Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Letter to the CWP: Guerrilla Warfare Now?

First Published: Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 6, No. 24, June 24-30, 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Dear Communist Workers Party:

I just finished reading your proposals on building Socialism in the U.S.A., Vol. 5, No. 21, June 16, 1980, Workers Viewpoint. The problem is that in order for us to achieve “the dictatorship of the proletariat” we have to practice every form of struggle, including but not limited to Guerrilla Warfare. See Pg. 185, Marxism, by V.I. Lenin. Your party seems to practice every other form of Marxist struggle but guerrilla warfare. The capitalist-imperialist swines and their running dogs will not turn over the “modes of production” through mere revolutionary reforms or slogans. We have to “deprive” them of the same in the very truest sense of the word. How long are we going to endure the violence that is perpetrated by the state capitalist apparatus and its collaborators, the KKK, Nazis, etc. and so on and so forth. Permit me if I may: “There are many places where there is national oppression and antagonism, but no guerrilla struggle, which sometimes develops where there is no national oppression whatever. A concrete analysis of the questions will show that it is not a matter of national oppression, but of conditions of insurrection. Guerrilla Warfare is an inevitable form of struggle at a time when the mass movement has actually reached the point of insurrection and when fairly large intervals occur between the “big engagements” in the civil war. It is not guerrilla actions which disorganize the movement, but the weakness of a party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control. That is why the anathemas which we Russians usually hurl against guerrilla actions go hand in hand with secret, casual, unorganized guerrilla actions which really do disorganize the Party. Being powerless to understand what historical conditions give rise to this struggle, we are powerless to neutralize its noxious aspects. But the struggle goes on just the same. It is engendered by powerful economic and political causes. It is not in our power to eliminate these causes or to eliminate this struggle. Our complaints against guerrilla warfare are complaints against our Party weakness in the matter of insurrection. What we have said about disorganization also applies to demoralization. It is not guerrilla warfare which demoralizes, but unorganized, irregular, non-Party guerrilla actions. We shall not rid ourselves one least bit of this most unquestionable demoralization by condemning and cursing guerrilla actions, for such condemnation and curses are absolutely powerless to put a stop to a phenomenon which has been engendered by profound economic and political causes. It may be objected that if we are powerless to put a stop to an abnormal and demoralizing phenomenon, this is no reason why the Party should adopt abnormal and demoralizing phenomenon, this is no reason why the Party should adopt abnormal and demoralizing methods of struggle. But such an objection would be purely bourgeois-liberal and not a Marxist objection, because a Marxist cannot regard civil war, or guerrilla warfare, which is one of its forms, as abnormal or demoralizing in general. A Marxist bases himself on the class struggle, and not social peace...” Pg. 193, Marxism, V.I. Lenin.

L.H. Austin, Tx.

* * *

To understand what Lenin is saying we have to know the situation in Russia at the time. A civil war was raging in the country between the White Guard reactionaries and the imperialists on one side and the Russian workers and peasants led by the Bolsheviks on the other. Peasants and even the Cossacks in some areas spontaneously opposed the cruelty of the White Guard forces. Although, they fought the reactionaries, the political aim of these uprisings was often fuzzy. For example, peasants raised the slogan, “Soviets Without Bolsheviks.” Also due to their spontaneous character, these revolts could not sustain themselves for long. After a while, some peasant forces became roving bandits, and many peasants and Cossacks refused to fight beyond the boundaries of their own village or territory.

Lenin criticized the Bolshevik’s weakness in organizing and giving political guidance to these groups, but in the passage you quote he does not talk about when, under what circumstances, guerrilla warfare becomes the Party’s major tactic relative to other ways of fighting such as mass political demonstrations, electoral work, cultural work and so on.

In the Chinese revolution for example, Mao said the principal form of struggle was armed struggle. This was because China was a large, semi-colonial, semi-feudal country. Related to this is the fact that the Japanese imperialists invaded and occupied China. In both China and Russia, the communists mastered all the forms necessary for them to lead the workers and take power.

But in an advanced capitalist country like the U.S. taking power is much more difficult. Our society is a lot more complex and the ruling class has more tricks to keep the people down. Winning over the majority of workers in Russia and China was easier since the working class there was small and concentrated in three or four industrial centers. According to Soviet Economic Development Since 1917, the Russian working class numbered some three to four million at the time of the revolution. The U.S. today has at least 90 million workers, not including children and elderly. At the same time, because our preparation for revolution has to be more thoroughgoing in a complex U.S. society, it will be easier for us to consolidate socialism than it has been for communists in China and Russia.

We know it will take an armed revolution to overthrow the ruling class and we are preparing for it. As was explained in the Jan.-Feb. issue of our theoretical journal, The 80’s, our General Secretary Jerry Tung synthesized four general tasks for the Party in this period. Briefly, these are: 1) We must reach out to the majority of the American people; 2) We must participate in local and national struggles, and through agitation, swing the mood of the majority and change the political scenery; 3) We must build our existing cadre core into a vanguard mass communist party through constant propaganda; 4) We must make all around military preparations for the coming battles ahead.

The relationship between these tasks at the present time is summed up by our slogan, “Political offensive, military defensive.” Our military defense serves our political offensive, One example is an anti-Klan demonstration which we led in Kokomo, Indiana. Our military defense against the Klan and the government gave us valuable time to expose the government’s support for the fascists, and inspired confidence among the people. In the 80s, workers won’t be able to fight effectively unless they are prepared to defend their organization and leadership against the inevitable attacks from the capitalists and the state. When to turn to the military offensive requires a concrete analysis of the overall political situation. At this time, majority of American workers do not see the need to overthrow capitalism, much less agree with the need for armed struggle (except in isolated cases like the miners’ strike), Guerrilla warfare at this time cannot win over the majority in the U.S. The struggle in Northern Ireland gives us some valuable insight. Clearly the Irish Republican Army believes in the necessity of armed struggle. But it is also clear that the majority of Irish people are not ready to take up arms against the British, although they overwhelmingly sympathize with the I.R.A. The strength of “legal” tactics, such as running I.R.A. members for government posts, is that it allows the vast majority to participate in the struggle and demonstrate their support for the I.R.A. Elections are perceived by the people as a safe and legitimate form to voice their grievances. Yet through the elections, the Irish people gain the confidence in themselves that together they are a power force. At the same time, it teaches the people, through their own experience, the inability of the ruling class to satisfy the people’s just demand.

Lenin said in “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder: “To throw the vanguard alone into the decisive battle, before the whole class, before the broad masses have taken up a position either of direct support of the vanguard, or at least of benevolent neutrality towards it, and one in which they cannot possibly support the enemy, would be not merely folly but a crime. And in order that actually the whole class, that actually the broad masses of the working people and those oppressed by capital may take up such a position... the masses must have their own political experience.”

It is our task today to give the American people forms which they can readily embrace and through which they can learn for themselves the necessity of overthrowing capitalism. Then, we must be ready to carry out this mandate through force of arms.