had taken place in objective conditions, but as usual the dogmatists in the party did not. So he had to confront them with their blind book worship:

When I see Social-Democrats proudly and smugly declaring “we are not anarchists, thieves, robbers, we are superior to all this, we reject guerilla warfare,” – I ask myself: Do these people realize what they are saying? Armed clashes and conflicts between the Black-Hundred government and the population are taking place all over the country. This is an absolutely inevitable phenomenon at the present stage of the development of the revolution the population is spontaneously and in an unorganized way-and for that reason often in unfortunate and undesirable forms – reacting to this phenomenon also by armed conflicts and attacks. I can understand us refraining from Party leadership of this spontaneous struggle in a particular place or at a particular time because of the weakness and unpreparedness of our organization. I realize that this question must be settled by the local practical workers and that the remolding of weak and unprepared organizations is no easy matter. But when I see a Social-Democrat theoretician or publicist not displaying regret over this unpreparedness, but rather a proud smugness and a self-exalted tendency to repeat phrases learned by rote in early youth about anarchism, Blanquism and terrorism, I am hurt by this degradation of the most revolutionary doctrine in the world.

Lenin’s other writings during this period begin to develop the Marxist-Leninist theory of urban guerilla warfare and point out many practical aspects for revolutionaries:

However much you may turn up your noses, gentlemen, at the question of night attacks and similar purely tactical military questions, however much you may pull wry faces about the ”plan” of assigning secretaries of organizations, or their members in general, to stand on duty to provide for any military exigency – life goes its own way, revolution teaches, taking in hand and shaking up the most inveterate pedants .. . The stationing of patrols and the billeting of squads are all purely military functions; they are all initial operations of a revolutionary army and constitute the organization of an insurrection, the organization of revolutionary rule, which matures and becomes stronger through these small preparations, through these minor clashes, testing its own strength, learning to fight, training itself for victory . . . (August, 1905)

... military operations together with the people are now commencing. It is by engaging in such operations that the pioneers of armed struggle become fused with the masses not merely in word but in deed . . . (September, 1905)

It horrifies me – I give you my word – it horrifies me to find that there has been talk about bombs for over six months, yet not one has been made! And it is the most learned of people who are doing the talking-go to the youth, gentlemen! . . . Form fighting squads at once everywhere, among the students, and especially among the workers, etc., etc. Let them arm themselves at once as best they can, be it with a revolver, a knife, a rag soaked in kerosene for starting fires, etc. ... Do not make membership in the R.S.D.L.P. an absolute condition – that would be an absurd demand for an armed uprising. Do not refuse to contact any group, even if it consists of only three persons: make it one sole condition that it should be reliable as far as police spying is concerned and prepared to fight the tsar’s troops.

The propagandists must supply each group with brief and simple recipes for making bombs, give them an elementary explanation of the type of the work, and then leave it all to them. Squads must at once begin military training by launching operations immediately, at once. Some may at once undertake to kill a spy or blow up a police station, others to raid a bank to confiscate funds for the insurrection ... But the essential thing is to begin at once to learn from actual practice: have no fear of these trial attacks. They may, of course, degenerate into extremes, but that is an evil of the mo now, where as the evil today is our inertness, our doctrinaire spirit, our learned immobility, and our senile fear of initiative. Let every group learn, if it is only by beating up policemen: a score or so victims will be more than compensated for by the fact that this will train hundreds of experienced fighters, who tomorrow will be leading hundreds of thousands. (“To the Combat Committee of the St. Petersburg Committee,” October, 1905)

The contingents may be of any strength, beginning with two or three people. They must arm themselves as best they can (rifles, revolvers, bombs, knives, knuckle-dusters, sticks, rags soaked in kerosene for starting fires .. .). Under no circumstances should they wait for help from other sources, from above, from the outside; they must procure everything themselves . . .

It must not be forgotten that the chances are 100 to 1 that events will take us unawares, and that it will be necessary to come together under terribly difficult conditions.

Even without arms, the groups can play a most important part: 1) by leading the mass; 2) by attacking, whenever a favorable opportunity presents itself, policemen . . . and seizing their arms; 3) by rescuing the arrested or injured, when there are only a few police about; 4) by getting on the roofs .. . and showering stones ... on the troops, etc. Given sufficient push, an organized and well-knit combat group constitutes a tremendous force. Under no circumstances should the formation of the group be abandoned or postponed on the plea of lack of arms . ..

Further, revolutionary army groups should under no circumstances confine themselves to preparatory work alone, but should begin military action as soon as possible ... The groups can and should immediately take advantage of every opportunity for active work, and must by no means put matters off until a general uprising, because fitness for the uprising cannot be acquired except by training under fire. (“Tasks of Revolutionary Army Contingents,” October, 1905)

We should remember that Lenin wrote all this during the 1905 Russian Revolution, which was defeated. In fact, the urban proletarian forces in Russia in 1905 were not capable of maintaining the struggle nearly as long as the Black rebellions in the cities of the U.S. between the summer of 1964 and the spring of 1968. One reason that the Russian proletariat was only 12 years away from victorious revolution was the physical nature of those Russian cities compared to that of our own cities today.

The neatly laid out central cities of late 19th-century Europe could not accommodate the waves of people swept from the land into the factories. By the middle of the 20th century, European cities were once again beginning to provide some advantages for proletarian and anti-fascist forces. This made possible the urban guerilla fighting in Madrid, the seven-month defense of the Warsaw ghetto, and the steadily growing underground resistance in Paris and other French cities, which probably could have liberated France in a year or two without the Anglo-American invasion. Most major American cities in the last third of the 20th century provide much greater physical advantages for the revolutionary forces.

An important counterinsurgency theorist for the enemy, Colonel Rex Applegate, argues that urban jungles are far more difficult terrain for their forces than any tropical rainforest or mountainous region. Jungles or even mountains are essentially two dimensional, and are subject to saturation bombing with napalm, phosphorous, and explosives. But cities like New York or Chicago, with their high-rise apartments and multi-layered underground systems, are three dimensional jungles. Furthermore, rural guerillas can never be completely integrated with large masses of people, because the rural population itself is spread out in small villages and farms. The urban guerilla, on the other hand, swims in a real ocean of the people.

We see both advantages operating in the recent successful ambush of two pigs in Chicago. The guerillas fired from a huge high-rise apartment complex, and were even able to prevent three attempts by massed pigs to recover the bodies of their fallen fellow oinkers. The enemy had no idea exactly where the fire was coming from. They did not have the option of returning massive fire, because to do so would have further revolutionized the thousands of people in the apartment complex, not to mention the effects on the city, the nation, even the world. Even in searching for the guerillas, the pigs had to kick in literally hundreds of doors.

No other society in history has been so overwhelmingly urbanized. The industrialization of agriculture has poured the population of the countryside in wave after wave into the cities. The shift has been particularly rapid for the Black and Brown peoples. Within four decades for the Black nation, and within two for the Chicano and Puerto Rican people, the majority has moved from the countryside into the very centers of the cities. The Black and Brown nations have abruptly shifted from peasant nations to what may be the first two nations in history to be predominantly composed of urban industrial proletariat.

Urban guerilla activities take place within cities that physically manifest the decay of the empire. The utility systems of decaying imperialism are delicate, overstretched; indefensible, and absolutely vital. In 1965, a single circuit breaker in a Niagara Falls power station caused an extended total power failure in New York and four other middle Atlantic states. Now there are “brownouts” caused by the normal summer overload. The movement of water supplies in»or garbage out of the cities is constantly on the verge of breakdown. The actual level of these services may still be very high compared to most of the world, but they are in irreversible decay. This is not the era of expanding capitalism, extending vital new lines of transportation and power. It is the era of decadent capitalism, which congests itself in mazes of needless highways while its mass transport industries go bankrupt and break down, and which demolishes needed housing to build skyscrapers for finance capital. It is within these physically decadent cities that much of the armed struggle of the American revolution is bound to take place.

It would be adventurism to think that the empire could be brought to its knees through an attack on its complex system of power, transportation, and communication. But we should recognize the enormous tactical significance in the fact that large areas can be instantly paralyzed by such simple acts as the blocking of freeways and bridges, the destruction of power stations, and the disruption of communications. Even at the present stage, the United Front strategy has already seen the unmet need for such actions, particularly in support of Black and Brown urban uprisings. It is inexcusable for revolutionaries to allow an unchallenged military force to bear down on an isolated ghetto or barrio.

Throughout the struggle, the revolutionary forces will always be in close proximity to the reactionary forces. It must be understood that in this country urban areas are at the same time the base for revolutionary political power and the bastions of the ruling class. This situation has several disadvantages for the revolutionary forces. The ruling class will defend itself ferociously in the city. It will be able to mobilize its coercive methods and forces more quickly than if it had to prepare and sustain campaigns in rural areas. We will always find the enemy breathing down our necks. But the revolutionary advantages are greater. The ruling class will always be surrounded by the revolutionary masses. They will be subject to more direct attack than if the struggle were primarily in the countryside. They will have extreme problems in engaging in full scale warfare in cities which are their most important possessions. Operating in full integration with the enemy will give the revolutionary forces excellent opportunity to have complete knowledge of the plans and preparations of the reactionary forces.

All this points to the extremely high priority of developing underground skills and capabilities. As Lenin points out, “the struggle against the political police requires special qualities; it requires professional revolutionaries” (WHAT IS TO BE DONE?). Survival and victory will depend on identity papers, hiding places for people and objects, secret medical facilities, reliable methods of communication, etc. etc. This is not in contradiction to the action of the masses. Quite the reverse. One of Lenin’s main points in WHAT IS TO BE DONE? is that “the active arid widespread participation of the masses depends on the existence of an organization made up of professional revolutionaries, “no less professionally trained than the police,” which is able to “centralize all the secret side of the work.” Already, even, prior to the development of a party, some of this work has taken place; for example, fairly large numbers of wounded have been cared for by the revolutionary forces.

The struggle will probably be characterized mainly by small unit operations on a constant and expanding basis, punctuated by mass uprisings. “Since the revolutionary forces will be operating “integrated with the enemy,” it will he difficult, except in the final phase of struggle, fir relatively large military formations to come together. On a day-to-day basis, the fight will be characterized by ambushes, acts of sabotage, and interdiction of supply and communication facilities, and executions by small units using their ability to quickly concentrate and disperse to harass and create havoc among the enemy. But since the revolutionary struggle is a war of the masses, and given the deterioration of the entire system, periodically the essentially guerilla character will take on insurrectionary form, with political strikes, mass demonstrations, rioting, and even mass armed uprisings. As the situation becomes more desperate for the ruling class and the contradictions become more acute, the spacing between such uprisings will probably be shortened, and their development will become more generalized so as to erupt in many areas simultaneously. The week of mass uprisings in April, 1968, was an example of this.

For most of the struggle, the main emphasis in operations will be against the police, and other forms of paramilitary fascist formations. The use of the military by the ruling class is likely to be intermittent and confined to extremely serious or extended situations. The contradiction for them is that even under a complete system of fascism a military occupation of major urban areas would leave the reactionary forces spread thin, and would be disruptive of the economic stability and proper functioning of these areas. This contradiction will allow the revolutionary forces to initiate actions and disengage, thus throwing the state apparatus into continual confusion. Since the military forces will be unreliable over long periods of time, because they are proletarian and multi-national, and because they will be heavily infiltrated with revolutionaries, the main burden of counter-revolution will fall on the police. Historically, the police have never been able to smash revolutionary movements unless backed up by the military. The development of a coordinated revolutionary surge in urban centers can tax the police to their limits, throw them into confusion, isolate them, and lead to their eventual destruction. This will be particularly true in periods in which uprisings are frequent and widespread, keeping whatever military forces can be brought to bear diffused.

In the formative and intermediary stages the main areas of armed revolutionary struggle will be in and around Black and Brown communities, as it is the revolutionary peoples of the internal colonies who are the vanguard in the fight against U.S. Imperialism. One disadvantage of this is that the main battlefields will often be so well defined that they can be surrounded and cut off from the rest of the urban area, both politically and militarily. This isolation must be broken by the strategy of the United Front Against Imperialism and the development of guerilla capabilities throughout the rest of the city, capable at first of diversionary acts.


Chairman Mao teaches us that: “Without a people’s army the people have nothing.” This statement contains the heart of a people’s revolutionary war. Small groups of even the most heroic revolutionary fighters cannot expect to win lasting victories over the ruling class, let alone overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. A people’s army expresses the military might of the masses.

The growth of a people’s army, like the development of protracted guerilla war, must be viewed dialectically, as Lenin did. Large-scale, well coordinated revolutionary armies are not created overnight. They must come from the revolutionary struggle of the masses. In its most elemental form, the revolutionary army begins from the need of the masses to defend themselves against the economic and military terror of the bourgeois dictatorship. More and more people from oppressed classes and strata are seeking to arm themselves for self-defense. The qualitative change comes when the need of the masses to defend themselves becomes integrated into the practice of revolutionary organizations, so that armed struggle is no longer just a matter for individuals, but a mass question. However, even in an organized mass way, armed self-defense is incapable of completing the revolutionary task, and in time will even become less useful for defense. Once the people are armed and willing to defend themselves, and even their neighbors, friends, and fellow workers, it must be shown that the only real defense is to destroy the enemy. To destroy the enemy requires offensive action and an organized military force.

A people’s army is a diverse formation that may represent the combined forces of several revolutionary organizations, independent military and political groupings, with a class composition of the proletariat plus elements of the petty-bourgeoisie and lumpenproletariat. The uniting force is a common understanding that the bourgeois dictatorship is merciless and must be overthrown. However, among these groups there will be differing notions as to the direction the struggle should take, with the representatives, of the “revolutionary” petty-bourgeoisie and lumpen refusing to acknowledge the proletariat as the only class with the ability to carry the struggle through to its successful conclusion. Given the diffuse character of a people’s army, it must be the role of the fighting formation of the vanguard of the proletariat – the Communist Party and its military arm – to use the strength of these other groups, which is their willingness to do battle with the forces of reaction, while overcoming their weaknesses by being prepared to give direction to the struggle.

If the revolutionary Communist Party is to be the general staff of the struggle, and its fighting arm the main and essential force, the organization must have the following: (1) a Fighting core around which a people’s army can grow; (2) a pool of military cadre that can train and give direction to other groups, Fighting units, and the masses; (3) a unified political and military leadership; (4) cadre working within the ranks of the imperialist military forces; and (5) a firm base among the masses, having their confidence and trust. Without each and every one of these the organization will be unable to provide effective leadership for the struggle.

As the general revolutionary struggle will unfold around an anti-imperialist united front, so will its highest political form-armed struggle – also take on the character of a united front. This united front must consist of both a strategy capable of integrating the independent actions of all classes, strata, and groupings and actual alliances among armed revolutionary groups.

A united front military strategy must be based on a thorough summation of the practice and potential role of all forces. Their strengths and weaknesses must be assessed in terms of the needs of protracted urban guerilla struggle. The areas to be considered are class background, relationship with the masses, level of organization, fighting ability (both actual and potential), and ideological comprehension of the character of the revolution. There must also be consideration of where independent actions by other groupings can be integrated into the overall strategy, and where such actions are likely to diverge. The central feature of this strategy must be to integrate as broad as possible a military base under proletarian leadership in all campaigns and actions.

The crucial link will be the development of a strong, class-conscious fighting force under the direct command of a revolutionary Communist Party fully integrated with and leading the struggles of the masses. Out of both political and military necessity, this must be able to act as an independent force. Operating within the United Front strategy, the Communist Party must be able to initiate military action at crucial times, unencumbered by the weaknesses of other groups, but must also be able to participate in both temporary and lasting alliances.

At the present time, when armed struggle including both mass uprisings and guerilla activity occurs intermittently, when no Communist Party exists, the key military job of a Communist organization is merely the military aspect of its political task: to link up the sections of the United Front under the leadership of the vanguard, the Black and Brown proletariat. This means certain concrete things must be done by any Communist revolutionary organization.