Red Papers 4: Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution

[Recently republished by Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line, the Red Papers were the founding documents of the Revolutionary Union.  The RU was one of the more important attempts to relaunch the Party-building movement in the United States and went on to become the RCP-USA.  The Franklin group (authors of “The Military Strategy of the American Revolution: Protracted Urban War” split from the RU and joined Venceremos, which like the Weather Underground, Black Liberation Army, and May 19th Organization attempted to launch an urban guerrilla war within the US only to be either crushed by the state or isolated and marginalized, much as this document predicted. Our readers are encouraged to read both documents.  See also our reading series on the military strategic line in imperialist countries. – Ed.]


Red Papers 4

The R.U. Leadership

Revolutionary Adventurism or Proletarian Revolution

This paper is written mainly in response to a paper, “The Military Strategy of the American Revolution: Protracted Urban War,” which was presented to the last Central Committee. We are convinced that the line reflected in this so-called strategy must be thoroughly understood and, once understood, thoroughly repudiated, by our organization, BECAUSE ANY ATTEMPT TO IMPLEMENT IT WOULD NOT ONLY LEAD US AWAY FROM OUR MOST PRESSING TASK AT THIS TIME – BUILDING A REAL BASE IN THE WORKING CLASS, PROMOTING AND DEVELOPING ITS REVOLUTIONARY LEADERSHIP OF THE UNITED FRONT AGAINST IMPERIALISM – BUT WOULD ACTUALLY LEAD TO THE EARLY DESTRUCTION OF OUR ORGANIZATION. We say, “the line reflected in this so called strategy” because the paper itself is more a cloudy mirror of ideas and policies held by some members of our organization, than a clear presentation of a strategy or line.

In examining this paper, point-by-point, we will try to make clear the political line of its authors – which goes much farther than the question of military strategy, but includes the whole question of how the American revolution is going to develop and what class must be the ideological and practical leader of this revolution. No doubt the authors of this paper on “military strategy” will be disturbed by much we have to say in answering them. True, we do have very sharp differences with them and there is nothing to be served by trying to hide them.

But we want to make it clear from the beginning: we are not questioning the motives or intentions of the comrades who presented this paper. What we are deeply concerned with is their political line and its objective effect. We will leave it to the membership of the organization to decide whether we have fairly and adequately represented and refuted their line as reflected in the “military strategy” paper. If we do succeed in holding up a clear mirror to their political line, and they still don’t like the image that is presented, it’s up to them to change their political line, not to get mad at the mirror. Again, we will leave it to the membership of the organization to decide whether we do present an accurate picture of their line, or in fact a freak-show distortion of it.

To make sure that the membership can do this, we are reprinting the paper on “The Military Strategy of the American Revolution” (first paper in this RED PAPERS selection). This, too, may raise objections from its authors, because the paper presented at the Central Committee was clearly labelled “A Draft Proposal,” and it is now being re-written.

We, of course, have no objection to the comrades’ writing a new version of this paper, and even less to their correcting some of the more glaring errors in it. But as Communists, as people conscientiously trying to approach revolution scientifically, members of our organization must be able to see the development of a political line from its first presentation to (for the time at least) final form. If ideas or facts put forward in the first draft are presented differently in a second draft – or not put forward at all – then Marxist-Leninists have the right, and the responsibility, to ask why the changes have been made. If these changes are not accompanied by self-criticism then the authors at least have the responsibility to describe what objective and subjective conditions have changed, in the period between the first and second editions of the paper, to bring about the changes. We do very strongly object to simply a better, more polished presentation of a wrong, and potentially dangerous political line. On the other hand, we will be overjoyed if the second version actually does correct the political line of the first. But, at this point, we don’t expect that, although we do hope that through these papers and the ideological struggle that will unfold throughout the organization, the authors of the “Military Strategy” can be convinced that their political line is fundamentally wrong-and not just erroneous in a minor detail or badly presented in the particular paper now under discussion.

If we seem to be over-reacting to a single paper, a draft proposal at that, we can only say again that while this paper is not very important by itself, it is important as a kind of crystallization of a political line that has been developed over several years by at least some of those responsible for the paper. The development of objective conditions in the U.S., including the state of the revolutionary movement, has reached the point where our organization cannot move in the direction that is absolutely necessary at this time – the direction toward the working class – unless we unite around a correct line and defeat this wrong line within our organization. What these objective conditions are, and exactly the crossroads where our organization now finds itself, will be dealt with in greater detail, in the concrete analysis of the paper on “military strategy.”

But first, we have to deal with a few objections that have already been raised, and are bound to be raised again, with the way we have so far presented the question.

First, while comrades throughout the organization may not yet be apprised of the situation, within parts of the organization, in the Bay Area, we are already being accused of “correct-linism” a term we don’t fully understand in this context. We don’t think that those who accuse us of “correct-linism” are suggesting that our organization should not follow a correct line. As Mao says, not following a correct line is like having no soul. Clearly something else must be implied by the term “correct-linism.” We understand the term to mean – and have used it ourselves to mean – a metaphysical approach to questions, which denies dialectical and historical materialism, which does not look at things as constantly changing, constantly developing because of the contradictions within everything, but treats everything as unchanging, as always and everywhere the same, as all one-way or all the other.

To be more specific. When James Johnson, a black auto worker, became so outraged at the way he was treated by auto bosses that he shot several foremen, a “correct-linist” would take the position: well, the foreman is not the real enemy, and anyway assassination of individuals is not the road to revolution, so we should condemn this act by James Johnson. A truly correct, Marxist-Leninist analysis of this particular situation would recognize two sides to the act. On the one hand, the just anger of the worker and his righteous resistance; on the other, his failure to direct his anger, in a disciplined, scientific way to mobilize the workers as a whole against the main enemy – the auto companies and the whole monopoly capitalist class.

But even more: a Marxist-Leninist would not only divide the act into two parts, but would work to strengthen the positive side – the militant resistance-and build a fuller class-consciousness on this strong foundation. If we incorrectly concentrated on the negative side his individualism and failure to aim his fire at the main enemy-we would demoralize the workers who look to us for leadership and isolate them and us from the masses of workers.

But to return to the point at hand: the ideological struggle within our organization. This term “correct-linism” is apparently being applied to us especially by some of the authors of the “military strategy” paper-because we hold the view that the main purpose of our current ideological struggle is to consolidate a correct political line within the organization. For this, we are accused of not struggling for the purpose of achieving unity. The argument against us here rests on a misreading of the first paragraph of Mao’s “Combat Liberalism”:

We stand for active ideological struggle because it is the weapon for insuring unity within the Party and the revolutionary organizations in the interest of our fight. Every Communist and revolutionary should take up this weapon.

But this unity must be around something concrete – namely a political line. It is impossible to struggle for unity in the abstract. The reason ideological struggle ensures unity is exactly that the great majority of the members of a communist organization are honest, dedicated and capable of grasping both a correct political line and a correct style of work. Mao absolutely does not mean – and it is opposed to all of Marxism-Leninism to argue that the purpose of ideological struggle is to arrive at unprincipled compromise which, in the short run (and only in the short run) avoids conflict. This is exactly what Mao rejects in the second paragraph of “Combat Liberalism.”

But liberalism rejects ideological struggle and stands for unprincipled peace, thus giving rise to a decadent, philistine attitude and bringing about political degeneration in certain units and individuals in the Party and the revolutionary organizations.

If Mao’s writings are interpreted to mean that all-out struggle should not be waged against opportunist lines, then there is no way to explain not only the Cultural Revolution and the all-out attack on Liu Shao Chi but also Mao’s earlier references to “the errors of the Right opportunism of Chen Tu-hsiu and the Left opportunism of Li Li-san” in the 1920’s and 30’s, no way to explain the fact that Chen Tu-hsiu was expelled from the Party for refusing to correct his opportunism. Further, there is no way to justify the work and the writings of Lenin, who spent much of his time ruthlessly combatting opportunism and driving out of the Communist organizations, opportunists who refused to change.

Of course, Mao also says that our method must be to “cure the disease to save the patient” – to combat opportunist ideas in comrades in order to save them from opportunism. Li Li-san, for example, was not expelled from the party, exactly because he corrected his wrong views. (For the details of the struggle against Chen Tu-hsiu’s and Li Li-san’s opportunism comrades should read “Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War” pg. 77-152 of Mao’s MILITARY WRITINGS. Specific reference is made to Chen Tu-hsiu and Li Li-san on pg. 91 and in footnotes 5 and 6, pg. 147-148; but the entire essay is very valuable reading in light of our current ideological struggle.)

Of course, to enter an ideological struggle for the purpose of creating a split, to give no opportunity for comrades to change- or to take the arrogant stance that you have nothing to learn from anyone else involved in the struggle, is absolutely wrong and absolutely opposed to Marxism-Leninism. If this is what is meant by calling us “correct-linists” then we cannot agree. We believe that those comrades responsible for the line of the “military strategy” paper can be convinced that their present line is incorrect. We believe that, in general, the line we will try to develop in answering that paper is essentially correct; but at the same time, we recognize that we have much to learn from the comrades in the entire organization. This is exactly why we are very anxious for the most thorough, the sharpest and clearest ideological struggle, around the main political questions that are raised now by a discussion of military strategy. We are convinced that at this time the only way to insure ideological unity is to spread the struggle, that has taken place for some time within the top leadership, throughout the whole organization.

This leads us to one more question that we have to take up before we move directly to a discussion of the “military strategy” paper. While this current ideological struggle has been initiated almost entirely by members of the standing committee – who are part of the Bay Area section of the organization – it is completely wrong to regard this struggle as a personal battle between Bay Area bigshots. It is inevitable that different political lines in a communist organization are associated with leading people who come forward as spokesmen for these lines. We are well aware that these leading people do not all live in the Bay Area.

We fully expect in the process of this struggle, as part of our overall political and organizational development as a national communist organization – new leadership will more clearly emerge and be consolidated, both regionally and nationally. In fact, the paper on “military strategy” was prepared by a leading comrade from outside the Bay Area as well as a Bay Area member of the Central Committee.

One final note: we believe, and will try to show, that the class outlook of this “Protracted Urban War” thesis is petty-bourgeois. In saying this, we recognize that these comrades who wrote it, do have contact with the working class, and have been responsible for doing political work among working people. The general situation in our organization, at least as far as we know it, is that in every area work in the working class is proceeding slowly, but some contacts have been made, some organizations (caucuses, etc.) have been built and a small number of working people have been recruited. Within the U.S. working class today there are a small number of people who have become completely fed up with the capitalist system and are looking for revolutionary leadership and organization to fight against it. But there is still no mass, revolutionary working class movement and the experience of the advanced minority within the working class – like the experience of Communist organizations – is very limited.

Under these circumstances it is probable, even inevitable, that we will make many errors. And it won’t do for us to try to cover over our errors or defend a political line, merely by pointing out that a few workers – and that’s all we’re talking about at this time – have been attracted to this line. Marxism is the science of revolution, which must be applied to the concrete conditions of class struggle in the U.S. today. In the process of doing this, of building a revolutionary working class movement, the correct Marxist-Leninist line will be developed in opposition to many erroneous lines – many forms of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology. And the most class-conscious members of the proletariat will take the lead in developing proletarian ideology as the leading and guiding force of our struggle.

But to argue, at any time, that the number of workers who support a particular organization or political line determines how proletarian that organization or line is – that is completely unscientific. By this standard the revisionist CP. in the U.S. is much more “proletarian” than our organization – it still has more working people than we have. Or, to make it more obvious, the revisionist parties of Italy and France – who can claim hundreds of thousands of workers in their ranks, would have to be judged more proletarian than the communist organizations in those countries which uphold the Thought of Mao Tse-tung and are trying to apply it to their situations.

If workers could not be attracted to non-proletarian ideology there would be no need for the science of Marxism-Leninism; the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao would be completely redundant and a waste of time. In fact, in the early stages of the working class movement especially, it is easier in some ways to attract a small number of working people to one form or other of non-proletarian ideology. This is not to slander the working class, but materialism is always harder to master than metaphysics; it is easier at first to be guided by emotion rather than science; casting off selfishness and narrow-mindedness is a long process of struggle. We have full confidence that the American proletariat can and will do this – but only when its practical struggles are merged together with Communist agitation and propaganda, and only as its most advanced members and representatives, the members of its communist organization, carry out the most thorough ideological struggle within their ranks, ideological struggle which constantly sums up practice in an all-sided way and constantly relates theory to that practice.

We are just beginning one of many such ideological struggles. In the course of it, we must learn how to concentrate on the central political question – what political line will lead to the further development of a revolutionary working class movement and what line will set back this development. We believe that the “Protracted Urban War” thesis will lead us away from building a revolutionary working class movement. But we also believe that in analyzing why this is so, we can consolidate our understanding and unify around a political line which will set us further along the road to building the communist movement of the working class. We will now deal directly with this “military strategy.”


The paper starts out with an incorrect assessment of the situation in the U.S. – specifically of the level of consciousness of the working class – and from there degenerates into fantasy: elaborate detail about the relationship between the Red Army of the Communist Party and the People’s Army of the United Front, at a time when there is no Marxist-Leninist party, no solidified united front led by that party, and no sign of either a Red Army or a People’s Army. As Mao says, “Marxists are not fortune-tellers.” (“A Single Spark Can Start a Prairie Fire,” Mao’s MILITARY WRITINGS, pg. 75). Our job is not to concoct schemes for circumstances that are not even on the horizon, but to examine scientifically the conditions that are developing and to adopt and apply policies that will advance the struggle further along the road to proletarian revolution.

Concretely, today, this means that we must analyze the developing economic and political crisis of U.S. imperialism, especially its effects on the working class; how the increased oppression of the working people is leading to increased resistance, and how, as communists we can give conscious leadership to that resistance and raise it to a higher political level. How can we advance the struggle of the U.S. working class and people from the point where many are beginning to seriously question the established order, and a few are conscious of the necessity to overthrow it to the point where the majority have become convinced, through their own experience, of the need for revolution and are prepared to fight and die to achieve it.

But the “Military Strategy” paper denies that this is the present situation. In the fourth paragraph we are told:

At this historical moment, a revolutionary organization must develop the Marxist-Leninist strategy that the revolutionary masses need in order to win. It would be criminal to present ourselves as organizers and leaders unless we have this strategy. And the masses know this. They reject idealists as dangerous dreamers. Workers do not need to be convinced that the workers should ride the country. They want to know if this is possible, and, if so, how it could actually come about. (Our emphasis)

With the first part of this statement (the part we have not italicized) ’we absolutely’ agree. Our organization does have such a strategy: the United Front against imperialism, led by the proletariat. This means developing and linking up mass struggles around five spearheads of opposition to U.S. Imperialism, and fostering working class leadership and ideology to unify these struggles. But, from the last part of this paragraph (the part italicized), we are, supposed to conclude that the workers are demanding something more: they are demanding the military plan for the actual overthrow of the state.

This is simply not the case – not even among the majority of Third World workers. It is not the case that they think that the working class should rule and only need to be shown how that can happen. Unless, by that, we mean it is possible to convince a great many workers that it would be nicer if somehow the working people could run things instead of the rich. If that’s what is meant, then it doesn’t tell us very much. There is all the world of difference between this kind of abstract thinking that maybe workers should run things, and the concrete conviction that the working class absolutely must take power in order to solve the immediate needs of the people.

Lenin several times laid down three conditions that had to come into existence in setting the stage for the overthrow of the old ruling class: (1) That the old ruling class was in such crisis, at war within itself to such an extent, that it could no longer rule in the old way. (A sign of this would be that the government could no longer function as a peaceful mediator of disputes within the ruling class, that different sections of the bourgeoisie were organizing their own private armies, storm troopers, etc.); (2) That the lower classes could no longer live in the old way – that they were convinced of the revolutionary necessity, and (Lenin says specifically) willing to die for it; and (3) That a communist organization had achieved leadership of the mass movement and had the necessary strategy and tactics to carry the struggle through to victory.

The “Military Strategy” seems to be saying that conditions (1) and (2) are already present and it is our pressing duty to satisfy condition (3). We do not believe that condition (1) or (2) is present.

Our real pressing task is to bund the mass movement, especially in the working class, and to contribute through this mass movement to the further development of the contradictions of U.S. Imperialism. The main part of this work will be open political work, not illegal military work. Armed struggle, in this period, will unfold as a secondary aspect of political work; its main value will be political – helping to mobilize the masses for political struggle, most of which will not involve armed struggle. In other words, what we must develop now, is the tactics of armed struggle, not the strategy of armed struggle for state power. There is nothing new in our view. It is exactly what is said in RED PAPERS 1, under the section, “The Present Situation and the Goal”:

It is not possible, however, for U.S. workers, in their great majority, to join the fight against American Imperialism, unless their class consciousness is heightened through the political work of revolutionaries – consciousness not only of their exploitation which, in large measure, they already possess, but also an understanding of the inseparable relationship between monopoly’s exploitation of U.S. workers and its super-exploitation of the peoples of the colonial and semi-colonial world. Beyond this work – people must have a consciousness of their own power to be the decisive force in the defeat of their class enemy, the monopoly capitalist ruling class.

The strategy for doing this is laid out in RED PAPERS 2, in the first paragraph of the section, “Unite the Proletariat to Resist the Monopoly Capitalists’ Attack on Living Standards”:

…. At present, despite the vanguard role of Black and Brown revolutionaries, it is obvious, that the proletariat is not now the leading force in the people’s movement. By joining with the working class and fighting in its ranks against the moves by monopoly to crush the proletariat into the dirt, communists will be able to build working class organization under revolutionary leadership, will be able to demonstrate that only through unity with the oppressed peoples of the world and the Black and Brown peoples at home, only through fighting against the oppression of women, only through militant and determined struggle to turn back fascist repression can the proletariat and its allies survive today and gain strength for tomorrow’s struggle to strip the power from the imperialist enemy in order to fully safeguard the living standards of the proletariat and the future security of the proletariat and the people. (RP. 2, pg. 16-17)

Yes, the U.S. workers today don’t like the rich bastards who run the country. But they have very little consciousness of themselves as a class, the class that will remake the world in its image. They have only a beginning understanding of who their friends are and who their enemies are. (If this were not so, how could the UAW pig “leaders” at the Fremont, California GM plant mobilize workers, including many Chicano workers, against mythical student movement “enemies?”) They have not yet cast away all illusions about the nature of the system and the ruling class as a class whose interests are fundamentally, antagonistically opposed to their own. (If this were not so, how could Black people in Los Angeles tear up Watts in 1965 and then vote for Bobby Kennedy in huge numbers in 1968?) We have no doubt that the U.S. workers and oppressed people will learn all these things. But they will learn them in the process of many struggles, in which, increasingly they will take matters into their own hands and organize, politically, independent of the ruling class and its agents. To develop and lead these struggles, to develop these independent forms of organization, to link up the struggles, to build the united front and the leadership of the proletariat – and not to concoct “military strategy” that has nothing to do with present conditions – that is our most pressing task.

Sure, there is some feeling in the working class that, “You can’t beat City Hall.” But by this workers mean that you can’t win immediate struggles – for improved living conditions, against police repression, to end the Indochina war – struggles that are vital to them today. They are not talking about capturing state power, which is completely abstract and remote to the great majority of working people. As we say in RED PAPERS 2, the question of state power “will come to the fore in the mass movement … through the struggles led by the proletariat around the united front line and program.” (RP. 2, p. 10) To make the point absolutely clear, we quote Stalin, from the section “Strategy and Tactics,” in FOUNDATIONS OF LENINISM:

What is meant by making proper use of the forms of struggle and organization of the proletariat? … Firstly,. To put in the forefront precisely those forms of struggle and organization which are best suited to the conditions prevailing during the flow or ebb of the movement at a given moment, and which therefore can facilitate and ensure the bringing of the millions to the revolutionary positions, the bringing of the masses to the revolutionary front, and their disposition at the revolutionary front. The point here is not that the vanguard should realize the impossibility of preserving the old regime and the inevitability of its overthrow. The point is that the masses, the millions, should understand this inevitability and display their readiness to support the vanguard. But the masses can understand this only from their own experience. The task is to enable the vast masses to realize from their own experience the inevitability of the overthrow of the old regime, to promote such methods of struggle and forms of organization as will make it easier for the masses to realize from experience the correctness of the revolutionary slogans.


But the “military strategy” says something different. The masses are convinced, if not of the inevitability of overthrow, at least of the impossibility of going on under the old regime. All they want to know is: can we overthrow the old regime, and, if so, how? The authors of the “Military Strategy” must sense that they are treading on dangerous ground, for their next paragraph warns against “some hypothetical plan concocted in the privacy of some scholar’s library,” and concludes with the statement that, ”The winning strategy in one situation may be suicide in another, and no strategy can be successful unless the masses can understand and apply it.” We agree! And that is exactly why we oppose the line of this paper so strongly. If this paper makes any sense at all, it can only be understood as an attempt to mechanically transplant to the U.S. strategies which were developed in China and have been extended, generally, to the colonial and semi-colonial world. In doing so, it ignores crucial differences between a colonial and an imperialist country.

Why do we say that? To put it simply: in a colonial or semi-colonial country the masses are always in a revolutionary situation; in an imperialist country, the masses, the majority, are in a revolutionary situation only during a period of extreme economic and political crisis.

In a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country like China, before 1950, or India today, the situation for the masses of people – the peasants of the countryside in particular, is continuously revolutionary. The first two of Lenin’s three points are continuously realized. Different landlords and warlords, with their private armies are at war with each other. Different groups of large capitalists are tied in with different imperialist powers and are therefore also in sharp struggle with each other. No central regime can establish nationwide authority and power, can effectively establish its rule throughout the country.

On the other hand, the peasants, especially, are involved in life and death struggle for survival; they have no democratic rights and no illusions about the good nature of the landlords. As far as overthrowing the landlords, the peasants only “want to know if this is possible, and, if so, how it could actually come about.”

What do the peasants lack? They lack the courage and the organization. Their relationship to the means of production (highly individualized), and the primitiveness of the productive forces they use (simple ploughs, hoes, etc.) deprive them of the largeness of mind of workers in large-scale industry. They are easily taken in by religion, other forms of superstition, and awe of the landlord. So what is the strategy for mobilizing and organizing them? To show them that the landlord is not all-powerful, that he can be killed and that, by organizing collectively and building their own armed forces the peasants, as a class, can overthrow the landlord and his private army. In other words, the peasants are organized from the start around the gun.

This doesn’t mean that non-military struggle among the peasants is unimportant, that mass organization doesn’t have to be built to win the peasants. Unless the peasants are organized politically they will not support the armed struggle: they won’t produce food, clothing and other supplies, or soldiers, for the People’s Army. But the point is: the armed struggle, the military defeat of the enemy, makes possible the creation of liberated base areas, where political power can be exercised by the peasants. The small producer, subsistence economy of the peasant (and the small market it requires) can be turned from a bad thing into a good thing: a base area can be set up which can be self-sufficient and can support the People’s Army. Political power grows, directly, immediately, out of the barrel of a gun, and in turn strengthens the gun. Mao himself laid this out very clearly in late 1938:

All this shows the difference between China and the capitalist countries. In China war is the main form of struggle and the army is the main form of organization. Other forms such as mass organization and mass struggle are also extremely important and indeed indispensible and in no circumstances to be overlooked, but their purpose is to serve war … in China the armed revolution is fighting the armed counter-revolution. That is one of the specific features and one of the advantages of the Chinese Revolution. (Mao’s MILITARY WRITINGS, “Problems of War and Strategy,” p. 271; in the last sentence, Mao is quoting Stalin, “The Prospects of the Revolution in China.”)

Note that Mao says that the features of the Chinese Revolution – especially the fact that the army is the main form of organization and that mass work has the purpose of supporting the war – mark the difference between China and the capitalist countries. This essay was written during the early stages of the anti-Japanese war, which makes the importance of war even greater, but Mao is very clear on how the strategy for capitalist countries in general must differ from the strategy for semi-colonial countries in general. Since Mao is so clear on this, we are going to quote him at length:

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.

But while the principle remains the same, its application by the party of the proletariat finds expression in varying ways according to the varying conditions. Internally, capitalist countries practice bourgeois democracy (not feudalism) when they are not fascist, or at war; in their external relations they are not oppressed by, but themselves oppress other nations. Because of these characteristics, it is the task of the party of the proletariat in capitalist countries to educate the workers and build up strength through a long period of legal struggle, and thus prepare for the final overthrow of capitalism. In these countries the question is one of a long legal struggle, of utilizing the parliament as a platform, of economic and political strikes, of organizing trade unions and educating the workers. There the form of struggle is legal and the form of struggle bloodless (non-military). On the issue of war, the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries oppose the imperialist war waged by their own countries; if such war occurs, the policy of these Parties is to bring about the defeat of the reactionary governments of their own countries. The one war they want to fight is the civil war for which they are preparing. But this insurrection and war should not be launched until the bourgeoisie becomes really helpless, until the majority of the proletariat are determined to rise in arms and fight, and until the rural masses are giving willing help to the proletariat. And when the time comes to launch such an insurrection and war, the first step will be to seize the cities and then advance to the countryside, and not the other way around. All this has been done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries and has been proved correct by the October Revolution in Russia.

China is different however. The characteristics of China are that she is not independent and democratic but semi-colonial and semi-feudal, that internally she has no democracy but is under feudal oppression and that in her external relations she has no national independence but is oppressed by imperialism. It follows that we have no parliament to make use of and no legal right to organize the workers to strike. Basically, the task of the Communist Party here is not to go through a long period of legal struggle before launching insurrection and war, and not to seize the big cities first and then occupy the countryside, but the reverse. (MILITARY WRITINGS, “Problems of War and Strategy,” pp. 269-70)

A few words need to be said about the question of fascism and legal work. It is clear from the fact that we can still use elections and Congress (or State legislatures) as a platform, that we can still legally organize trade unions, rank-and-file caucuses, anti-war demonstrations, etc, that we are not yet in a period of fascism. True, the ruling class, as it grows more desperate, is stepping up its repression of revolutionary organizations and activities. But this is all the more reason why a main aspect of our work, the fight against fascism, must be to defend our right to carry on this kind of open revolutionary work.

And we must try to carry this fight out to the end – to the end of U.S. Imperialism – and not concede a single battle on this front to the enemy. And, even if we are not successful in preventing fascism, the major aspect of our work for some time will still be political, not military. But now Communist political work will itself be illegal and we will have to learn how to combine it with work in organizations that remain legal – veterans’ associations, educational societies, etc. All this, too, was done by Communist Parties in capitalist countries and was proved correct by the Bolsheviks.

When Mao says that for a long period the struggle is legal, even “bloodless (non-military),” he doesn’t mean literally that no blood is shed, or that no military action is taken. He means that until the struggle has developed to the point of insurrection, military actions are tactics in the political struggle; that unlike China, they support the open mass political work, not the reverse.

Mao’s presentation of the October Revolution in Russia as the model for capitalist countries, and his statement that, in capitalist countries the strategy is to capture the cities first and then the countryside are both very important for Communists in the United States. And they are especially important to keep in mind in reading the current paper on “Protracted Urban War.” Under the heading, “Protracted War or Quick Victory?” this paper tries to show that the military strategy for the U.S. revolution is protracted urban war, by saying that:

Throughout history revolutionary wars have been struggles of great duration – protracted wars … Revolutionary war is protracted whether the main military struggle takes place before or after the seizure of state power. Revolutionary war in this country will also be protracted. Indeed it already is.

There is so much wrong with this statement, it is hard to know where to begin combatting it. First of all, the question that is brushed aside – whether the civil war occurs before or after seizure of state power – avoids a number of decisive points. Up to this time in the history of the Communist movement, revolutionary civil war has always occurred between two regimes – that is, after a form of political power has been established by the people. This was the case in China, in Spain during the 30’s, in Vietnam today; and it was the case in the Soviet Union. True enough, the establishment of nationwide political power has always followed a civil war. Even in Russia, the workers took power only in a few key industrial cities in October, 1917. It took several years of civil war to win power in the countryside.

In China, base areas were established in the countryside, the cities were surrounded and choked off through long years of civil war (with an intervening period of anti-Japanese war). Finally the cities were captured. As Mao points out, the Chinese model is necessary and correct for colonial and semi-colonial countries, the Russian model for capitalist and imperialist countries. To be specific: history has so far indicated that in a capitalist or imperialist country, civil war, protracted or short-term, cannot lead to nationwide power, before an insurrection which seizes power in several industrial areas simultaneously and makes it possible to establish a regime.


So when we are told that revolutionary war in the U.S. not only will be protracted, once it begins, but that we are already in the first stages of such protracted war, then we are being told that the experience in the U.S. will be unique, that the Russian model and the experience in the capitalist and imperialist countries does not apply here. Well, this may be. Only a rigid dogmatist would argue that it is impossible for conditions to arise which would make this new analysis correct. For example, if the US. was invaded by another imperialist power, the conditions for protracted guerilla war within the U.S. might arise. In fact, this has been the one exception to the rule in capitalist and imperialist countries. The invasion of France and other European countries during World War II (which came after Mao’s essay “Problems of War and Strategy”) did make certain forms of guerilla resistance the necessary means of struggle. But it’s up to the comrades who put forward the protracted guerilla line to show exactly what conditions do exist in the U.S. today to make protracted war possible and correct.

None of this is done in the paper. Instead, we are just told that protracted war is on and then every aspect of struggle is interpreted as an act in this protracted war:

… A strategic application of protracted war (to the U.S.) recognizes that only through armed struggle can the masses liberate themselves but at the same time sees this armed struggle not in terms of glorious campaigns and actions, but as the sum total of a war of attrition conducted by the masses against the ruling class.

In other words, every time a pig is killed, or a police station, bank, military installation, etc., is blown up, this is one of the small parts of the war of attrition of wearing down the enemy, which will contribute to the sum total of overthrowing the state? There is only one word for this kind of thinking: metaphysics. It is completely opposed to the dialectical concept of quantity turning into quality. To be specific: in a period of insurrection, or actual civil war – when, as Stalin said about the Chinese revolution, the armed revolutionary camp (or regime) is engaged in all-out warfare against the armed counterrevolutionary camp – such acts of assassination and sabotage can play an important part in the military defeat of the enemy. This is exactly why Lenin angrily criticized the Bolsheviks for not taking up such forms of struggle, during the insurrectionary period of the 1905 revolution.

It is also why, in the midst of this insurrectionary period, Lenin argued that even general political strikes should be timed to give maximum support to the insurrection. At this point, with the qualitative change in the situation, the non-military political struggle became secondary, unfolded around the primary form of struggle: the military insurrection. But before the insurrectionary period, military actions were secondary, unfolded around and supported the primary form of work: mass, (non-military) political struggle. Lenin never talked about military acts as part of a protracted urban guerilla war; he never even talks about them at all, until the 1905 events developed into insurrection. (This, of course, is not mentioned by the authors of the “protracted urban war” thesis – something we will deal with at more length later.)

Before the class struggle reaches the stage of all-out warfare, acts of sabotage and assassination have to be evaluated on the basis of how they contribute to the overall development of the political struggle. Of course, at a certain point, the political class struggle inevitably develops into military struggle – warfare. But this is a qualitative change, which, yes, comes about because of the sum total of quantitative changes in the political struggle: for example, when the political movement of the people has gained such strength that the ruling class is completely exposed, resorts to even more vicious means of repression and the people in turn resort to open warfare to take state power from the ruling class. Anyone who studies the history of the Russian revolution knows that this is exactly what happened, both in 1905 and in 1917. But to argue, for example, when the Tsar was assassinated in 1881 by Russian terrorists, that this was an act in protracted war, part of the sum total of the war of attrition against Tsarism, is to make a mockery of Russian history, and much more importantly, of Marxism-Leninism.

In DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM, Stalin uses the example of ice turning into liquid water to demonstrate how quantitative changes in heat finally bring about a qualitative change in the substance itself. But exactly because the change becomes qualitative, ice and water are two different things. Things that are done with ice have a different meaning than when the same things are done with water – which can be easily demonstrated by filling a swimming pool with ice and pouring water into a glass of coke.

To return to the question of military strategy: In capitalist countries, non-military struggle (in the sense that Mao uses it in “Problems of War and Strategy”) finally charges, qualitatively, into military insurrection. But every political act, or even an act of armed struggle, before that qualitative change, is not really an act of war, but part of the overall political struggle, which has not yet reached the stage of actual war.

Politics is war without bloodshed, yes; and war is politics with bloodshed. But when we do reach the stage of war and the blood is really being shed, on both sides, new problems and tasks will present themselves and make demands on us. In the meantime, to act as though we are at war when we are not is to set ourselves up to be smashed, to lead people into suicide, especially since it is absolutely true, as this “protracted war” paper states: ”We stand face to face with the most dangerous ruling class in all of history.”

The concept of a protracted “war of attrition” makes no sense at all, when applied to a capitalist country. Mao deals with it in discussing Chinese revolutionary struggle in general, and the anti-Japanese war in particular:

… we may say that the anti-Japanese war is at once a war of attrition and a war of annihilation … campaigns of annihilation are the means of attaining the objective of strategic attrition. … But the objective of strategic attrition may also be achieved by campaigns of attrition. Generally speaking, mobile warfare performs the task of annihilation, positional warfare performs the task of attrition, and guerilla warfare performs both simultaneously; the three forms of warfare are thus distinguished from one another. In this sense war of annihilation is different from war of attrition. Campaigns of attrition are supplementary but necessary in protracted war. (“On Protracted War,” in Mao’s MILITARY WRITINGS, pp. 248-49)

Mao adds that “It is chiefly by using the method of attrition through annihilation that China can wage protracted war.” if the line of a protracted urban guerilla war of attrition is correct for the U.S., then it has to be explained how we can accomplish attrition through annihilation, or through positional warfare (large, stationary battles of regular armies), or through some other means which did not prove to be applicable in the countryside in semi-colonial, semi-feudal China, but will work in urban, imperialist America. Annihilation means you wipe out the enemy’s forces. Mao specifically opposes it to merely routing the enemy forces – inflicting heavy casualties, forcing them to retreat, but not wiping them out.

We do not see how this can be done in an urban situation. Once large numbers of police, national guard, or army divisions are called in, practice has shown that they do the annihilating-or at least the routing. Even if urban uprisings occurred simultaneously in several key urban centers, historical experience (for example, the Russian revolution) indicates that they can only succeed if at least a major section of the enemy army comes over to the side of the people. In any case, this would be an insurrection, not a guerilla war of annihilation, or attrition.

If, under U.S. conditions, an urban war of attrition is not going to be fought by the method of annihilation, how is it going to be fought? Well, according to this paper,

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

We are going to let much that is wrong with this pass, for now. But we would like to ask: even if all this came to pass, how would it lead to the seizure of state power? Don’t excite us with the details of this glorious war and then neglect to tell us how we won! If this question sounds sarcastic – it is only because the scheme elaborated above is just that – a scheme, a concoction. It is not based on a scientific summing up of mass struggle in the U.S., but only the romantic dreams of the writers of this paper. To get back to reality, one question has to be answered: since, as you say, “revolutionary struggle is a war of the masses” (we will overlook this repeated confusion of struggle with war) – how is the support of the masses going to be won for these small units, operating “integrated with the enemy?”

In order to show how the support of the masses can be won, you must show how the concrete living conditions of the masses who are called upon to support this protracted guerilla war are going to be improved through this warfare? In China, in Vietnam, the living conditions of the people immediately improved by knocking off a landlord, wiping out his army, dividing up his estate among the peasants and introducing the primitive forms of cooperation in production. All of this can be accomplished in a fairly short period in any one area. What is the parallel in U.S. cities? And, if the people’s conditions will not be improved, but more than likely greatly worsened, by attempts at this kind of activity by revolutionaries, how is more support going to be won?

Lenin lays it out very clearly: the only way the Communist party can be the political vanguard of the proletariat and the people is by leading the struggles of the people for their immediate needs. (See “Notes on Imperialism,” Vol. 39, Collected Works, pg. 270) We can’t do this by waging guerilla warfare, but by joining with the working class on the level of struggle that they themselves are prepared to wage, and raising these struggles, politically, to a higher level. What we need is not a guerilla army, but cadre capable of sinking deep roots in the working class, fighting in the ranks of the workers for their immediate needs, linking up these fights with the broader political struggle and integrating into this work propaganda around the eventual, inevitable struggle for state power.

In fact, this particular section of “Military Strategy,” like the rest of the paper, has very little to do with the reality of the developing mass movement in this country. The authors try to give it the appearance of reality by certain references to actions that are going on among the oppressed masses – killing of pigs in Third World communities, bombings in connection with labor struggles. But the treatment of these real, objective facts is marred by the same metaphysical, subjective approach that characterizes the whole “Military Strategy” paper. One example:

… rural guerillas can never be completely integrated with large masses of people, because the rural population itself is spread out in small villages and farms. The urban guerilla, on the other hand, swims in a real ocean of the people. We see both advantages (layout of cities, “integration” of “guerillas” with the masses) in the recent successful ambush of two pigs in Chicago. The guerillas fired from a huge high-rise apartment complex, and were even able to prevent three attempts by massed pigs to recover the bodies of their fallen fellow oinkers. The enemy had no idea of exactly where the fire was coming from. They did not have the option of returning massive fire, because to do so would have further revolutionized the thousands of people in the apartment complex, not to mention the effects on the city, the nation, even the world. Even in searching for the guerillas, the pigs had to kick in literally hundreds of doors.

To begin with, the question of being integrated with the masses is primarily a political question, not a physical question. It means having a real political base among the people, having their political support, because the fight you are waging is directly, immediately in their interests, and political work has been done to develop their understanding of this objective fact. For all the reasons we have cited before, we believe that, using this correct standard of integration with the masses (large masses or small masses) so-called “urban guerillas” can never be integrated with the masses in the way that rural guerillas can, operating in a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country.

The question of urban-rural is posed in a completely anti-Marxist manner. It is not a question of geography, or the height and density of buildings that determines the course of political and military struggle, but the level of development of society, especially of its productive forces and the relations of production. To put it more simply: it is the economic and political system that determines the character of the struggle in any country at any time. This is exactly the method of analysis that Mao uses in the section from “Problems of War and Strategy” that we quoted at length.

(We suggest that comrades go back and read Stalin’s DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM, especially the sections where he shows that it is not the. geographical environment, the natural conditions, or the amount of population that determines the social system, but the level of development of its productive forces. It is not external physical or geographical factors that shape the revolution, but the internal contradictions within any social system – specifically the contradiction between the developing economic base and the political superstructure that arises from that base. All this is clearly explained by Stalin.)

To show how this “military strategy” completely violates the principles of dialectical and historical materialism, let’s look at a paragraph that claims to explain the laws of revolutionary struggle and apply them to the U.S.:

The revolutionary struggle in the U.S. will certainly be waged primarily in the cities. Unlike other peoples’ wars, which inspire and teach us, ours will be fought in the urban areas. The importance of rural areas in other countries was that the majority of the oppressed and therefore revolutionary population of these countries were mostly peasants (small farmers) and rural proletariat. Therefore, since these were people’s struggles, in order to rely on the masses the war had to be essentially rural in character, using the countryside to surround the seat of reactionary power, the cities. In the U.S., the revolutionary masses work and live for the most part in urban areas. Our revolutionary countryside lies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. But our own revolutionary forces are based in the cities.

This paragraph is typical of most everything that is wrong with this whole paper. First. It starts out by begging the central question – “Unlike other peoples’ wars, which inspire and teach us.” The paper started out to prove the thesis that people’s war is the correct “military strategy” for the U.S.; and, by the second page, without any of this proof, it simply assumes that this is the correct strategy. It attempts to prove its thesis simply by stating it as fact. Secondly. It sets up the following proposition: wherever the greatest number of people live, that is always the center of the revolutionary struggle (which is always and everywhere People’s War). And it sets down the equation: most oppressed=most revolutionary. These are both factually incorrect and completely unscientific.

What about the Russian revolution? It was not a People’s War, but an insurrection, followed by civil war (people’s war, as Mao treats it, is a protracted war that relies on the masses, in a semi-colonial, semi-feudal country). The Russian revolution was not centered in the countryside, but in the cities. AND IT RELIED MAINLY ON THE PROLETARIAT, even though the peasants were more numerous and more oppressed (living in much greater misery) than the workers. The Russian revolution, unlike the Chinese revolution, relied mainly on the workers in the cities, for the reason that Russia unlike China was a capitalist, even imperialist, country, not a semi-feudal, semi-colonial country (even though feudal survivals did still exist in parts of the countryside). Again, it is the contradiction between the economic base and the political superstructure – and not factors of climate, population, or geography – that determines the basic character of the revolution. Since the U.S. is an imperialist country, our revolutionary forces will be urban AND THE FORM OF OUR REVOLUTION WILL BE NON-MILITARY STRUGGLE, FOLLOWED BY INSURRECTION, NOT PEOPLE’S WAR.

But the “military strategy” of “protracted urban war” turns things upside down. It treats people’s war as an abstract IDEAL, which always and everywhere exists, and must simply find the masses to support it:

… in order to rely on the masses, the war had to be essentially rural in character.

Revolutionary war is a war of the masses, says Mao. But Mao also says revolutionary people’s war is only possible, and a correct strategy, under semi-colonial, semi-feudal conditions. He never says, ”Well, we have this concept of revolutionary war, so let’s find the masses who will support it.” In fact Mao ridicules exactly this kind of approach as trying to ”cut the toes to fit the shoes.” His approach is exactly the opposite: the masses need revolutionary war, under semi-feudal, semi-colonial conditions, to liberate themselves, so we must mobilize the masses to wage this war. Even in selecting the site for the first base area in China – the Chingkang Mountains – Mao chose an area where the struggle of the masses was at its highest level – not where geography, the natural conditions, or the density of population were necessarily the highest, or most favorable.

But the authors of the “Military Strategy” paper approach matters in completely the opposite manner. They are out for protracted guerilla war, no matter what the conditions of the people and the struggle; so they try to twist reality and history to justify their subjective scheme for urban protracted guerilla war.

Back to the specific example of the Chicago ambush. Unfortunately, we are not familiar with this specific event as described in this paper (we at first thought it was referring to the Cabrini Green incident of several months ago. but from the description in this paper, we can’t be sure.) We are not in a position to dispute any of the details provided in this paper. But, even if we accept the version provided, it is very clear that the whole treatment of this incident is entirely from a technical, logistical and not political point of view. We don’t want to be unfair: but, from all we’re told here, it could just as well have been members of the P Stone Nation (or another gang) and not revolutionary “guerillas” who carried out this ambush.

How did this ambush fit into the overall political struggle? How did the people around in fact respond to what did happen (not what might have happened)? How did this ambush contribute to the development of the struggle of the masses in the area? What kind of political program and propaganda was carried on by these “guerillas?” None of these questions are even discussed. If we believe that it is the masses of people who make history, and not just a few heroes then, without denying the importance of heroes, we are entitled to ask how the actions of these heroes help to build the mass movement of the people.

Let’s look more closely and all-sidedly into the question of these “guerilla ambushes” that are occurring mainly in the Black community. In a few cases – for example, the recent events in Cairo, Illinois – an organized force of Black people has been able to inflict some damage on the police and escape.[1] But, in many more cases, even the best organized, best-trained forces have gone down to defeat. Take, for example, the case surrounding Ahmed Evans in Cleveland, 1968. Apparently a well-organized force of Black people drew a few police into a dead-end and opened fire on them from sniper positions in tall buildings. According to reports, including accounts of people who said they knew the snipers, most of them were Vietnam veterans. They were using automatic weapons, tracer bullets, and other highly sophisticated equipment. And yet the police were able to move in, the “guerillas” were not able to disperse, and they suffered much heavier casualties than the pigs. And if we sum up the experience of the Panthers in situations where they have been involved in gun battles with the pigs, we simply cannot conclude that the revolutionary forces have been successful.

If the answer is that people must “learn warfare through warfare,” that these losing battles are merely the result of the inevitable mistakes of a developing guerilla force, we still don’t see the evidence for that. We don’t see that the experience over the past several years points to fewer defeats and more victories for the revolutionaries.

And much more importantly, we don’t see any thing to justify the claim that the gunfights between Black people and the police, which have increased over the past few years, are the work of “guerillas” or that, from these incidents, you can develop a theory of protracted urban guerilla warfare which can lead to the seizure of state power. Guerillas, especially in the context of protracted war, are organized military units, under the political leadership of a revolutionary party. They carry out political work and help improve the living conditions of the people, along with carrying out irregular military actions.

Irregular means that their actions are localized, periodic, and within the context of general warfare, that includes regular, full-time military forces, using both mobile and positional tactics. True, these larger units are built out of the guerilla units, but the guerilla units, from the beginning, are the military arm of a political party. And from the beginning they must be truly integrated with the masses, enjoy their political support, or they won’t survive. Sure, more and more pigs are getting killed by people in the Black community who just won’t put up with any more brutality and murder, but these are overwhelmingly the spontaneous acts of unorganized individuals.


What should be our approach to these actions? And to the people who are carrying them out? Our answer to this question depends on (1) our general analysis of how the U.S. revolution will develop and take state power; and (2) specifically, what is the dialectical relationship between the Third World liberation struggles in the U.S. and the proletarian revolution.

We believe that the leader, both practically and ideologically, of the U.S. revolution, must be the working class, and specifically the workers employed in large-scale production. We would be very surprised if anyone in our organization would express open opposition to this. But we believe that the line of protracted urban guerilla war is, in fact, in opposition to the leading role of the proletariat, aid in fact points away from proletarian revolution.

The “protracted urban war” paper presents a totally romantic picture of the Black and brown communities as a battlefields in a developing guerilla war of national resistance. Spontaneous rebellions – like the April 1968 rebellions that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King – are transformed, with the stroke of a pen, into armed uprisings, between mythical guerilla actions. Armed uprisings which, we are asked to believe, are on a higher level, hold out longer against the force of the state, than the unsuccessful Russian Revolution of 1905. We are going to reserve most of our comments on this last idea for later, but we must point out in passing, that the Russian revolution of 1905 in fact lasted several years, and was not completely defeated until 1907. The 1905 events themselves involved actual insurrection in several cities, actual wars of national liberation in several nations oppressed by Great Russia (Ukraine, Georgia, Poland), actual armed peasant uprisings, and actual mutinies and revolts in the Tsar’s armed forces. The Moscow uprising itself, in December, 1905, held out 9 days – longer than any single Black rebellion we know of.

The real political line and strategy represented by this “protracted war” paper comes out clearly with this idea of the Black and brown communities as guerilla combat zones:

In the formative and intermediary stages the main combat areas of the revolutionary struggle will be in and around Black and brown communities, as it is the revolutionary peoples of the internal colonies who are the vanguard in the fight against U.S. imperialism, for their national liberation, and for the establishment of socialism.

Again this is not based on the reality of U.S. conditions. The ghettoes and barrios are oppressed communities, a kind of concentration camp of poor housing, high unemployment, poverty, disease, inadequate education and recreation, broken down streets, gouging landlords and merchants. The pigs occupy the community to enforce these conditions. Faced with these conditions many of the oppressed sections of the Black and brown people – the unemployed and especially the permanent reserve army of labor (those the Panthers call the “lumpen-proletariat”) see no way out but destruction. It is these sections of the Black and brown people that have participated most heavily in the rebellions; it is these unemployed who engage in individual acts of rebellio n– sniping at pigs, throwing bombs, etc.

Since their lives are the least stable, forcing them into a daily struggle for survival, their condition is very explosive; they move more quickly than more stable sections of the Black and brown peoples – workers who are regularly employed – into conflict with the oppressor and especially the armed enforcer of the oppressor, the pig. But they lack the largeness of mind of the proletariat, they cannot easily see beyond destruction, they have no firm concept of socialized production or socialized, collective struggle, no vision of a society based on these proletarian principles.

There is nothing new in what we are saying. Mao himself warns that “some of the unemployed masses have anarchist views” and points out that only the proletariat and the Communist Party can overcome “the destructiveness of the unemployed masses.” (Mao’s MILITARY WRITINGS, “Strategy in China’s Revolutionary War,” pg. 90).

The Black Panther Party bases itself on these unemployed black masses. The real strength of the Panthers has been their ability to give revolutionary leadership to these sections of the oppressed Black people. They have raised their level of political consciousness, organized political struggle and developed revolutionary violence as part of this struggle. The armed anti-pig patrols of the early Panthers and the recent prison revolts are two outstanding examples of this. But the greatest weakness of the Panthers is that they have also raised the limitations of the unemployed masses – their narrow outlook and their destructiveness – to the level of a strategy. They have made “picking up the gun, offing pigs” the primary basis and strategy for revolution in the U.S. And this has prevented them from establishing any real base among the majority of Black people, who are workers.

Black workers, like all Black people, are ready to fight against the oppression of the ghetto; they are ready to support armed self-defense against police repression and terror. But they see things more broadly than this. They understand that the struggle cannot be limited to Black people only, and that it cannot unfold around the kind of destructive acts characteristic of the unemployed.

And, even though their conditions are more oppressive than white workers, and their level of resistance and consciousness are higher, things are still not at the point that there is no way out but all-out revolutionary struggle. They are not convinced of the revolutionary necessity, not yet prepared to lay down their lives and they will not follow organizations that offer them only the prospect of revolutionary suicide. Of course, most Black workers support the Panthers when they are attacked by the pigs, because they recognize these pig attacks for what they are – racist oppression directed at Black people as a whole – but they do not accept the political line of the Panthers.


We should learn from the mistakes of the Panthers (as well as their achievements). We must base ourselves, first, on the masses of workers, recognizing the vanguard role of Black and other Third World workers. The forms of struggle and the strategy we develop should be based, mainly, on summing up the struggles of the working class and promoting the practical and ideological leadership of the most advanced workers among all sections of the people, especially the unemployed masses of Black and brown people.

Our situation is different in one respect from the general situation of capitalist countries referred to by Mao in “Problems of War and Strategy.” The main revolutionary reserves, the closest allies of the proletariat in this country, are not the “rural masses” but the unemployed masses of the urban industrial centers, a large percentage of whom are Black and brown. Before World War II most of these same people would have been peasants (sharecroppers) in the rural south or small, poor farmers in the south and midwest. But the development of industry and the mechanization of agriculture in the past 30 years has driven most of these people off the land and into the cities (it has also turned a smaller number into rural proletarians, migrant farm laborers). But the development of industry under the conditions of imperialism, with all the contradictions of capitalism raised to their highest level, has not provided enough jobs for these people. This has resulted in a large number – several million – of permanently unemployed.

The fact that the main reserves are unemployed workers and not peasants and poor farmers, has both strengths and weaknesses for the U.S. revolution. The weakness is that the worker-peasant alliance developed in the Russian revolution, the program of overthrowing the landlords and dividing the land among the landless, the sharecroppers and the dirt farmers as the basis for this alliance cannot be developed, because it does not correspond to the concrete conditions and needs of these oppressed people. We will have to rely on our own experience to develop a program that does. The strength is that these unemployed masses live together with the proletariat, are oppressed by the same institutions – hospitals, schools, government agencies, pigs – and can therefore be united directly in struggle with the proletariat. In the long run, this strength is more important than the weakness.

Already the employed and unemployed are developing unity in exactly these kinds of struggles. Our task is to sum up these struggles, develop them to a higher level and promote the leadership of the proletariat and its communist organizations (and eventually its Communist Party) in these struggles. Armed struggle must be developed as part of this process. Armed self-defense of the Black and brown communities must be developed as a mass question, a struggle conducted on all levels, including the military level. In the course of this, it may be correct for the people’s forces to assassinate pigs or attack a pig station or other target. But these won’t be acts of protracted guerilla war, whose main value is military (part of the process of protracted attrition); but acts which help to develop the political struggle of the masses, and have mainly political value. This applies generally to all aspects of political work, to the general task of building the united front under proletarian leadership.

Since the main form of struggle will (for some time) be mass non-military work, and armed struggle will have the purpose of supporting the non-military struggle, military work will have to be carried out separately from the main form of organization. Our organization must develop as a Marxist-Leninist cadre formation, not convert itself into a guerilla force, or an embryo of some future People’s Army – or try to be both at the same time.

A correct approach calls for developing a separate apparatus, outside the main cadre formation, to carry on military work. This is exactly what the Bolsheviks did. They created a separate Military Section, under the political leadership of the Party. In the pre-insurrectionary period (before 1905) this apparatus consisted mainly of a small number of combat groups, made up of “workers who have had military training or who are particularly strong and agile … to act in the event of demonstrations, in arranging escapes from prison, etc.” (Lenin, “Letter to a Comrade on our Organizational Tasks,” Collected Works, Vol. 6, pg. 245).

It is also what the Chinese did. Many party members worked with the People’s Army, but other cadre had the task of political organization within the base areas (or within the Kuomintang-held areas). (This is described in FANSHEN.) For the Chinese, armed struggle was the principal form of struggle, the army the principal organization. For the Bolsheviks – and in the U.S. today-the political struggle is principal, the mass organizations the principal arena for work. For the Chinese, both military and non military work were open (unless the non-military work was in Kuomintang areas). For the Bolsheviks, most political work and all military work was illegal. In the U.S. the situation is basically the same as for the Bolsheviks, except that at this time, Communist political work is legal. This makes separation of illegal military work from legal political work all the more crucial.

The military strategy of “protracted urban war” is not based on the principle of promoting the political movement of the working class as the primary factor in the revolutionary movement. It shows no understanding of the qualitative changes that will take place in the revolutionary movement as the crisis of U.S. Imperialism deepens and becomes more acute; as more and more workers are organized into struggle against U.S. Imperialism; as a new, genuine Communist party of the proletariat assumes its rightful place as the leader of the revolution. Here is how Lenin described the effects of the growing revolutionary movement of the working class, in 1905, on the peasants of Russia – peasants who had many times in the past ’50 years risen up against the landlords, killed many of them and expropriated (for awhile) large parts of their land:

… (The middle-class intellectuals) displayed supreme self-sacrifice and astonished the whole world by the heroism of their terrorist methods of struggle. Their sacrifices were certainly not in vain. They doubtlessly contributed-directly or indirectly – to the subsequent revolutionary education of the Russian people. But they did not, and could not, achieve their immediate aim of generating a people’s revolution.

That was achieved only by the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. Only the wave of mass strikes that swept over the whole country, strikes connected with the severe lessons of the imperialist Russo-Japanese War (a war to carve up China in 1904) roused the broad masses of peasants from their lethargy. The word “striker” acquired an entirely new meaning among the peasants: it signified a rebel, a revolutionary, a term previously expressed by the word “student.” But the “student” belonged to the middle class, to the “learned,” to the “gentry,” and was alien to the people. The “striker” on the other hand was of the People; he belonged to the exploited class. (Lenin, “Lecture on the 1905 Revolution,” Collected Works, Vol. 23, pp. 242-243)

How relevant this is to our struggle today, and how much more will the revolutionary struggle of the workers inspire and rouse to action the masses of unemployed people of the U.S.!

But the military strategy of “protracted urban war” turns things on their head. It promotes the leadership of the unemployed, and leads away from the leadership of the proletariat. No matter how many times the paper uses the phrases “masses” or “mass struggle” it points away from building a mass movement. Why? Because it tries to apply the strategy of organizing around the gun, putting military struggle in the first place, to the conditions of the imperialist U.S. where such a strategy cannot apply. The following quotes from the paper leave no doubt that it evaluates everything from the military standpoint first:

… the revolutionary forces, which will be able to survive and grow only if they can meet counter-revolutionary violence (our emphasis) … If the revolutionary Communist Party is to be the general staff of the struggle, and its fighting arm the Red Army the main and essential force, the organization must have the following: (1) A fighting core around which a Red Army can grow; (2) a pool of military cadre that can train and give direction to , other groups, fighting units and the masses; (3) a unified political and military leadership (the same apparatus? – R.U.); (4) cadre working within the ranks of the imperialist military forces; and (5) a firm base among the masses, having their confidence and trust… (our emphasis)

A united front military strategy must be based on a thorough summation of the practice and potential role of all forces. Their strengths and weaknesses must be assessed in terms of the needs of protracted urban guerilla struggle.

Only by committing the serious error of making the military factor primary can the paper imply that the Black rebellions are on a “higher level” than the 1905 Russian revolution. This question of “higher level of struggle” – what that means under our conditions – is misunderstood in parts of our organization, and is a very important question to understand correctly. To argue that the Black rebellions – spontaneous, unorganized uprisings, with no political program or leadership – were on a higher level than the 1905 Russian Revolution, can make sense only if you measure the level of struggle by one standard only: the amount of destruction, or “material damage” done. But “material damage” or “material struggle” (as the paper puts it) has very little to do with revolution, especially under our conditions.

Even from the purely military viewpoint, the 1905 Revolution was on a higher level. In the Moscow uprising, barricades were set up, mobile tactics were used by the insurrectionists, 8000 workers carried on organized armed struggles and they were joined by a large number of soldiers. But more importantly the 1905 Revolution followed a year of economic and political strikes, involving several million workers, as well as widespread peasant revolts, national liberation struggles and rebellions in the Tsar’s armed forces. And, most importantly, the 1905 Revolution was fought by the most class conscious workers, who were aiming directly at the seizure of state power. In every respect this was a much “higher level” struggle than the Black rebellions in 1964-68. Raising struggle to a higher level means raising the political consciousness of the masses involved in struggle: that is our task in every situation, and military tactics must be assessed on the basis of how they contribute to this central task.

But this “protracted urban war” paper implies the opposite, even when speaking directly of working class struggle. It points out the fact that “Two thirds of the thousands of bombings in the U.S. in the last year were in labor struggles at the point of production,” as an indicator of the rising revolutionary development of the workers’ movement. Increased bombings do reflect a growing militancy among workers. But there is no direct relationship between bombs and revolutionary consciousness. Before World War I, a lot of bombs were hurled in labor struggles, many of them by the more privileged craft workers (typographical workers, for example). Even Samuel Gompers, one of the original labor fat-cats went along with the bombings for awhile. But these labor battles, even with their bombings, were not on as high a level as many of the strikes at the same time, or strikes during the Depression (for example the Flint Strike) which did not involve the use of bombs, or guns.

The reason these latter strikes were on a “higher level” is that the demands of the workers and their consciousness were in much more fundamental opposition to the capitalist system, even if they weren’t thoroughly revolutionary. In the HISTORY OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF THE SOVIET UNION, Stalin and the Soviet Party Central Committee point out that the revolts of the 1860’s, spontaneous rebellions where workers smashed machinery and burned down factories as an expression of their outrage against exploitation, were on a much lower level than the organized strikes of the 1890’s, which didn’t destroy property, but were organized, timed to be most effective, and put forward a concrete set of demands that united the workers.

The consciousness of the masses, their understanding of the struggle and their willingness and determination to struggle- and not the amount of violence or damage – that is what determines the level of struggle. Once more: bombs, bullets and other things may be useful and necessary in developing the overall political struggle, but until the actual period of insurrection, they are always secondary, supportive of the political struggle.

The way the paper treats this question of higher level is the same way it treats the question of strategy generally: it makes physical conditions-the height of buildings, the design of the streets, the density of population, the amount of damage – the decisive factor. It misrepresents Engels in discussing the development of guns and the changes in urban design engineered by the bourgeoisie in Europe. While, factually, it correctly summarizes Engels, politically its use of Engels is a distortion. We are not going to quote the paper at length on this point, but merely summarize it. (Comrades who want to read Engels’ original writings on the subject, can find them in ANTI-DUHRING, the chapters on “The Force Theory,” and Engels’ “Introduction,” to Marx’s CLASS STRUGGLE IN FRANCE, 1848-1850.)

Briefly, the paper summarizes Engels as follows: with the technological development of the gun which could be accurately aimed at a single object – a process which took several centuries – warfare conducted in the open, between two stationary, or even moving forces, became impossible. So, in the first part of the 19th century, barricade fighting became the method of warfare. At the same time, the working class districts of European cities were overgrown, laid out in narrow, ending, streets and alleys. ”So barricade and street ting was quite effective for the workers and their allies.”

But then, around the 1860’s, the machine gun and artillery were developed whose ammunition required mass production – mass production, which was done by the workers, but placed the bullets in the hands of the bourgeoisie. At the same time, the bourgeoisie levelled the old working class slums and replaced them with long, straight streets. This gave a tremendous advantage to the bourgeoisie which, to quote the paper, “together with the ability of the bourgeoisie to rally the urban petty bourgeoisie, led Engels to conclude the ’rebellion in the old style, the street fight with barricades .. . was to a considerable degree obsolete.’” But Engels did not rule out armed revolution, in the form of street fighting, altogether. He analyzed the situation this way:

A future street fight can therefore only be victorious when the unfavorable situation is compensated by other factors. Accordingly, it will occur more seldom in the beginning of a great revolution, than in its further progress, and will have to be undertaken with greater force. (Engels, ”Introduction,” to Marx’s CLASS STRUGGLE IN FRANCE, 1848-1850).

What Engels, in fact, concluded, was that the seizure of power by a minority of workers, using the method of barricade street fighting was no longer possible. Before that, Engels says, it would have been possible for a class conscious minority of workers to take power and then win the masses politically. Now, Socialists are realizing more and more that no lasting victory is possible for them, unless they first win the great mass of the people, i.e., in this case (France, in particular), the peasants. Slow propaganda work and parliamentary activity are being recognized here, too, (in France) as the most immediate tasks of the Party. Now, it is a question of building the mass movement among the workers and the broadest sections of the oppressed people. This inevitably forces the ruling class to launch an attack on the people’s movement-which will win over even larger sections of the people and then launch a counter-attack to take power from the bourgeoisie. Now it is all the more important to do propaganda within the armed forces of the enemy to win over as many soldiers as possible, so that the inevitable armed struggle can succeed. (See Engels, “Introduction” to Marx’s CLASS STRUGGLE IN FRANCE, 1848-1850.)

Engels says that the changes in armaments and in architecture, made certain tactical changes necessary for the proletariat. But the main point Engels hammers home is exactly that the revolutionary movement must have more of a mass character, that the period of legal, non-military work must be longer (something that remains true in capitalist countries today). So, when the paper says that “The 1905 Revolution changed all this,” and by misrepresenting some comments by Lenin on the military tactics of the 1905 Revolution tries to establish the basis for protracted urban guerilla warfare, it twists Engels and Lenin’s theoretical contributions inside out. In fact, the worst perversion of this paper is its shoddy attempt to use Lenin’s writings on the 1905 Revolution to justify its erroneous line of “protracted urban guerilla warfare.”


First, the paper quotes Lenin, “the general strike, as an independent and predominant form of struggle is out of date.” (from “Lessons of the Moscow Uprising,” Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. IV, pp. 171,78). Yes, but the paper neglects to tell us that Lenin means it is out of date in an insurrectionary period. And moreover Lenin meant that it was “out of date” at that particular point of time (mid-1906) as “an independent and permanent form,” because a new rise of general insurrection was then expected. It was not out of date as a dependent and non-predominant form even then, in mid-1906. The point was that in calling for a general strike at that extremely revolutionary time in Russia it must be done as a direct prelude to the development of a general, all-Russian, mass insurrection. That is what Lenin meant, and comrades can convince themselves of this by a careful reading of ”Lessons of the Moscow Uprising.”

The real connection of general strikes to an insurrection was the very opposite of what the paper’s distorted quotation implies. Stalin notes, in HCPSU, pages 70 and 71:

To guide the masses to an uprising and to turn it into an uprising of the whole people, Lenin deemed it necessary to issue such slogans, such appeals to the masses as would set free their revolutionary initiative, organize them for insurrection and disorganize the machinery of power of Tsardom … The following, he considered, were these slogans:

a) Mass political strikes, which may be of great importance at the beginning and in the very process of the insurrection.”…

Secondly, the rise of mass political strikes, the rise of general political strikes, which later, in the course of the revolution, were of prime importance in the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. This was a new and very important weapon in the hands of the proletariat, a weapon hitherto unknown in the practice of Marxist parties and one that subsequently gained recognition.

As we pointed out before, Lenin insisted that, in the midst of an insurrectionary period, even the general strike must be subordinated in every way to military activity. But before the insurrectionary period, or after the defeat of an insurrection, when non-military work once more becomes primary, the general strike as an independent and predominant form of struggle is not out of date at all.

The next two quotes from Lenin’s “Lessons of the Moscow Uprisings,” are equally a distortion:

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

These tactics (the new tactics introduced by the 1905 Revolution) are the tactics of guerilla warfare.

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

To deal with the second quote first. When Lenin talks about the “tactics of guerilla warfare,” again, he is talking about the tactics within an insurrection. What he is describing and advocating has nothing at all to do with the “protracted urban war” thesis. As we have said several times, before the insurrection developed, and after it was definitely defeated (before 1905 and after 1907), Lenin says nothing at all urging the use of such tactics. This leads us back to the previous quote. Yes, when the armed struggle for state power is the question of the day, anyone who does not take it up actively is indeed a traitor. But to apply this quote from Lenin to present conditions in the U.S. is completely ridiculous. To apply it to Lenin in 1902, 1903, or 1904 would be to condemn him as a traitor or coward. As Stalin says in DIALECTICAL AND HISTORICAL MATERIALISM, “Everything depends on condition, time and place.” The use of these quotes is simply to apply strategy and tactics completely outside the condition, time and place that make them necessary and correct. It is completely metaphysical, with no grounding in material or historical reality, or in the dialectical method.

These two quotes are followed by several others, all of which fit into the same category, and which are preceded by the ironic comment; “Hopefully the following quotations will lead to more intensive study.” Yes, hopefully this whole “military” paper, and the line it represents, will lead to much more study, on the part of its authors and everyone in our organization: study not only of Lenin’s writings, on this period, 1905-07, but of the history of the Russian Revolution (Lenin’s writings and the HISTORY OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF THE SOVIET UNION, especially chapter 3, on 1905, would be a good start) and on the fundamentals of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought. If that happens this paper will have served at least one useful purpose.

A thorough study of this kind can only lead to the conclusion that, in essence, our revolution must follow the general pattern of development of the Russian revolution which means, once more: a long period of mainly non-military struggle, leading to an armed insurrection. It can only lead to the conclusion that our organization must be built on the same principles as the Bolshevik party and must concentrate on Political (non-military) work as its main activity, in this period.

In some quarters, the position we have just outlined is labelled “revisionist” or “social-pacifist.” We have two things to say in response: (1) What we have outlined is the position of Lenin and Mao on the role of the Communists in an imperialist country; (2) Those who raise the specter of revisionism in this context may not understand the main danger of revisionism at this time. It is true that the revisionists deny the need for armed struggle to overthrow the state and that, in general, they don’t support the armed struggle of the masses. A major aspect of revisionism is always that it tries to confine all struggle to the legal, established channels of the system.

But, most often, this is posed in opposition, not to the armed actions of a small number of “guerillas” but to the militant political struggles of the masses. For example, the Communist Party tried to turn Huey Newton’s defense into merely a legal courtroom battle that relied on technically competent lawyers and not on the masses. The main function revisionism serves for the ruling class is to try to prevent the masses from organizing and moving independently of the ruling class and its agents – from stepping outside the bounds considered ”legitimate” by bourgeois order; to prevent them from taking matters into their own hands, recognizing the real enemy and uniting with real friends to attack and defeat the enemy.

Especially in the working class, revisionism can only be defeated by Marxism-Leninism, and not with adventurism, imported from the student anarchists. In fact, one of the most destructive effects of recent petty-bourgeois terrorism is that it has given revisionism some appearance of credibility to some advanced members of the working class – and other revolutionary-minded people. When contrasted with the adventurists, the revisionists seem to have a sense of reality, at least. This makes it all the more important to have a real understanding of the responsibility of Marxist-Leninists to the working class movement.

When Lenin writes in WHAT IS TO BE DONE? that the Communist organizations must be composed of professional revolutionaries who are better at their work than the secret police are at theirs, he is not talking about a para-military organization. The work he is referring to is Communist political work, which was completely illegal in Russia in 1902. To carry out this work, a conspiratorial organization was required. But as for battling it out with the police, that was not the main function of the Bolshevik organization. In WHAT IS TO BE DONE? Lenin takes up the objection of economist: the workers themselves, in their masses, are best suited to combatting the police, physically. Yes, Lenin agrees, this is true. But, he adds, we are talking about the secret police, the political police, not the regular gendarmes (the “red squad,” not the “tactical squad”).

In all of WHAT IS TO BE DONE? there is not a single mention of military strategy’, even though it was written in 1902, only three years before the first Russian Revolution, and it was written specifically to take up all the “Burning Questions of our movement.” The military strategy for state power was simply not one of these burning questions at that time. When, in 1905-06, it became a burning question, because of the development of the mass movement (and of the political and economic crisis in Russia) to a revolutionary situation, Lenin took it up as a central task.

And the failure of the 1905 Revolution had nothing to do with lack of military preparation-not if we believe the Bolsheviks themselves. In Chapter 3 of the HCPSU written in 1938, six reasons are listed for the failure of the 1905 insurrection: (1) The Bolsheviks had not yet won the leadership of the peasants; (2) The Tsar’s army, largely consisting of peasant’s sons, did not sufficiently defect to the revolution; (3) The more backward sections of the working class – workers in small production, especially in the small towns and villages, did not join the revolution until 1906, at a time when the advanced section was already weakened; (4) The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was not united, but split into Bolsheviks and Mensheviks; (5) The Tsarist autocracy received financial support from France and promised support of troops from the German Kaiser; and (6) The conclusion of the Russo-Japan War of 1904, which ended in a treaty between the Tsar and Japan in September, 1905, strengthened the Tsar’s hand.

The way Lenin dealt with tire question of arms before 1905 provides the correct method for us today, even though the Russian movement was much more developed by 1900 than ours is today. In a one-page article, entitled “Concerning Demonstrations,” written in October, 1902, in answer to a letter raising the question of armed workers’ detachments at. demonstrations, Lenin says:

Precisely because a step like the transition to armed street fighting is a “tough one” and because it is “inevitable sooner or later,” it can and should be taken up only by a strong revolutionary organization which directly leads the movement. (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 8, pg. 262, emphasis in original.)

The basis for moving to armed activity, Lenin says clearly, is to establish political leadership of the movement – and first of all, the working class movement. In the meantime, he advises paying more attention to organizing demonstrations, without armed units, in a more disciplined manner – a suggestion we should act upon immediately. That same year, a massive strike of 30,000 workers took place, in Rostov-On-Don, which was led directly by the Don Committee of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party (the party of Lenin). The police shot down several workers, but the strike was not suppressed until the tsarist government called out troops from the surrounding cities. In summing up this struggle Lenin laid emphasis, not on the military aspect, even though he noted that this strike signalled the development of the working class to a new level. Instead he emphasized the political (non-military) role that the Communists must continue to play in struggles like the Rostov strike:

In events of this sort we really see with our own eyes how an armed uprising of the whole people against the autocratic government is maturing, not only as an idea in the minds and programmes of the revolutionaries, but also as the inevitable, natural and practical next step of the movement itself, as the result of the growing indignation, growing experience, and growing boldness of the masses who are being given such valuable lessons, such a splendid education by the realities of Russian life. An inevitable and natural step, I have said – and I hasten to make the reservation: if only we do not permit ourselves to depart by a single step from the impeding and pressing task of assisting the masses, who have already begun to rise, to act more boldly and concertedly; of giving them not a couple, but dozens of open-air speakers and leaders; of creating a real militant organization capable of guiding the masses, and not a so-called ’combat organization’ that guides elusive individuals – it does guide them at all. (Lenin, “New Events and Old Questions, Collected Works, Vol. 6, pp. 281-82, emphasis in original)

By now, we hope our point is clear. The line of the “military strategy” of “protracted urban war” is not a Marxist-Leninist line that will lead to proletarian revolution, but an adventurist line that can only lead us into a dead-end – and a dangerous one at that. The authors of the paper no doubt want to develop a plan for overthrowing U.S. Imperialism, but inventing a “military strategy” won’t do. They are no doubt sincere in insisting that they don’t raise military actions in opposition to building a mass movement, but as part of building that movement. This is exactly what the Socialist Revolutionaries of Lenin’s day said. And Lenin labelled them “revolutionary adventurists” and demanded that the Communists “declare a determined and relentless war” on them – ideological war, of course. ”’… we advocate terrorism, not in place of work among the masses, but precisely for and simultaneously with that work,’” Lenin quotes a leaflet of the Socialist Revolutionaries. He adds:

(These words) strike the eye particularly because these words are printed in letters three times as large as the rest of the text … It is all really so simple! One has only to set “not in place of, but together with” in bold type and all the arguments of the Social-Democrats (Communists), all that history has taught, will fall to the ground. (Lenin, Vol. 6, pg. 190)

The Socialist Revolutionaries were a more sophisticated version of the Narodniks in Russia. In the 1870’s and 1880’s, the Narodniks were a group of anarchist students who tried to base the revolutionary movement on the peasantry, and use the methods of terrorism to bring down Tsarism. They denied the validity of Marxism as the science of revolution, they denied the necessary vanguard role of the proletariat, and even denied the importance of the working class at all. A few years after the Narodniks had been discredited and disappeared from the scene, the Socialist Revolutionaries became a political force. They, too, based themselves on the peasantry and on terrorism. But, because the working class movement and Marxism were much stronger, they paid lip service to Marxism and to the importance of the working class. They even did work among the proletariat. But in practice, they failed, to make a scientific class analysis of the forces within the revolutionary movement and the objective effect of their line was to deny and combat the leading role of the proletariat and proletarian ideology (See Lenin, Vol. 6, pp. 172-175, 186-207, 263-270, 273-277, for his major writings against the Socialist Revolutionaries).

We believe the line represented in the “military strategy” of “protracted urban war” is a more sophisticated version of the Weatherman line of a year and a half ago. Weatherman denied the importance of the working class and working class ideology altogether; they based themselves on unemployed and petty-bourgeois youth (and, ironically, since they were all white, on the Black and brown unemployed), and on the methods of terrorism and adventurism. Now at a time when their line and practice has been discredited within much of the revolutionary movement (and completely discredited within our organization) we are presented with a new line which also bases itself on the unemployed, and on petty-bourgeois youth, but pays lip service to the importance of the proletariat and even involves some work with the working class; which claims to uphold Marxism-Leninism and mass struggle, but actually bases itself on adventurism that can only lead to isolation from the working class. The class outlook of both the Weatherman and this “military strategy” is petty-bourgeois.

Nothing shows more clearly the petty-bourgeois outlook of this “military strategy” paper than its erroneous economic analysis. It refers to the economy of the U.S. as “over-bloated” and argues that the main contradiction of this economy is that it forces … “us to consume its insane overproduction, most of its productive facilities do us more harm than good.” All of this, of course, is to justify sabotage: “Sabotage thus becomes an integral part of the strategy of protracted war unfolding first through urban guerilla warfare.”

But is this the view of the proletariat toward the productive forces – that they do us, more harm than good? The most class conscious proletarians recognize the tremendous potential of the productive forces which, liberated by revolution from the hands of the capitalist exploiters, can provide the material basis for socialism and enormous improvement in the living conditions of the people. Is it the view of the proletariat that it is being forced to consume too many trashy commodities?” Or do the most exploited sections of the proletariat, especially, suffer exactly because they cannot get hold of the very products – call them “trashy commodities” if you like – that they produce? The workers want more of what they produce. It is only a section of the petty bourgeoisie – mainly its intellectuals – who have more of material wealth than they need to live comfortably and are rejecting part of that material wealth and the spiritual decay that goes along with it, under the conditions of middle-class life in decadent, imperialist America.

Compare this so-called economic “analysis” which the authors claim describes a special condition of imperialism with the description of mid-19th century capitalism in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO:

In these crises (of capitalism) there breaks out an epidemic that in all earlier epochs would have seemed an absurdity-the epidemic of overproduction. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation had cut off the supply from every means of subsistence; industry and commerce teem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and as soon as they overcome these fetters they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand, by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other hand, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented. (Marx and Engels, COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, Section 1, Bourgeois and Proletarians)

These basic laws of capitalism are still operating today in imperialist America. And these same crises continue to repeat themselves. It is the tactic of the bourgeoisie, Marx and Engels point out, to destroy part of the productive forces in these periods of acute crisis. What should be the strategy of Communists? Sabotage, a protracted war of attrition? No! To build the political movement of the working class and its allies, to build the united front under proletarian leadership, to make use of all forms of struggle that advance the mass movement, and to prepare the conditions for the armed overthrow of U.S. Imperialism.


To sum up: the “Military Strategy” of “Urban Protracted War” must be rejected by our organization, because it puts forward military action – “guerilla warfare” – under conditions where the political struggle must be primary, and military struggle secondary and supportive of the political struggle. It is dangerous because, if implemented, it would have the effect of turning the organization into a guerilla formation, and would lead to the destruction of the organization. It is fundamentally opposed to the United Front Against Imperialism strategy, developed by our organization as the correct line for our struggle.

We must continue to base ourselves on the united front, led by the proletariat, and concentrate our work in the working class; develop real ties in the working class, merge Communist propaganda and agitation and revolutionary-education of the workers with their practical struggle; and apply military tactics that aid the development of a mass revolutionary movement of the proletariat. Organizationally, we must raise the theoretical level of all cadre, strengthen democratic centralism, and establish what apparatus is necessary to carry out all forms of struggle that correspond to the level of political development of the mass movement.

Specifically, on the military front: we should create disciplined squads, capable of giving leadership at demonstrations, strikes, etc. We should encourage the development of an apparatus, outside our cadre formation, to carry out necessary actions under correct political leadership. We should concentrate more work within the imperialist armed forces: develop our propaganda and agitation, and give leadership to G.I. struggles, and build the unity of the soldiers and the masses of people as a whole. We should do broader propaganda among the masses, on the need for armed revolutionary violence. We should take up the organization of self-defense on a mass basis, among the workers and especially the Black and brown peoples. We should continue our policy of developing the ability of comrades to organize self-defense, etc.

These are concrete steps that can be implemented, that do correspond to the present level of struggle, and are necessary in order to meet the pressing political tasks before us.


[1] An error was made by the authors of this answer to the “Military Strategy” paper in accepting, along with the authors of “Military Strategy,” the bourgeois media’s version of these events in Cairo, in fact, the Black people there organised self-defense.

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