[An excerpt from the Manifesto Program of the (new) Italian Communist Party. It lays out their strategy, which they call Revolutionary Protracted People’s War. Despite the very similar terminology, it is quite different from the PPW strategy as laid out by RCP Canada. See also the (n)ICP article “The necessity of distinguishing between the universal and particular laws of the protracted popular revolutionary war“.]
Our strategy, the way for making Italy a new socialist country, is the revolutionary protracted people’s war. This is the conclusion of the balance of the experience of the communist movement, of the struggle of the working class against the imperialist bourgeoisie, in particular during the first wave of the proletarian revolution. By its nature the struggle of the working class against the imperialist bourgeoisie for establishing socialism is a revolutionary protracted people’s war. The communist party has to recognize this reality, understand it through the end and utilize this consciousness for directing the revolution. At the conclusion of the balance of the experience of the struggles the communist movement carried out against imperialist bourgeoisie in the last 130 years we have to repeat, paraphrasing what Mao said in 1940 regarding the proletarian revolution in China: “For more than hundred years we used to do the revolution without having a clear and right conception of it. We acted blindly: this is the reason of our defeat”. (127)
Mao Tse-tung elaborated in every detail the theory of the revolutionary protracted people’s war. (128) This theory is one of the main contributions of Maoism to communist thought. (129) Mao Tse-tung, however, was referring to the concrete case of the revolution of new democracy in China. So, in its elaboration there are combined the universal laws of revolutionary protracted people’s war valid for every place and time, and the particular laws valid for the revolution carried out in China in the first half of the last century. (130) So, it needs that every party learns from Maoism the universal laws of the revolutionary protracted people’s war and elaborate the particular laws for its country and time.
The question of how the working class would arrive to seize power was clearly posed for the first time by F. Engels in 1895, in its Introduction of the reprint of K. Marx’s articles Class struggles in France from 1848 to 1850.
At the end of the XIX century, at the beginning of the imperialist era of capitalism, in the most advanced countries the social democratic parties had already carried out their historical work to constitute the working class as a class politically autonomous from the other. They had put and end to the era when many people talented or inept, honest or not, attracted by the struggle for political freedom, by the struggle against king, police and priests’ absolute power, did not see the contrast between bourgeoisie and proletariat’s interests. They did not conceive even for a moment that workers could act as an autonomous social force. The social democratic parties had put an end to the era in which many dreamers, sometimes brilliants, believed that it would be enough to convince the rulers and the ruling classes of injustice and precariousness of existing social order for easily establishing universal peace and welfare on the earth. They dreamed to realize socialism without working class’ struggle against bourgeoisie. The social democratic parties put an end to the era in which almost all the socialist and in general working class’ friends saw the proletariat only as a social evil and get frightened noticing that with industry development also this evil was developing. So they thought how to restrain industry and proletariat’s development, to stop “the wheel of history”. (131) Thanks to Marx and Engels’ direction, the social democratic parties instead creates in the most advanced countries a political movement, headed by the working class, that placed its fortunes just in proletariat’s growth and in its struggle for establishing socialism and for the socialist transformation of the entire society.
The era of proletarian revolution was beginning. (132) Working class’ political movement was the subjective, superstructural side of the proletarian maturation, while the passage of capitalism to its imperialist phase was its objective and structural side.
The working class had already carried out some attempts to seize the power: in France in 1848-50 (133) and in 1871 with the Paris Commune, (134) in Germany with the participation on a large scale in political elections. (135) By then it was possible and necessary to realize how the working class would succeed to seize the power and start the socialist transformation of society. The conditions for facing the problem of the form of the proletarian revolution were gathered. In the Introduction of 1985 F. Engels draw the balance of the experiences till then carried out by he working class and clearly expressed the thesis according to which “ the proletarian revolution has not the form of an insurrection of the popular masses that overthrows the existing government, during which the communists, participating in it with the other parties, seize the power”. The proletarian revolution has the form of a gradual accumulation of the forces around the communist party, until reversing the relation of force: the working class has to prepare until a certain point “already within the bourgeois society instruments and conditions of its power”. Marx already explained that it was an illusion to believe to be able to establish a new social order taking possession of the bourgeois State and using it for carrying out that work. Engels added that was an illusion to believe to succeed in taking possession of the bourgeois State winning the elections: as this possibility was near to be realized, the bourgeoisie itself would have broken its legality. So the communist party had to work already then taking account of this sure event, had to prepare the masses to face it, to take advantage from it for definitively reckoning with the bourgeoisie. Adventurists, opportunists, reformists and movementists joined this point: they did not take in account already then that sure event, deterred the masses for preparing already then to it. The development of revolution in the latest century confirmed, specified and enriched all these theses of F. Engels. (136)
Opposing to Engels’ thesis according to which the working class can get the seizure of power only through a gradual accumulation of the revolutionary forces, some comrades present the Russian revolution of 1917 as a popular insurrection (“assault to the Winter Palace”) begun by the Party on 7th November 1917 during which the bolshevists seized the power. As a matter of fact the establishment of Soviet government in November 1917 had been preceded by a systematic work aimed to accumulate revolutionary forces around the communist party. Starting from 1905, this constituted itself as a free political force, existing and operating with continuity in view of seizing power, despite the Czarist wanted to destroy it, and so as a force the enemy was not able to destroy. So, the struggle carried out by the communist party from 1903 to 1917 can teach us something about how accumulating the revolutionary forces within the society dominated by the enemy, on condition to take in account in the right measure that Czarist Russia was an imperialist country but still semi feudal, that the revolution to be done was a revolution of new democracy, that in Russia did not yet exist a regime of preventive counter-revolution.
The establishment of Soviet government in November 1917 was preceded by the more specific work done from February to October 1917 in conditions of double power, of equilibrium between the two opposed fields, when the revolution already commanded military forces obeying only to the Soviets. It was followed by a civil war that had also to face the imperialist aggression that lasted three years until the end of 1920. As a matter of fact it ended only in a certain sense: in fact, considering the matter on the international level, not from the point of view of the revolution in Russia but from that of the world proletarian revolution, the effort of the imperialist bourgeoisie for suppressing the Soviet Union (become the red base of world proletarian revolution) went on with the long and many anti Soviet manoeuvres of the Twenties and Thirties and with the Nazi aggression in 1941-1945. (137)
In reality the history of Russian revolution is a brilliant confirmation of Engels’ thesis, the more brilliant because in this case the revolutionary popular war was successfully carried out without having elaborated its theory before. If we consider the course of revolutions followed one another since then in single countries and also the course of the revolution on a world level we see that the theory of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War comes out confirmed, both when revolution has been carried out until the establishment of the new power and also when it has been defeated. By the light of the theory of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War, in fact, also the reason of the defeats the communist movement of imperialist countries underwent becomes clear. (138) The experience confirmed that the popular insurrection, in determinate circumstances, is a useful and necessary manoeuvre within a war. But when it is assumed as a strategy of revolution, the communist are necessarily obliged to oscillate between adventurism and inertia.
The theory of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War indicates the course the communist movement has to do for overthrow the existing power and establish the working class’ power. This theory is an experimental science: it has been constructed elaborating the experience of the struggle carried out till now by the communist movement and it is verified and confirmed in the results the communist movement gets applying it in the class struggle. It is the synthesis of the experience carried out, translated in indications, criteria, lines, methods and rules for the revolution we have still to do. It is an open science, in the sense that it is going to be enriched, specified, and developed as the proletarian revolution advances in the world. It is a science that includes general principles and laws, valid in every country and time, and particular principles and laws that reflect the particularity of every country.
First of all the socialist revolution is a unitary process. The types of struggle composing this process and the episodes through which it develops are thousands, but they compose only one process. Every one of them is worth as long as it makes advance the entire process: this is the criterion for deciding the line to follow in every episode and in every particular field and through which evaluate the result of our action. For directing in a right way the entire process and in every single passage and component, we have to understand the connection among all the various kinds of struggle and episodes, we have to direct everyone of them taking in due account its universal and its particular character and using the particular to realize the universal. We have to understand how a phase prepares and generates the next one. To direct the struggle in a right way in a stage means to make it generate the next stage. We need to take in account the tie connecting all clashes and events one another; we need to take in account that every event generates another, that the qualitative result is generated by the quantitative accumulation. Every particular struggle must contribute to realize the final victory: concretely, it must contribute to widen the struggle, to take it at a higher level, to develop new forces, to open new struggle front, and to strengthen the forces that carried it out. Every phase has to prepare the ground and the forces for the next. On the other side in order to lead a clash to victory, we have to carefully take in account of the greater number possible of its particular aspects.
So the communist party must have a plan that includes all the aspects of popular masses’ struggle and the whole process of socialist revolution, until the establishment of socialism. The opportunists oppose systematically the elaboration of a plan. They scream against the “theoretical plan”. They play by ear, do “what is possible to do” from time to time, avail themselves of the circumstances. So they feel good with the spontaneists. The both personifies the characters of the most backward strata of our movement, acting spontaneously, they lay down on it. We want to elaborate and realize a plan, for leading in the right way every spontaneous movement for making it develop and reach a superior level, for strengthening the positive and fighting the negative trend in every spontaneous movement. Only the strategic plan allows to understand which is the positive and which the negative tendency. Surely it is not an arbitrary plan. It as to be a well founded conception and a clear line of action: a historical prospect scientifically build, with scrupulous seriousness, founding on all the past course of things the aims to get in the future and that we propose to the popular masses because they are aims they need and they have to consciously get. It implies a method consisting of evaluating the outcomes of past struggles for defining precisely the aims of future ones.
On the other side the party has to have a method of action and knowledge that allows it to lead successfully every single step and clash, in every field and ground. The struggle between the working class and the bourgeoisie does not go on at random. As every process it has its laws. The party has to discover, understand, apply them in every struggle field and ground, step-by-step, phase after phase.
In the modern society, in the last resort the power is the direction of the practical activity of the popular masses. The direction combines the conquest of heart and mind of the popular masses with the exercise of coercion and of organization of everyday life in all his aspects. The essence of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War consists of constituting the communist party as centre of the new popular power of the working class; in the growing mobilization and aggregation of all the revolutionary forces around the communist party; in the elevation of the level of the revolutionary forces; in their utilization according to a plan for developing a succession of initiatives that put the class conflict at the centre of country political life so that to recruit new forces, to weaken imperialist bourgeoisie’s power and to strengthen the new power, in succeeding to construct the armed forces of the revolution, in directing them in the war against bourgeoisie, until turning the relations of force upside down, eliminate the State of imperialist bourgeoisie and establish the State of proletariat’s dictatorship.
The communist party is the propelling centre of the new power. Since its foundation, it sets itself as a power autonomous from that of bourgeoisie and in competition with it. Its expansion and strengthening go in parallel with the reduction and weakening of bourgeoisie’s power. The bourgeoisie tries to stifle the new power, eliminating the communist party or corrupting it till it is transformed in a party “like the others”, a bourgeois party. The simple resistance, continuing to exist, without be stifled or corrupted, is already a victory for the party, the first victory of the new power.
The growth and strengthening of the new power, from its birth to its victory, passes through three great phases:
1. Strategically, the first phase is defensive (the strategic defensive). The superiority of the bourgeoisie is overwhelming. The party has to accumulate the revolutionary forces. It has to gather the revolutionary forces around itself (in the mass organizations and in the front) and within itself (in the party organizations), extend its presence and influence, educate the revolutionary forces to the struggle leading them to struggle. The progression of the new power is measured by the quantity of revolutionary forces gathered in the front and by their level. In this phase the main aim is not the elimination of the enemy forces, but to extend influence and direction of the communist party, gather revolutionary forces among the popular masses, elevate their level, that is to strengthen their consciousness and organization, to make them able to fight, to make their struggle against bourgeoisie more effective, to elevate their level of pugnacity.
2. The second phase is that of strategic equilibrium. The contrast between the revolutionary forces gathered around the communist party and the bourgeoisie has gone so far as the class struggle becomes civil war and the new power forms its own armed forces opposed to those of the bourgeoisie, militarily organizing part of the popular masses and through the passage to revolution by part of enemy armed forces. The first phase generates the second. Without preventive accumulation of the revolutionary forces there is no second phase. In the history of the communist movement we even saw bourgeois States dissolve (Germany, Austria and Hungary in 1918, Italy in 1943, Germany in 1945) without the communist movement passing to the second phase because of it. In the history of communist movement we saw the passage from the first to the second phase occurring in many ways. In some cases the bourgeoisie was no more able to bear the situation created by the new power and so broke its own legality and entered the field of civil war. The case of Spain in 1936 is classic. It could have been also the case of Indonesia in 1964 and Chile in 1973 if the communist movement wouldn’t yet be corroded by modern revisionists and by their conception and politics of “peaceful transition”. In other cases it was the communist movement that took the initiative to lead the class struggle on the ground of civil war. It is the case of Russia in 1905 and Italy in the Seventies. In other cases the passages occurred during a general war. It is the case of the coup d’etat of February 1917 in Russia, of the revolution of 1918 in Germany, Austria and many other countries of Central and Eastern Europe, of the Resistance of 1940 in France and the Resistance of 1943 in Italy. This passage could be occurred in other cases if the communist movement wouldn’t had shamefully withdrawn, because it was not prepared to the clash, facing the challenge, the threats and the blackmail of the bourgeoisie of entering the ground of civil war: in 1914 in many European countries, in the Red Biennium in Italy (1919-1920), in 1936 in France, etc. Once its own armed forces are formed, the new power has to succeed in keeping them on the battleground and strengthen them, against the furious attack of the bourgeoisie. To prevent their fast destruction is already a victory. This is what the communist movement realized, considering the things by the point of view of the world revolution, with the defeat of imperialist aggression to Soviet Russia in 1920 and then again in 1945. The strategic aim in this phase is to prevent the destruction of our own armed forces, to succeed in getting them continuing to exist, preventing the enemy from destroying them. As a rule, anyway, conquering this victory is more a political matter (to prevent the bourgeoisie from completely disposing its forces and asserting its military superiority) than a military matter in the strict sense.
3. The third phase is that of strategic offensive. The new power is by then able to launch its forces an attack, both in strictly military terms, and in general political terms, for destroying the enemy forces. The progression of the revolution is measured by how many enemy forces, military in a sense strict and politic in general, it eliminates or dissolves. The strategic aim in this phase is the establishment of the new power in all the country. Its realization ends this phase of the Protracted Revolutionary People’s War and ends the war itself.
So, the whole process sets up as a war: it is directed towards and concludes with the elimination of the State of bourgeoisie through an armed clash, because the armed forces are the protection of last resort of its power.
A popular war: because its core is the mobilization and organization of the popular masses around the communist party, it is fought by the popular masses and can be finally won only by the popular masses.
A revolutionary war: because of its aim (to establish the power of the working class and to open the way for building a new social order), because of its nature (it is not the conflict among States and opposed armed forces, but between an oppressed class that gradually assumes the direction of the popular masses, conquers their heart and mind and builds its new power against a class of oppressors that already has its State and its armed forces and has inherited from history the hegemony upon the popular masses), because of its method (the revolutionary class has the initiative and through its initiative obliges the ruling class to enter the field of struggle more favourable to the oppressed class).
It is a protracted war because in any case, carrying out the whole process above indicated requests a time that cannot be established a priori. In order to win, it needs to be disposed to fight for all the time that will be necessary, to organize and direct our own forces according to this imperative, to manoeuvre. Wanting to end the war in a short time at all costs is lethal for the working class; it leads to defeat and surrender. On the contrary, the bourgeoisie tries desperately to close it in a short time, because the more the war prolongs, the more its victory becomes difficult. Not to succeed in stifling the revolutionary popular war in a short time is already a defeat for the bourgeoisie.
The process of socialist revolution has its laws and develops along a certain time. We communists have a limited knowledge of it and so we think it is a complex process. As we gradually learn to carry this process out with success we shall see it simpler. So, we need time.
The working class will surely win. Who says that the working class cannot win, overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie and size the power is wrong (pessimists and opportunists are wrong). The successes got by the communist movement during the first wave of proletarian revolution (1900-1950) practically confirmed what Marx and Engel theoretically deduced by the analysis of the bourgeois society.
Who says that the working class can win, overthrow the bourgeoisie and seize the power easily and in a short time is wrong (the adventurists are wrong: in Italy we have seen subjectivists and militarists at work). The defeats the communist movement underwent during the first wave of proletarian revolution (firstly in the Red Biennium in 1919-1920 and after the victories of Resistance in the Forties), the ruins produced by modern revisionism after it took the direction of the communist movement in the Fifties and the defeat the Red Brigades underwent at the beginning of the Eighties practically confirms this thesis as well.
The working class can win, overthrow the imperialist bourgeoisie and seize the power, but through a long period of apprenticeship, hard and most various struggles and accumulation of every kind of revolutionary forces, in the course of the process of civil and imperialist wars that during the general crisis of capitalism upset the world until they transform it. For carrying out successfully this struggle and reducing the mistakes done, it needs to understand the nature of the process, the contradictions determining it and the laws of its development.
Not by choice of us communists, but because of the proper characteristics of capitalism, the process of development of capitalism has set itself on these terms: or wars among parts of the popular masses directed by imperialist groups (wars among imperialist groups and States) or wars of the popular masses directed by the working class against the imperialist bourgeoisie. It is a matter of fact, and we cannot avoid it by means of our desires or will but putting an end to imperialist era. (139) It is a fact more cleared by the study of the more than hundred years of imperialist era already past and by the study of present trends of society. The situation is made even more complex by the fact that in its war against imperialist bourgeoisie the working class has to take advantage from the contradictions among imperialist groups. In substance, both the two kinds of war (the war of the working class against the imperialist bourgeoisie and the wars among imperialist groups) develop and interlace. (140) Which will prevail is the point at issue. The communists have to do so that the antagonists in war, the two poles of the fields facing one another, are the working class and the imperialist bourgeoisie. With their initiative, manoeuvring the forces they already have, they have to make the classes’ struggle become the core of the political conflict. Only so the working class will succeed in imposing itself as new ruling class at the end of the clash, as the class that won the war. On the other side they have to carry on the war so that the imperialist groups come to blows among themselves and not unite and concentrate their forces, at the beginning prevailing, against the working class. This is a problem of the relation between strategy and tactics in proletarian revolution.
In order to direct a protracted revolutionary people’s war, with less defeats, losses, suffering for the popular masses, it is essential that the party is conscious of the strategy is carrying out and learns from its experience. To have a right strategy is the first condition for a sure victory. There is no sense in talking about tactics, about the rightness of single tactical manoeuvres and operations, if the party has no strategy. Once it has a right strategy, the party has to combine the absolute strategic firmness with the greatest tactical flexibility. The experience demonstrated that if the party gets this condition, the bourgeoisie unlikely succeeds to defeat the proletarian revolution.