RCP (Canada): More on the question of waging revolutionary war in the imperialist countries

[Part of our ongoing series on revolutionary military strategy in imperialist countries.  Originally posted here.]

First published in Arsenal magazine, No. 5, May 2005. Arsenal is the voice of the RCP(OC).

“Policy is the starting-point of all the practical actions of a revolutionary party and manifests itself in the process and the end-result of that party’s actions. A revolutionary party is carrying out a policy whenever it takes any action. If it is not carrying out a correct policy, it is carrying out a wrong policy; if it is not carrying out a given policy consciously, it is doing so blindly. What we call experience is the process and the end-result of carrying out a policy. Only through the practice of the people, that is, through experience, can we verify whether a policy is correct or wrong and determine to what extent it is correct or wrong. But people’s practice, especially the practice of a revolutionary party and the revolutionary masses, cannot but be related to one policy or another. Therefore, before any action is taken, we must explain the policy, which we have formulated in the light of the given circumstances, to Party members and to the masses. Otherwise, Party members and the masses will depart from the guidance of our policy, act blindly and carry out a wrong policy.” – Mao Zedong, On the Policy Concerning Industry and Commerce, 1948

We are publishing these working notes that have been produced at the RCP(OC) Politburo’s request, in order to pursue the study of the protracted people’s war as a strategy for the imperialist countries. [1]

We live in a complex world. Everyday, millions of people are suffering from exploitation, oppression, poverty and hunger. Here in Canada, like in all other countries around the globe, the capitalists are collecting their share of victims. Modern imperialist countries, although they are safe havens for capitalism, are not escaping the dark side of the system.

Looking at the power of the capitalists who rule the world, the oppressed people seem to have little ways to express their justified anger, their revolt, their will for a true radical change. Still, all around the world, we see revolutionary struggles springing up again and again. They may take very different forms, but the fact is that billions of people are directly or indirectly involved in such struggles.

It is this strength that led Chairman Mao to state that “the East Wind is prevailing over the West Wind” meaning that the will for liberation and revolution prevails over exploitation and capitalism. What gives life to revolutionary struggle and the hope of a real change is precisely the concrete living conditions and the growing exploitation of the working class, as well as their growing opposition to exploitation and oppression.

Our starting point

We, at the RCP(OC), first believe that capitalism can’t be reformed, nor be placed to the service of the masses. Therefore, we must get rid of this system that causes exploitation, poverty and hunger for the vast majority of the people of the globe. Both revolution and revolutionary violence are needed if we want to radically transform Canadian society as well as the entire world.

In order to draft perspectives for the development of the revolutionary movement in our country, we must know what tactics and strategies to apply in order to face the new conditions that have appeared with the development of capitalism. In fact, since the October Revolution in Russia (1917), the revolutionary movements in the imperialist countries have not found a strong enough revolutionary political leadership, one right enough to break their chains, as the Communist Manifesto put it.

If we analyze most of these organizations’ programs as well as the work they have developed, it reveals that the main factor for the weakness of the revolutionary movement in the imperialist countries is one of a political line. We reiterate that communist revolution must be the most conscious revolution of all. For that to happen, we must know how to learn and put in practice the fruits of our learning.

Today, there is still confusion among many organizations about the path for revolution. This is why there is so little progress accomplished in the imperialist countries. Quite simply, we refuse to see that the reason for us to be so late in the revolutionary path is because of our failure to develop the right strategy to overthrow capitalism in such countries.

This fact must lead us to tightly analyze the objective and subjective conditions for revolution in the imperialist countries, in order to answer this complex question: “What strategy must we develop in a powerful imperialist country if we want to overthrow the capitalist bourgeoisie?”

With that in mind, talking about revolution and people’s war does not mean we must call right now all revolutionary forces in all countries to take arms and open fire on our enemy without preparation and without a clear understanding of the concrete conditions for it to happen.

Talking about revolution means that we must start right now to think about revolutionary war and all the questions it raises; this can be done if the making of it is on the agenda and if we prepare now its development for the future.

As the RCP(OC)’s Programme would say: “To prepare for revolution is not only a question that we must think about once in a while, between two strikes or election campaigns. Nor something that we should simply write about to finish off an article. It is not something we should start thinking about when the bourgeoisie will have clearly declared war upon us. To prepare for revolution is to make concrete preparations. It is to start to wage struggle politically and ideologically right now.

Revolutionary violence is necessary

Violence gives birth to history. The great revolutionaries largely repeated this truth. Revolution – the act by which the proletariat tears the state power from the hands of the bourgeoisie – is necessarily a violent act that forces revolutionaries to prepare the ground for the mandatory military dimension of their action, be it in an imperialist or oppressed country. This is what Mao expressed in his famous quote: “The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally, for China and for all other countries.” (“Problems of War and Strategy”, Selected Works, Vol. 2)

In their writings as in their actions, the great revolutionary thinkers tried, each by their way and according to the historical conditions in which they were living, to understand and enrich the military doctrine of the proletariat. As per Lenin, one must not refer to a unique and determined form of struggle like per example, the guerilla warfare. He also specified that Marxism requires that we consider the issue of the forms of struggles from a historical standpoint. Mao was totally clear when he was writing that without an army, people has nothing, that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and that we can solve the issue by the means of war.

Mao summarized these thoughts on the issue of war and revolution in his work entitled Problems of War and Strategy: “According to the Marxist theory of the state, the army is the chief component of state power. Whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army. Some people ridicule us as advocates of the ‘omnipotence of war’. Yes, we are advocates of the omnipotence of revolutionary war; that is good, not bad, it is Marxist.

But looking at it more closely, we can see that the revolutionary organizations in the imperialist countries – at least, those that recognize the need for armed struggle – don’t grasp this highly strategic and determining task. Mao wrote that revolutionary war is the highest form of revolution. Therefore it should normally take up a great deal of the time we dedicate to theoretical activity. Revolutionary war should force all communists to include an illegal and military dimension in their communist work in order to make it the strategic heart of the revolutionary action.

Revolution leads to change, but it is also a violent act, which brings trouble, destruction and suffering. However, as Mao taught us, there have been different types of wars in history: just wars and unjust wars. When led by the exploited masses, wars have been factors of progress: to take arms to make arms disappear. On the opposite, by not waging these wars we extend the life of the exploiting systems, which is an obstacle to progress.

The insurrectionary strategy

Before the Chinese revolution, we could only rely on one strategy to develop the proletarian revolution: that was the strategy of the insurrection, as set out and put forward by Lenin. The great revolutionary leader applied this strategy in Russia where there was some capitalist relations of production. At that time the proletariat, through the Party, led the masses that took the arms during the revolutionary crisis. They seized the political power and then waged a civil war against the enemy in the entire country. Once it seized the entire territory, then the proletariat did conquer the political power in the whole country.

The insurrectionary strategy as applied by the Bolsheviks was right and did correspond to what was required at that moment. Despite that, it could have failed and the overthrow of the bourgeois power could not have happened. In order to achieve it, Lenin had to fight against various political trends represented by the Mensheviks, which were totally inserted in bourgeois legality (Second International).

Lenin wrote in Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder: “The fundamental law of revolution, which has been confirmed by all revolutions and especially by all three Russian revolutions in the twentieth century, is as follows: for a revolution to take place it is not enough for the exploited and oppressed masses to realize the impossibility of living in the old way, and demand changes; for a revolution to take place it is essential that the exploiters should not be able to live and rule in the old way.

What Lenin specifies here is that in order to succeed, we need a national crisis affecting both the exploiters and the exploited. The ruling classes must be affected by a crisis that put the most politically backward masses to action as well as weakens the power of the bourgeoisie so it becomes possible for the revolutionaries to quickly overthrow it.

Lenin also had to convince his own Party, where some hesitated to launch the assault against the ruling power. For example, Kamenev and Zinoviev, both members of the Central Committee, publicly denounced the preparation of the uprising, which could have brought big consequences.

Even though the conditions were not ripe for insurrection, Lenin was right to start it up. Nevertheless, civil war, including the possibility of insurrections, was the Bolsheviks’ true strategy, not insurrection. However, based on the Russian experience the communist movement as a whole has developed its understanding of the issues of seizing power relying only on insurrection, evacuating almost completely the issue of the civil war.

Lenin replied in advance to the dogmatists in the following manner: “One will readily agree that any army which does not train to use all the weapons, all the means and methods of warfare that the enemy possesses, or may possess, is behaving in an unwise or even criminal manner.” “In politics it is even harder to know in advance which methods of struggle will be applicable and to our advantage in certain future conditions. Unless we learn to apply all the methods of struggle, we may suffer grave and sometimes even decisive defeat, if changes beyond our control in the position of the other classes bring to the forefront a form of activity in which we are especially weak.

Now this is precisely after the October Revolution and at the end of World War I that the objective conditions of revolution in an imperialist country were modified, both for the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

On the side of the bourgeoisie:

  1. We saw a modernization of the state, as the executive branch has centralized and now directly holds the political power;
  2. Army has become a professional corps;
  3. The bourgeoisie has experienced the fight against communism at the international level;
  4. Capitalism in the imperialist countries has developed mechanisms that allow it to last, despite economic crisis.

On the side of the proletariat:

The strategy of insurrection has become the one and only strategy put forward in the Communist International; it required a perpetual and meticulous preparation. All communist parties had to have an illegal apparatus at their disposal, hidden arms and trained militias in order to be ready at the moment when conditions would be fulfilled for insurrection.

In general we can assess that the mechanical application of this strategy led to a long sequence of costly failures. Defeat in Berlin (1919); defeat in Hungary (1919); defeat in Hamburg (1923); in Tallinn (1924); defeat in Italy where the fascists seized power; defeat in Germany where the Nazis took power; Lithuania (1926); Austria (1933); Spain (1936-39); Portugal; etc. Everywhere when threatened by insurrection, the bourgeoisie took the initiative and prevented the proletarian masses to concentrate their forces.

The problem with the insurrectionary strategy is that it is relying on a stereotyped conception of what is a revolutionary situation, as well as that it does not allow to face the modern bourgeois state and the modern bourgeois army of the capitalists. Still, the historical experience is showing that to launch a war without appropriate military preparation not only is a dangerous game, but it is doomed to failure.

The insurrectionary theory in the communist movement led to two particularly destructive effects:

Firstly, as organizations were waiting for a revolutionary crisis in the imperialist countries after World War II, it led them to be embedded for a long period of time in the bourgeois legal system, which allowed modern revisionism to take place and make its dirty job in these organizations, particularly those born during the first revolutionary wave (1917-1949).

As capitalism was entering its period of growth and development (1945-1975) which was characterized by important social gains for the proletariat in the imperialist countries as well as by victorious national liberation struggles in some oppressed countries, the revisionists did benefit from these gains, which gave backing – at least temporarily – to their conception of the world: pacific coexistence and the possibility of achieving socialism by pacific means. Everywhere, powerful communist parties were co-opted by a new “capitalism with a human face” and embedded in the capitalist state apparatus through parliamentarism.

Despite the lack of a true revolutionary leadership, the workers and the masses succeeded to drag some gains out of the capitalists, both in the imperialist and oppressed countries. However these winnings, although important, did not break the capitalist system. At the best, they improved temporarily the lot of the masses, while intensifying the contradictions of the capitalist system.

Otherwise, the proletariat was transformed by the improvements it won, as well as by the development of capitalism. In fact, the number of workers grew significantly during the reversal of the economic cycle (1975-2005), while we saw a new period of capitalist crisis and of attacks from the bourgeoisie begin, both at national and international levels.

We must notice that during the seventies, the vast majority of the new revolutionary organizations – including most of the Marxist-Leninist movement – born from the agitation of the masses, did not go beyond this same “legal” and domesticated framework that was imposed by the capitalists. At the best, these organizations overflow its borders from time to time, but never did they represent a real threat for capitalism.

Still today, a majority of organizations within the communist movement believe that the insurrectionary strategy is a must because of the power of the imperialist bourgeoisie. The reasons being that:

  1. In imperialist countries, the ruling class is highly centralized and relies on a powerful state, which has ramifications all over the territory. It has both technology, means of transportation and communications at its disposal, which can move its armed forces quickly and massively.
  2. The general conditions of the masses are not “bad enough” for them to participate actively in revolutionary war, unless the entire society would sink into an intense capitalist crisis, which is relatively rare.

Secondly, that confirmed the idea for some people that the revolution always follows a specific path. According to them, first it must develop in the oppressed countries and then, once a sufficient number of these countries will have succeeded (both qualitatively and quantitatively), we would meet the conditions for this movement to be pursued in the imperialist countries.

This also led to give credibility to the insurrectionary theory that took the form of the “vacuum strategy”. This means that the farther you are from an imperialist country, the more justified it is to take arms; while the closer you are from it, then armed struggle becomes impossible if not terrorist/elitist.

Finally, these conceptions were all important brakes for developing revolution around the world. Still, the insurrectionary strategy, which by the way is the only one that has been applied in the imperialist countries, does not rely on any significant or positive experience since the October Revolution.

In one case on another, that has led exclusively to legal revolutionary work. The goal is to spread communist agitation and propaganda among the masses, until revolutions in the oppressed countries accelerate the possibility for a revolutionary crisis. Then it would be possible to take profit of a situation where the imperialist bourgeoisie would be weakened enough so we could make powerful blows, with the open goal of regrouping the vanguard in order to be ready for the coming period, be able to meet the challenges, and take all opportunities that will come with the deep crisis affecting in one way or another imperialist and reactionary forces around the world.

We think that this strategic conception of the communist work in the imperialist countries delays the advance of revolution.

  1. It leads to refuse or not to understand the reasons that prevented the communist movement from growing in the imperialist countries, during the first wave of proletarian revolutions and thus, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes.
  2. It allows the development of right opportunism and of a radical economist line among our ranks.
  3. It leads to maintain the organization of the masses within the legal framework imposed by the bourgeoisie.
  4. It leads to delay the building – even though embryonic – of a red army.
  5. It leads to passive internationalism.

Even though it produced victory in Russia, the October Road, i.e. a urban uprising or multiple and simultaneous uprisings at the beginning of a process that leads to civil war, is no more valid in the imperialist countries as a strategy for seizing power. In order to recover all its validity, the insurrection must be integrated in a wider strategy.

What the visible effect of supporting the insurrectionary strategy is that after more than 80 years of communist struggle, and most particularly since the October Revolution, all revolutions have been developed essentially far from the imperialist centres.

It is possible that at some point, the seizure of power by the proletariat will likely include an uprising phase, and that after the development of a revolutionary war, a crisis will happen for the bourgeoisie, so it won’t be possible for her to rule anymore. But we can not suppose that once a revolutionary situation will come up, the masses will start to move and follow spontaneously the leadership of the communists, only because of agitation and propaganda work-even though spread into many years. By acting as such, we would put us at high risk to see the bourgeoisie taking the initiative at all levels.

A general point of view about the people’s war

The revolution requires communists to be prepared to seize all opportunities that may happen at any moment. Such preparation should not be restricted to mere propaganda, especially knowing that since the first wave of the world revolution, the ruling classes of the main imperialist countries have been able to accumulate an important sum of experience in the fight against communism and revolution, while developing gigantic military and technological capacities.

In order for the revolutionaries to have enough forces for being able to seize all opportunities and face any situation, it is necessary for them to have learned how to fight. And to learn is not only a theoretical but also a practical activity, which develops when we experience it.

The revolutions are linked together. Struggles waged against imperialism by people from oppressed countries helps revolution to advance here, but the opposite is also true. We think that if revolution is facing more difficulties in the imperialist countries than in oppressed ones, this does not only have to do with the material conditions: it also has to do with the subjective conditions.

Per example, the victory of the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 gave a serious boost to the fight for communism and helped propagate Marxism-Leninism around the world, along with a better understanding of the military aspects of armed insurrection. The Communist International gave us a lot of theoretical and practical instructions regarding the latter, confirming its highly important strategic character.

Because we want to advance the revolutionary struggle in Canada, the RCP(OC) supports the strongest military experience which ever existed – that is protracted people’s war (PPW). We know that we must be ready to face the bourgeoisie and all the means it will undoubtedly unleash against us: does the capitalists ever hesitate to kill millions of people when required? According to us, the strategy of protracted people’s war is applicable in the imperialist countries and it prevails over the insurrectionary strategy, which can no longer be considered as an effective method to overthrow the bourgeoisie.

For the RCP(OC), being part of the revolutionary movement means:

  1. To fully adhere to Maoism.
  2. To develop the PPW strategy according to the concrete conditions of Canada while relying on the concept of urban bases, in order to make the revolution as soon as possible.
  3. At the international level, to unite with other Maoist parties and organizations.

In developing protracted people’s war, the revolutionary forces in Canada and the world are applying the most elaborated strategy for the proletariat regarding the issue of seizing power. The PPW strategy will allow all those who can be united against Canadian and world imperialism to rally together.

The PPW strategy is universally valid, meaning it is applicable everywhere in all type of countries, taking into account their concrete conditions. This is exactly what the Communist Party of Peru showed us in the eighties and what the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) is actually showing us. Those parties applied the PPW (more specifically, its general laws) to their own conditions (its particular laws), being formulated in what they respectively called Gonzalo Thought and Prachanda Path.

In order to break all the obstacles we face and finally abolish capitalism in the imperialist countries, we must carry out revolutionary war. Today, being revolutionary means being Maoist and basing ourselves on Chairman Mao’s contributions. This includes the deepening of Marxism-Leninism he pushed for as well as the answers he brought for the revolutionaries who were looking for a coherent and truly revolutionary strategy to abolish capitalism. As mentioned in the RCP(OC)’s Programme, we consider that with Mao’s contributions about the PPW, the revolutionary science of the proletariat made an important leap forward.

Just like Lenin, Mao Zedong managed to try out and develop a winning military line. Even if the PPW strategy was elaborated within the conditions of the revolution known as New Democracy, Mao also contributed to develop in a priceless way the whole science of revolution regarding military questions.

Among the principles he developed, some are universal.

  1. The revolutionary war is a war of the masses: “It can be waged only by mobilizing the masses and relying on them.” (Mao Zedong, “Be Concerned With the Well-Being of the Masses, Pay Attention to Methods of Work”, Selected Works, Vol. 1) It allows to liberate the full potential of the masses. The revolutionary war relies primarily on energy, consciousness and abnegation of the masses who, through people’s war, can develop their ability to lead the whole society.
  2. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
  3. The party must command the guns. The revolutionary party must lead the revolutionary army and the revolutionary war. The army should never lead the party and become the leading force of the revolution or a separated force from the party.
  4. Strategically, we need to rest on our own strength.
  5. It is people that are decisive, not weapons – even the most modern ones. “Weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not things, that are decisive. The contest of strength is not only a contest of military and economic power, but also a contest of human power and morale. Military and economic power is necessarily wielded by people.” (Mao Zedong, “On Protracted War”, Selected Works, Vol. 2)

About the universal aspects of the protracted people’s war

The laws of the revolution teach us that in order to lead the revolutionary process, we need a party born and steeled in class struggle; such party must be closely linked to the masses and to their organizations. The Maoist party must lead mass mobilization in all fields, at all levels and by all means. The party must lead and stir up the mass mobilization in defending all their conquests, which the imperialist bourgeoisie tries to eliminate. It must lead and promote mass mobilization to make new wins. The party must learn and systematize the laws according to which the revolution proceeds. It is only with this experience that the broad masses, led by the proletariat and its vanguard, will take an increasing part in the war. The war will then become the main form of antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

Through the initiation of people’s war and its further development, the party’s goal is to establish and maintain the political power of the proletariat.

The laws of the revolution also teach us that we need a revolutionary army to lead the masses should they get rid of the discipline imposed by the bourgeois state. Mao made clear that whoever wants to seize and retain state power must have a strong army. You can’t just build an army as you go along. It should not be left only to the spontaneity of masses.

Once the masses would have decided to resort to organized violence, the communists must be at their vanguard on all issues, including the military problems. As it intensifies, the class struggle invariably gives birth to a group of men and women ready to take part directly – with all the risks that this means – in the all-round revolutionary action against both capitalism and its state.

For the party, the question is to know how to use those incipient, dissipated and often politically confused forces so that they serve revolution. The first goal is to build the revolutionary party the proletariat needs to carry out its struggle while allowing to forge, within the class struggle itself, the first elements of a people’s army.

In return, this embryo of the people’s army would have to open the way for the proletarian masses as they get rid of the domestication framework currently imposed by the bourgeoisie. Revolutionary violence can take multiple forms: one – guerrilla, war of partisans, revolutionary war – is carried by the vanguard and the other is generated by the anger of the masses. Both of them (the organized form of revolutionary violence and the spontaneous one) are two sides of the same revolutionary phenomenon.

Mao Zedong set the standards regarding the building of a revolutionary army. This army is different from the bourgeois one as it helps to achieve the political tasks set by the party and based on the interests of the proletariat and its allies.

Finally, the laws of the revolution teach us that we need to create a united front between the revolutionary masses and all the revolutionary groups under party’s leadership. Such a united front allows all revolutionary forces to rally together against the reactionaries through people’s war. In a modern imperialist country, such united front must rely on the proletariat’s leadership represented by its vanguard. This should guarantee the leading role of the proletariat in the revolution, while allowing the revolutionary camp to grow as much as possible.

About the specifics of PPW in the imperialist countries

The revolutionary situation

Since the beginning of imperialism, we saw contradictory cycles in the capitalist economy. The September 11 attacks only exacerbated the crisis of the capitalist society, as well as the problem for capitalists to pursue the accumulation of capital in such context. Now they must take back from the masses and especially from the workers, what they succeeded to gain during the 1945-1975 period.

What should we understand from the current situation? We can see that at the world level, one stage of capitalism is ending and a new one is emerging. We can verify this by the reactionary offensive on one hand, and the revolutionary mobilization of the masses on the other hand. Whether the bourgeoisie can maintain its control over the masses and thus succeed to maintain them within its domesticated legal system: this is what we saw during the huge millions of people demonstrations against the unfair war of the US on Iraq and still, it did not change anything in the imperialist agenda. Or on the opposite, the forces of revolution will take the leadership of the masses. If so, we will then see the advance of revolution and a new society will split from the old one. This is what we currently see in Nepal.

Because of both the reactionary and the revolutionary turmoil as a whole, we see the current world being quite unstable. A revolutionary crisis is under development, affecting all the countries although at different levels. Thus, at the world level, we see the following:

  • Contradictions among imperialist forces being sharper;
  • Contradictions between imperialist countries and people in oppressed countries being sharper;
  • Contradictions among national ruling classes being sharper;
  • Contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat being sharper, as workers are put under pressure and lost their gains from the previous period.

We can imagine that all of this volatile mix is waiting for a strong enough revolutionary upsurge, in order to explode.

We are at the beginning of a new era of revolutionary storms, where the forces of the revolution will have the appropriate arms in order to crush the capitalist order, thanks to Maoism! We need to take profit of it as much as possible if we want to push forward revolution and multiply our victories.

The Canadian landscape

In Canada as well as in all imperialist countries and soon all countries of the world, the people’s war will happen mainly in the urban areas. Canada is a highly urbanized imperialist country, where about 80% of the people live in the cities. We can find more than 50% of the urban population living mainly in four areas: Southern Ontario; Montréal and its surroundings; the Low Fraser Valley in British Columbia as well as the southern part of the Vancouver Island; the Calgary/Edmonton corridor. These four big areas are at the heart of Canadian imperialism.

The state apparatus is powerful and sophisticated. There is only one social class that has ensured its own wealth: the capitalists. This highly parasitic class is a mighty one, and represents about 5% to 7% (nearly two millions) of the total Canadian population. The Canadian working class is ferociously exploited by these rulers. In 2004, there were about 60,000 policemen (188 policemen for each 100,000 inhabitants). But this number does not include the dazzling growth of private security agencies acting as police forces, and which are more and more patrolling the industrial zones and the poor urbanized areas in big cities like in Toronto.

Despite its small size, the Canadian Army is a well organized and efficient institution serving the bourgeoisie. There are 83,952 people including 62,000 militaries. Nearly half of them are members of the militia (reservists). The structure of command is a regional one, which is composed of four zones (Western Canada, Centre, Québec and the Maritimes) that cover the whole territory. About 1,500 soldiers are currently deployed in different international operations, the biggest being the ATHENA operation in Afghanistan. Thus, the main role of the Canadian Army is to protect the capitalist interests in Canada, despite its “humanitarian” reputation.

More than 65% of the Canadian population is from the working class, which makes it the leading force and the main one for revolution. Moreover, the working class can gather around it other forces which also have interest in destroying capitalism in Canada: the Native people and some stratum in the petty-bourgeoisie. The total of these forces gives to the revolution its people’s character, which could be organized under the leadership of the proletariat and its party.

The hard core of the proletariat can be found among its largest layers, at the basic level. We are talking of millions of workers who don’t have anything to lose but everything to win from the overthrow of capitalism. These layers are composed as follow:

  • Poor and exploited workers who are confined at the lowest levels of the society;
  • The proletarians who are currently excluded from the working force and who composed the “reserve army of labour” for the capitalists;
  • The new proletarian stratum coming from migration;
  • The women who continue to massively enter the working market;
  • The youth who more than the others are suffering from cheap labour and lack of job security;
  • The Native workers, who are systematically unemployed and shamefully discriminated.

We must also point out that there are many different type of contradictions within the Canadian society, which could play a more or less important role depending of circumstances:

  • Opposition among different sectors of the bourgeoisie;
  • Contradictions among imperialist forces;
  • Contradictions between the petty-bourgeoisie and other social classes.

As per the Natives, their oppression as well as the robbery of their territory begun as soon as the first Europeans arrived in America, and their conditions are getting worst day after day. The grab of the Native’s territories was an essential condition in the formation of Canadian capitalism. Now, the Native nations have become true domestic colonies in this country.

Any strategy for destroying the capitalist power shall rely on a fair evaluation of these contradictions in order to use them for growing the revolutionary camp, as well as for isolating the reactionary one. What is the most determining factor that influence the whole life, both at the material, ideological, political and spiritual levels, is this struggle opposing the interests of the proletariat and of the bourgeoisie in an absolute way. The two opposing camps-the revolutionary and the reactionary ones-are regrouping around these main social classes. What that means is that the revolutionary strategy today in Canada shall be entirely oriented towards the socialist revolution.

First Statement: Because of its current situation, the Canadian bourgeoisie can not continue to manage society without attacking the main conquests made by the workers after World War II: unemployment insurance, healthcare system, public education as well as other social programs. In order to maintain its position at the world level, the Canadian bourgeoisie needs to transform these programs, whether by eliminating them or by removing any value from them. Therefore, since a number of years, the bourgeoisie is in fact directly attacking the organizations of the working class, as well as the working class itself.

Second Statement: The proletariat can no longer win any significant conquests within the capitalist system. Since the mid-seventies, both the living and the working conditions of the proletariat have been deteriorating. In the same period, the proletariat as a class has been developing, and some broad sections of workers have faced significant impoverishment.

Third Statement: There is little chance that we would see a sudden crisis of the Canadian capitalism and its state. This is the case for all imperialist countries, as the capitalists have developed methods and institutions such as banks, capitalist associations, collective bargaining, trusts, the Welfare state model and social services, in order to stabilize any situation that would seriously threat the economic order. This was not the case at the time of the October Revolution.

The different measures and institutions set up by the bourgeoisie are aimed to maintain its power in spite of the most destroying effects produced by capitalist economy while preserving some political stability. In short, under capitalism, the large and powerful crises from the beginning of the last century gave up to new forms of protracted crises.

Fourth Statement: In Canada, the forces of the revolution are small. There is however a potential for a revolutionary crisis to develop in Canadian North between Canadian capitalism and the Natives. The revolutionary struggle of the Native people is aiming to free themselves from the yoke of Canadian imperialism. This struggle is an integral part of the PPW strategy in Canada. We can even say that this fight has to be integrated into the united front led by the proletariat as it is linked in a decisive manner to the proletarian revolution.

What is difficult for the party is to combine the revolutionary struggle for socialism along with the struggle of the Native people. Our proposal for establishing a Union of the Popular Republics of North America and our opposition to parliamentarism and bourgeois nationalism are in support of this combination.

Fifth Statement: Labour aristocracy is powerful in Canada. Politically, this layer is the mean by which the bourgeois ideas are penetrating the proletariat. Along with the petty-bourgeoisie, they are also the ones leading the trade unions. The labour aristocracy and the petty-bourgeoisie are not only leading them but they constitute a large part of the current membership of the organized workers movement. For the moment, these forces are hostile in major part to the revolution. They are totally subjected to bourgeois discipline.

We have to take into account the concrete conditions prevailing in Canada and which are probably quite the same in most imperialist countries:

  • Both the bourgeoisie and its institutions are powerful, as well as the various contradictions existing in all spheres of society.
  • There are contradictions dividing the proletariat, such as the ideological control from the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie over proletarian organizations.

This contributes to impose a balance of power not in favor of the revolutionary camp at this stage, both in qualitative and quantitative terms. This is the reason why a protracted character is required to fight for the overthrow of bourgeoisie, should it be for the development of its different stages, or in terms of timeframe.

The preparatory period

To succeed in an imperialist country, protracted people’s war must be preceded by a period of political, organizational and military preparation. In those countries, the accumulation and the development of the revolutionary forces are done in a gradually manner. By applying adequate tactics, the party must avoid to be forced to engage in a decisive confrontation as long as the revolutionary forces will not be superior than those of the bourgeoisie.

The stage where the vanguard fights to create a revolutionary party and a revolutionary army, and to establish new and genuine proletarian organizations (committees, people’s councils, etc., so the broad masses can learn how to organize the future proletarian power) corresponds to a mandatory organizational process which will allow, thereafter, to start the first phase of the PPW (that is strategic defensive). We call this preparatory period the phase of accumulation of forces. In an imperialist country like Canada, the revolutionary strategy requires such political, organizational and military preparation.

Why a preparatory period?

  1. Because we need to challenge the political monopoly of the bourgeoisie, by spreading the communist ideas and the communist program in all spheres of activity of the masses, knowing this activity proceeds mainly, for the moment, in the bourgeois legality.
  2. Because we also need to challenge the complete monopoly imposed by the bourgeoisie on violence. The revolutionary fight cannot develop completely within the framework of bourgeois legality. It needs to radically break with capitalism-in terms of project, but also by concretely challenging the established order. Such breaking must materialize progressively.

The whole is the unity of the opposites. We need to work both inside and outside legality until the second term becomes the dominating pole of the contradiction. As we mentioned, that rises from the material conditions of the class struggle in Canada which imposes a protracted character for the revolution. As a result, the revolutionary forces will grow insofar as the activity of the masses will move from one pole (legality) to the other (illegality).

For the moment, the violence and uncontrolled behavior of the masses are spontaneous. This violence is not coming form a conscious standpoint. It does not aim at abolishing capitalist system but is basically a reaction to the consequences of exploitation. The party must lead and channel this violence in order to build itself.

The accumulation of forces should thereafter make it possible for the party to develop a revolutionary army. The revolutionary army is the higher and organized form of the spontaneous violence from the masses against capitalism. It concentrates the violence of the oppressed and materializes a radical breaking with capitalism. “The revolutionary army is needed for military struggle and for military leadership of the masses against the remnants of the military forces of the autocracy. The revolutionary army is needed because great historical issues can be resolved only by force, and, in modern struggle, the organization of force means military organization.” (Lenin, “The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government”, Collected Works, Vol. 8)

To be able to play its part, the revolutionary army must first exist. It must have its own existence even if it is placed under the party’s leadership. This especially implies that armed struggle must have been developed before it becomes the main form of struggle for the proletariat, in a way it would prove to be valid.

In this first phase of accumulation of forces, the embryonic forces of the Red Army must develop a political activity by starting to wage armed propaganda actions. The goal of armed propaganda is not to make war to capitalism, but to make the revolutionary project to be known while helping the future leaders of the revolutionary army to gain experience.

At this stage the guerrilla, with the armed actions it carries, pursues mainly ideological objectives. The increasing activity of guerrilla makes it possible to better separate the camps which are opposed, to influence the class struggle and to accumulate forces for any revolutionary movement.

The experience of the Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse, or BR) in Italy (1971-1976) showed that armed propaganda is an effective method to accumulate forces in an imperialist country. However, the same experience (1976-1982) also showed that this activity must be led by a correct line otherwise it will inevitably sink into militarism, economism, armed trade unionism and/or subjectivism.

In the case of the BR, they were able to accumulate important forces as long as they waged armed propaganda as a way to build the Communist Party. But when they left this ground to launch themselves into an all-out war against the state – especially in a situation where the material conditions were not ripe – they separated themselves from the masses and were easily defeated.

In Canada, there were also some experiences of guerrilla warfare. Thus, at the time of the fight of the Métis people in Manitoba, Gabriel Dumont’s guerrilla has seriously defeated the Canadian Army at Duck Lake. In the province of Québec, the FLQ (“Front de libération du Québec” or Québec Liberation Front, 1962-1970) also developed an activity of urban guerrilla warfare, but this one was based on Guevarist conceptions and did not aim to accumulate forces; its aim was above all to stir up the activity of the masses by multiplying examples.

What those historical examples show us is the need:

  1. to base ourselves on a correct line;
  2. to build a separate party from the guerrilla – a party who will deal with all aspects of the activity of the masses;
  3. to have a strategy for destroying state power;
  4. to ensure the participation of the proletariat and its leadership on the revolutionary process;
  5. to create base areas.

However, we must pay attention to the fact that this period does not correspond yet, nor cannot be confused with the beginning of the PPW. This one is carried out directly against the bourgeoisie and its state apparatus. Its objective is the seizure of power by the revolutionary proletariat, the destruction of the bourgeois state, the establishment of a proletarian state, the abolition of capitalist system and the building of socialism.

Strategic defensive

Strictly speaking, the strategic defensive corresponds to the initiation of the PPW. The brigades who will have carried armed propaganda must then multiply themselves; at the same time the party must build the first guerilla units.

As it is difficult to hide more important units or to even support them in logistical terms, the following problem will arise: how to sustain, in an imperialist country, the revolutionary fight and to build stable bases to develop the people’s war whereas the enemy controls all the territory?

In China, the revolutionary war benefited from base areas where the reactionaries could not go and where the revolutionary transformation of the old social relations could start. In the imperialist countries, this cannot apply in the same way. At the beginning, the guerilla units will probably act in guerrilla zones. It is only after the capture of some towns that temporary base areas could appear before we could see stable ones.

The experience of the communist movement teaches us that it is possible to create such bases. To do so, the revolutionaries must resolutely rely on the masses and proceed by setting the political conditions that will allow the creation of stable base areas, according to the line: from having not/to have, from small/to large, from imperfect/to more than perfect.

During the armed propaganda period, the brigades must avoid fixing themselves in a specific place. They must rather cover a vast territory applying the principle of mobility – to bite and run away. The bases are then limited to what is needed for the operations’ success.

But with the beginning of PPW, the guerrilla units can then operate normally in guerrilla zones. The guerrilla zones are formed by underground networks and party-generated organizations or organizations build by the proletarian masses which challenge the monopoly of the bourgeois power. We saw the most obvious example of guerrilla zones in Europe under the Nazi occupation. Hundreds of networks, newspapers and groups were then organized by thousands of people all working underground.

During World War II, the partisan actions were supported by a far-reaching underground activity in proletarian circles, starting from newspapers production (to claim responsibility for the actions) to targeted sabotage – all of this creating a whole underground net surrounding the enemy.

In Italy, several large cities including Genoa, Turin and Milan, were liberated by the partisans led by the Italian Communist Party even before the Allied forces approach them. In Genoa among others, the partisans unconsciously combined the people’s war with an insurrection in liberating the city.

The guerrilla units, while continuing the armed propaganda as in the previous period, will then be able to attack some institutions and people who represent the bourgeois power. The transition from armed propaganda brigades to guerrilla units will require the party to be firmly established among the masses and that they would have recognized its political leadership.

The revolutionary communist party must be prepared if US imperialism intervenes indirectly or directly to support the Canadian bourgeoisie, and be ready to lead a united front against both the Canadian bourgeoisie and US imperialism.

The possibility of a US intervention emphasizes the strategic need for an adequate military preparation to face such a powerful and modern army. This will require serious preparation from the revolutionary forces.

Because the forces of the revolution will be spread out, the country will probably look like a chess set where the bourgeois forces will occupy specific sectors – residential districts, telecommunication and financial centres, military bases – surrounded by guerrilla zones which will be invisible and hidden, but nevertheless in operation. Here it will probably be possible to combine two strategies applied in Vietnam, that of the “cheetah” – where the territory is spotted by guerilla zones – and that of the “banana peel” – to tackle the periphery of the enemy zones.

Because both the guerilla zones and those controlled by the bourgeoisie will be close from each other, guerrilla will have the opportunity to concentrate and attack strategic objectives, while decreasing the risks of a massive surrounding by the enemy; moreover, this proximity will make a part of the enemy’s military arsenal unusable. At that time, the strategic attacks of the guerrilla combined with an insurrection in a large city should allow the creation of a first stable support base. Then we could be able to achieve a higher level of military actions by combining guerilla and mobile warfare carried out by regular units of the Red Army.

With a first stable base, the new revolutionary power should be able to exist openly. This will also correspond to the transition to strategic equilibrium whereas the two powers would clash. A military front would probably take shape opposing the two armies. However, because of the proximity with the enemy, and contrary to what happens in the oppressed countries, the role of stable support bases in capitalist countries would be completely geared towards the war and the destruction of the enemy and later only, towards the building of the new power. The fight could even continue within the base areas.

Those support bases will be necessary just like they were in Russia: “The revolutionary government is needed for the political leadership of the masses, at first in that part of the country which has been wrested from tsarism by the revolutionary army, and later in the country at large. The revolutionary government is needed for the immediate launching of the political reforms, for the sake of which the revolution is being made – the establishment of a revolutionary self-government of the people, the convocation of a truly popular and truly Constituent Assembly, and the introduction of ‘liberties’ without which there can be no true expression of the people’s will. The revolutionary government is necessary for the political unification and the political organization of the insurgent section of the people, which has actually and finally broken away from the autocracy.” (Lenin, “The Revolutionary Army and the Revolutionary Government”, Collected Works, Vol. 8)

At this point, some cities will have to serve as temporary bases – a phenomenon that will require great attention. In Canada, on a very vast territory surrounding the four main centers of Canadian capitalism, there are a multitude of communities which are made up in major part of proletarians. Those cities are strategically important for revolution in Canada, both by their proletarian composition and the control they could exert on energy resources and various transportation roads. They will progressively become solid bases for the revolutionary camp and will allow the enemy forces to be isolated.

The capture of a large city should help to constitute and train new units of the Red Army. That will then reinforce the front and allow to combine the mobile with the guerilla warfare. That will also make it possible to transit from a war of attrition to a war of annihilation and fast decisions. Then it will be possible to advance towards the strategic offensive which probably will be a combination of battles and insurrections, until the whole of the territory will be under the control of the revolutionary camp.

To carry out a revolutionary war and make revolution, we must first master and assimilate its laws. This is a less simple process than it appears to be. We must rely on sufficient practical experience as we learn from it, in order to draw a correct assessment.

Having self-knowledge and a good knowledge of the enemy, innovating and advancing in tactics and strategy: all this requires that we seriously start to carry out the revolutionary tasks while bearing in mind that each of our progresses makes the whole movement to go forward.

As Lenin wrote more than 80 years ago, “History as a whole, and the history of revolutions in particular, is always richer in content, more varied, more multiform, more lively and ingenious than is imagined by even the best parties, the most class-conscious vanguards of the most advanced classes.

April 2005


1) For an introduction to this discussion, see “Protracted people’s war is the only way to make revolution“, People’s War Digest, No. 1, June 2004.

(paru dans the People’s War Digest magazine n° 2)

2 thoughts on “RCP (Canada): More on the question of waging revolutionary war in the imperialist countries

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