What is Guerrilla Warfare? – Mao Tse-tung on guerrilla warfare

Just2know : There is no knowledge that is not power
Just2know : There is no knowledge that is not power

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operations are a necessa ry part. This is particu­ larly true in a war waged for the emancipation of a people who inhabit a vast nation. China is such a nation, a nation whose techniques are undeveloped and whose communica­ tions are poor. She finds herself confronted with a strong and victorious Japanese imperialism. Under these circu m­ stances, the development of the type of guerrilla warfa re characterized by the quality of mass is both necessary and na tural. This wa rfa re must be developed to an unprece­

dented degree and it must coordina te with the operations of our regular armies. If we fail to do this, we will find it difficu l t to defea t the enemy. ·

These guerrilla operations must not be considered as an independent form of warfare. They are but one step in the total wa r, one aspect of the revolu tiona ry struggle. They are the inevitable result of the clash between oppressor and oppressed when the latter reach the limits of their ertdura nce. In our case, these hostilities began at a time when the people were unable to endure any more from the Japanese imperialists. Lenin, in People and Revolution,

said: “A people’s insurrection and a people’s revolu tion


M ao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warfare

are not only natural but inevitable.” We consider guerrilla operations as but one aspect of our total or mass war be­ cause they, lacking the quality of independence, are of themselves incapable of providing a solution to the struggle. Guerrilla warfare has qualities and objectives peculiar to itself. It is a weapon that a nation inferior in arms and mili­ tary equipment may employ against a more powerful ag­ gressor nation. When the invader pierces deep into the heart of the weaker country and occupies her territory in a cruel and oppressive manner, there is no doubt tha t con­ ditions of terrain, climate, and society in general offer obstacles to his progress and may be used to advantage by those who oppose him. In guerrilla warfare, we turn these advantages to the purpose of resisting and defeating the


During the progress of hostilities, guerrillas gradually develop into orthodox forces that operate in conjunction with other units of the regular army. Thus the regularly organized troops, those guerrillas who have attained tha t sta tus, and those who have not reached that level of de­ velopment combine to form the military power of a national revolutionary war. There can be no doubt that the ultimate result of this will be victory.

Both in its development and in its method of application, guerrilla warfare has certain distinctive characteristics. We first discuss the relationship of guerrilla warfare to national policy. Because ours is the resistance of a semicolonial country against an imperialism, our hostilities must have a clearly defined political goal and firmly established political responsibilities. Our basic policy is the creation of a na tional


Yu Chi Chan (Guerrilla Warfare )

united anti-Japanese fron t. This policy we pursue in order to gain our political goal, which is the complete emancipa­ tion of the Chinese people. There are certain fundamental steps necessary in the realiza tion of this policy, to wit:

l . Arousing and organizing the people.

2. Achieving internal unifica tion politically.

3. Establishing bases.

4. Equipping forces.

5. Recovering na tional strength.

6. Destroying enemy’s national strength.

7. Regaining lost territories.

There is no reason to consider guerrilla warfare separately from national policy. On the contrary, it must be organized and conducted in complete accord with national anti­ Japanese policy. It is only those who misin terpret guerrilla action who say, as does Jen Ch’i Shan, “The question of guerrilla hostilities is purely a military ma tter and not a political one.” Those who maintain this simple poin t of view have lost sight of the political goal and the political effects of guerrilla action. Such a simple point of view will cause the people to lose confidence and will result in our defeat.

What is the relationship of guerrilla warfare to the peo­ ple? Without a political goal, guerrilla warfare must fail, as it must if its political objectives do not coincide with the aspirations of the people and their sympathy, cooperation, and assistance cannot be gained. The essence of guerrilla warfare is thus revolutionary in character. On the other


M ao Tse”tung on Guerrilla Warfare

hand, in a war of counterrevolutionary nature, there is no place for guerrilla hostilities. Because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympa thies and cooperation. There are those who do not comprehend guerrilla action, and who therefore do not understand the distinguishing quali ties of a people’s guerrilla wa r, who say: “Only regular troops can carry on guerrilla operations.” There are others who, because they do not believe in the ultima te success of guerrilla action, mistakenly say: “Guerrilla warfare is an insig­ nificant and highly specialized type of operation in which there is no place for the masses of the people” (Jen Ch’i Shan). Then there are those who ridicule the masses and undermine resistance by wildly asserting that the people have no understanding of the war of resistance (Yeh Ch’ing, for one). The momen t that this war of resista nce dissocia tes itself from the masses of the people is the pre­ cise momen t tha t it dissociates itself from hope of ultimate victory over the Japanese.

What is the organization for guerrilla warfare? Though all guerrilla bands tha t spring from the masses of the peo­ ple suffer from lack of organization at the time of their forma tion, they all have in common a basic quality tha t makes organization possible. All guerrilla units must have political and military leadership. This is true rega rdless of the source or size of such units. Such units may originate locally, in the masses of the people; they may be formed from an admixture of regular troops with groups of the people, or they may consist of regular army units intact.


Yu Chi Chan (Guerrilla Warfare )

And mere quan tity does not affect this matter. Such units may consist of a squad of a few men, a battalion of several hundred men, or a regiment of several thousand men.

All these must have leaders who are unyielding in their policies-resolute, loyal, sincere, and tobust. These men must be well educa ted in revolutionary technique, self­ confident, able to establish severe discipline, and able to cope with coun terpropaganda. In short, these leaders must be models for the people. As the war progresses, such leaders will gradually overcome the lack of discipline, which at first prevails; they will estabtish discipline in their forces, strengthening them and increasing their combat efficiency. Thus eventual victory will be attained.

Unorganized guerrilla warfare cannot contribute to vic­ tory and those who attack the movemen t as a combination of bandi try and anarchism do not understand the nature of guerrilla action. They say: “This movemen t is a haven for disappointed militarists, vagabonds and bandits” (Jen Ch’i Shan), hoping thus to bring the movement into dis­ repu te. We do not deny that there are corrupt guerrillas, nor that there are people who under the guise of guerrillas indulge in unlawful activities. Neither do we deny that the movemen t has at the presen t time symptoms of a lack of organiza tion, symptoms that might indeed be serious were we to judge guerrilla warfare solely by the corrupt and temporary phenomena we have mentioned. We should study the corrupt phenomena and attempt to eradicate them in order to encourage guerrilla wa rfare, and to in­ crease its military efficiency. “This is hard work, there is no help for it, and the problem cannot be solved immedi-


M ao Tsetung on Guerrilla Warfare

ately. The whole people must try to reform themselves during the course of the war. We must educate them and reform them in the light of past experience. Evil does not exist in guerrilla warfare but only in the unorganized and undisciplined activities that are anarchism,” said Lenin, in On Guerrilla Warf are.*

Wha t is basic guerrilla strategy? Guerrilla strategy must be based primarily on alertness, mobility, and attack. It must be adjusted to the enemy situation, the terrain, the existing lines of communication, the relative strengths, the wea ther, and the situation of the people.

In guerrilla warfare, select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a ligh tning blow, seek a lightning decision. When guerrillas engage a stronger enemy, they withd raw when he advances; harass him when he stops; strike him when he is weary; pursue him when he wi thdra ws. In guerrilla strategy, the enemy’s rear, Ranks, and other vulnerable spots are his vital points, and there he must be harassed, attacked, dispersed, ex­ hausted and annihila ted. Only in this way can guerrillas carry out their mission of independen t guerrilla action and coordination with the effort of the regula r armies. Bu t, in spite of the most complete preparation, there can be no victory if mista kes are made in the ma tter of command. Guerrilla warfare based on the principles we have men­ tioned and carried on over a vast extent of territory in which

“‘ Presumably, Mao refers here to the esay that has been translated into English under the title “Partisan Warfare.” See Or bis, II (Sum­ mer, 1958), No. 2, 194-208.-S.B.G.

Yu Chi Chan (Guerrilla Warfare)

communica tions are inconvenient will contribute tremen· dously towards ultimate defeat of the Japanese and con­ sequent emancipation of the Chinese people.

A careful distinction must be made between two types of guerrilla warfare. The fact that rev6lutionary guerrilla warfare is based on the masses of the people does not in itself mean that the organization of guerrilla units is im­ possible in a war of counterrevolutionary character. As examples of the former type we may cite Red guerrilla hos­ tilities during the Russian Revolution; those of the Reds in China; of the Abyssinians against the Italians for the past three years; those of the last seven years in Manchuria, and the vast anti-Japanese guerrilla war that is carried on in China today. All these struggles have been carried on in the interests of the whole people or the greater part of them; all had a broad basis in the national manpawer, and all have been in accord with the laws of historical development. They have existed and will continue to exist, flourish, and develop as long as they are not contrary to national policy. The second type of guerrilla warfare directly contradicts the law of historical development. Of this type, we may cite the examples furnished by the White Russian guerrilla

units organized by Denikin and Kolchak; those organized

by the Japanese; those organized by the Italians in Abys­ sinia; those supported by the puppet governmen ts in Man­ churia and Mongolia, and those that will be organized here by Chinese traitors. All such have oppressed the masses and have been contrary to the true in terests of the people. They must be firmly oppased. They are easy to destroy because they lack a broad foundation in the people.


M ao Tsetung on Guerrilla Warfare

If we fail to differentia te between the two types of guer· rilJa hostilities men tioned, it is likely that we will exagger· ate their effect when applied by an invader. We might arrive a t the conclusion that “the invader can organize guerrilla units from among the people.” Such a conclusion might well diminish our confidence in guerrilla warfare. As far as this matter is concerned, we have bu t to remember the historical experience of revolutionary struggles.

Further, we must distinguish general revolu tionary wars from those of a purely “class” type. In the former case, the whole people of a na tion, without regard to class or party, carry on a guerrilla struggle that is an instrument of the national policy. Its basis is, therefore, much broader than is the basis of a struggle of class type. Of a general guerrilla war, it has been said : “When a nation is invaded, the people become sympathetic to one another and all aid in organizing guerrilla units. In civil war, no ma tter to wha t extent guerrillas are developed, they do not produce the same results as when they are formed to resist an invasion by foreigners” ( Civil War in Russia). * The one strong feature of guerrilla warfare in a civil struggle is its quality of internal puri ty. One class may be easily united and perhaps fight with great effect, whereas in a national revo­ lutionary war, guerrilla units are faced with the problem of internal unifica tion of different class groups. This necessita tes the use of propaganda. Both types of guerrilla

” Presumably, Mao refers here to Lessons of Civil War, by S. I. Gusev; first published in 1918 by the Staff Armed Forces, Ukraine; revised in 1921 and published by GIZ, Moscow; reprinted in 1958 by the Military Publishing House, Moscow.- S.B.G.

Yu Chi Chan (Guerrilla Warfare )

war are, however, similar in tha t they both employ the same military methods.

Na tional guerrilla warfare, though historically of the same consistency, has employed varying implements as times, peoples, and conditions differ. Tthe guerrilla aspects of the Opium War, those of the fighting in Manchuria since the Mukden incident, and those employed in China today are all sligh tly differen t. The guerrilla warfare con­ ducted by the Moroccans against the French and the Spanish was not exactly similar to that which we conduct today in China. These differences express the character­ istics of different peoples in differen t periods. Although there is a general similari ty in the quality of all these struggles, there are dissimilarities in form. This fact we must recognize. Clausewitz wrote, in On War: “Wars in every period have independen t forms and independent conditions, and, therefore, every period must have its in­ dependen t theory of war.” Lenin, in On Guerrilla War­ fare, said: “As rega rds the form of fighting, it is uncondi­ tionally requisite that history be investigated in order to discover the conditions of environment, the state of eco­ nomic progress, and the political ideas that obtained, the national characteristics, customs, and degree of civiliza tion.” Again : “It is necessary to be completely unsympa thetic to abstract formulas and rules and to study with sympathy the conditions of the actual fighting, for these will change in accordance with the political and economic situations

and the realiza tion of the people’s aspirations. These progressive changes in conditions create new methods.”

If , in today’s struggle, we fail to apply the historical


M ao Tse-tung on Guerrilla Warf are

truths of revolu tionary guerrilla wa r, we will fall into the error of believing with Tou Hsi Sheng tha t u nder the impact of Japan’s mechanized army, “the guerrilla unit has lost its historical function.” Jen Ch’i Shan writes: “In olden days, guerrilla warfare was part of regular strategy bu t there is almost no chance that it can be applied today.” These opinions are harmful. If we do not make an estimate of the characteristics peculiar to our anti-Japanese guerrilla war, but insist on applying to it mechanical formulas de­ rived from past history, we are making the mista ke of placing our hostilities in the same category as all other national guerrilla struggles. If we hold this view, we will simply be beating our heads against a stone wall and we will be unable to profit from guerrilla hostilities.

To summarize: Wha t is the guerrilla war of resistance against Japan? It is one aspect of the entire war, which, although alone incapable of producing the decision, at­ tacks the enemy in every quarter, diminishes the extent of area under his control, increases our national strength, and assists our regular armies. It is one of the strategic instru­ ments used to inflict defea t on our enemy. It is the one pure expression of anti-Japanese policy, tha t is to say, it is military strength organized by the active people and in­ separable from them. It is a powerf ul special weapon with which we resist the Japanese and without which we can­ not defeat them.



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