Guerrilla warfare and working class struggle

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21/04/2016 by socialistfight


Drafted by Gerry Downing March 1995

Che Guevara’s theories of Guerrilla warfare led him to the Bolivian peasantry in the mid 60s and away from the Bolivian working class, then amongst the world’s most militant and politically advanced.

 

In defence of Marxism

Theoretical journal of the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency


Written: 1995.
First Published: May 1996.
Source: Published by the Leninist-Trotskyist Tendency.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Copyleft: Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (marxists.org) 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons license. Please cite any editors, proofreaders and formatters noted above along with any other publishing information including the URL of this document.


In defense of Marxism Number 4 (May 1996)

Guerrilla warfare and working class struggle

Introduction

The closing decade of the twentieth century has seen the semi-collapse of Stalinism and with it the wholesale collapse of guerrillaism. Left nationalist ideology had gained a new lease of life after the Second World War for two closely related reasons. Firstly, it was possible to play off the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and to a lesser degree China, against imperialism when left nationalist regimes emerged in Asia and Africa. Secondly, these regimes established control over raw materials when world prices were high and imperialist countries relied on these commodities. After the collapse of commodity prices in the early 1980s came the political collapse of Stalinism after 1989.

Stalinism had provided both financial and ideological backing to these regimes. Despite the relative political independence of countries like Libya in the 1970s and 1980s, the economies of most ‘third world’ countries were already in deep trouble by the early 1980s. Having achieved formal political independence by guerrilla actions and mass mobilisations, they still found themselves in thrall to world imperialism, thus confirming their semi-colonial status. Algeria was an early example of this process. Ben Bella’s leadership of the FLN was quickly replaced in a coup by a new leadership under Boumedienne, more attuned to the needs of French imperialism.

The accumulated post-war experience of guerrilla struggle, independence and capitulation has led most to question the need for these struggles in the first place. After all, with the Soviet Union gone and China abandoning all aid to Africa, what alternative road is there for petty bourgeois nationalists other than to capitulate to the same imperialism against which they took up arms in the first place?

From Ireland to Palestine, from EI Salvador to South Africa, former guerrilla armies have sued for peace with their imperialist or national imperialist-backed oppressors. This is paralleled by the political collapse of ‘left nationalist’ regimes in Libya, Syria etc. The loss of ‘power’ by the Sandinistas in Nicaragua is typical of a ‘new world order’ in which resistance to imperialist (or imperialist-backed) oppression is deemed to be useless. We could further draw a parallel with the loss of the will to fight on the part of trade union bureaucracies in the imperialist countries and their acceptance of the bosses’ ‘market forces’ arguments, and the dramatic shifts to the right of all the Social Democrat-type parties. This does not mean that the working class and oppressed do not want to fight, but that the ideological perspectives to lead that fight are now more confused than ever before in this century. This, of course, has meant a lower level of struggle, because the masses know they cannot fight without a leadership. As a consequence, the natural political vanguard of the masses is politically confused.

The crisis of guerrillaism is therefore the political expression in the semi-colonial world of the so-called ‘death of communism’ (or ‘death of socialism’). It is a reflection of the severe ideological crisis brought about by the collapse of the illusions of the vanguard in Stalinism and left nationalism, and the fact that Trotskyism has been unable to take advantage of this development because of the collapse into centrism of the Fourth International in the late 1940s, and the failure to reform or regenerate it since.

It is the purpose of this paper to examine this crisis as it is reflected in the ranks of those who adopted guerrilla war as a strategy and show how their political and ideological confusions led them to their present abject grovelling before the imperialists. The purpose of the analysis is to demonstrate that this collapse is not the objective working out of ‘laws of nature’, but has been produced by the adoption and pursuit of specific political positions – particularly those arising from the rise of the counter-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracy and the political counter-revolution in the Soviet Union.

Against guerrillaism it is vital to counterpose consistent revolutionary strategy and tactics – in particular those of the united front and permanent revolution – which can lead the struggles of the semi-colonial masses to victory. This paper aims to draw out the lessons of defeats suffered under Stalinist and left nationalist leaderships. Even when these led to victories, with the establishment of Stalinist and left nationalist regimes, they were limited victories which contained the seeds of their own destruction. The common thread running through all such regimes and movements is that they rejected the leading role of the working class in the making and consolidation of revolution. They did this by denying the need for a socialist revolution at all in semi-colonial countries, and instead put forward the two stage theory – national democratic revolution now, socialist revolution, or peaceful transformation of the new society to socialism by gradual reforms, later.

The Russian Revolution: guerrillaism and revolutionary war

The Whites armies showed the value of guerrillaism as a stalling tactic by their use of cavalry to conduct lightning raids behind the lines of the Red Army as they waited for imperialist intervention to aid their cause. In 1919, when the immediate threat of imperialist intervention had receded, Trotsky outlined the revolutionary attitude to guerrillaism in that context:

’Small-scale war,’ guerrilla warfare, as a predominate type of warfare, is the weapon used by the weaker against a stronger adversary. The stronger tries to destroy, to annihilate the weaker. The latter, aware of his weakness, but not giving up the struggle, and evidently expecting some change will occur later on, strives in the meantime to weaken and disorganise his enemy. [1]

But this did not preclude the use of guerrilla warfare as a supplementary tactic, even when the Red Army was evidently stronger than its enemies:

Our Red Army grew entirely out of volunteers, rebels, primitive, inexperienced guerrillas. Through protracted struggles we overcame this amorphous, clumsy guerrillaism and built proper, trained regiments and divisions. But just now when we have a stronger regular army we can and must supplement it with well organised guerrilla detachments. An army acts as solid mass, sweeping away the enemy who has occupied an extensive territory. Guerrilla detachments, while subject to the same command, separate themselves, when necessary, from the main army, in order to carry out particular tasks, causing damage to the enemy and penetrating deeply into his rear. [2]

So in the Civil War which followed the Russian Revolution, guerrillaism was seen by Trotsky as ‘the weapon used by the weaker against a stronger adversary’ until circumstances became more favourable to the weaker, and as a supplement to the main task of building ‘proper, trained regiments and divisions’. He dismissed the arguments about proletarian forms of struggle as ‘pseudo-proletarian doctrinairism’ [3]:

It is quite clear that we have here two profoundly different categories, which cannot simply be fitted into the pattern of ‘generals’ strategy’ and ‘proletarian strategy’ . . . but . . . which represent different conditions, different stages in the civil war, and are at different moments wielded sometimes by one or other of the contending classes and sometimes by both at the same time. [4]

In Trotsky’s view, however, the outcome of the Civil War was not ultimately determined by any of these factors:

But without in the least belittling the importance of technique, organisation or operational leadership (in all these spheres, as I have said, a certain equalisation is taking place), we can say with complete confidence that in the last analysis, the outcome of the struggle will be decided by those whose ‘agitational centres’ prove to be the stronger, that is, by those whose ideas prove the more convincing for the masses of the people and capable of uniting them in that spiritual bond without which no army can exist. [5]

This last passage relates the essence of the Bolsheviks’ civil war tactics. It was necessary to utilise a judicious mix of conventional, guerrilla war and political warfare, guided by revolutionary politics, in order to ensure that the mass of the Red Army and the masses at large were so ideologically committed to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist property relations that they were prepared to die for it.

The battle at Crossbarry won by 104 IRA men against 1,200 British Army and 120 RIC on 19 March 1921. It forced the British to call the Truce in July.

Guerilla warfare in Ireland

At the same time as the Russian civil war, a very different version of guerrilla warfare was being developed in Ireland. War broke out in Ireland in early 1919, three years after the defeat of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and the execution of its leaders, including James Connolly.

In military terms, it was quite successful. The political aims of Sinn Fein and the IRA, however, were limited to securing a negotiated settlement with Britain.

But the conflict took place in a very turbulent international political setting, and the aspirations of some of its participants went much further than their leaders wanted. Alongside the War of Independence, there were radical movements of workers, including the seizure of workplaces, such as in the case of the Knocklong Soviet where workers seized a creamery and ran it themselves in co-operation with the local farmers. In Limerick, the murder of a trade union militant, R J Byrne, by British troops provoked a general strike in the city, and led to the formation of the Limerick Soviet. For a week, workers took over the city, printed their own currency and controlled everything that moved within its boundaries.

But there was no party to weld together the national and socialist revolutions and no conception of the correct relationship between the two in the epoch of imperialism. James Connolly had been the only socialist to tackle the question, but by subordinating the Irish Citizen Army to bourgeois politicians in 1916, Connolly, despite his heroism, only spread more confusion.

In the War of Independence, the labour movement abstained from the national struggle as an organised force, while the nationalist leaders for their part regarded the struggles of the workers with fear, even supporting the crushing of ‘soviets’ by the British Army, and driving small farmers out of the lands they had seized from absentee landlords. Workers were the common enemy of both the British Army and the Sinn Fein leaders, although some local IRA units did support land seizures.

Tom Barry in West Cork was one of the few who believed that military victory over the British forces was possible. He developed a plan to capture the British arsenal in Bandon, so as to arm his 3,000 volunteers, who had only 147 rifles between them, and to launch an attack on Cork city.

But the real political limitations of the movement come across in a passage from Ernie O’Malley’s book The Singing Flame, in which he recalls an encounter between republican and Free State troops at the beginning of the Civil War. They suddenly came upon each other in the dusk, hesitated for a moment, then drove past. O’Malley remembers thinking that he wished the British Army was back so they could be re-united in the fight against a common enemy! Within a few months, the Free Staters would be engaged a far more brutal extermination campaign against the IRA than the British had ever conducted.

Some features of the IRA campaign became standard for the rest of the century for practically every other guerrilla army. Tim Pat Coogan has described the tactics, which originated from commanders in the field, who were never really subordinate to the new Dáil. They were developed by men such as:

Liam Lynch, who advocated the mass destruction of RIC [Royal Irish Constabulary] barracks, . . . Dick McKee who thought up the flying columns, small highly mobile groups of guerrillas, [and] Collins himself, who originated the most effective weapon of all, the destruction of the network of spies which the British used as their eyes and ears in keeping control of the country. [6]

These three basic ideas were studied by Mao Zedong and adopted by the Red Army in the 1930s and 1940s. Destroying the RIC’s rural barracks was the forerunner of surrounding the city from the countryside; flying columns of mobile guerrillas were copied internationally; and Collins’ destruction of the network of British spies through secret hit squads anticipated Mao’s political police.

Already we can see, in the very nature of the tactics employed in Ireland, that not only was the organised working class not used to complement guerrilla warfare; it was not assigned any role in the struggle at all. Therefore this form of struggle was petty bourgeois and could not advance the cause of the working class. The sell-out Treaty of 1921 was the inevitable outcome of these tactics. The abstention of the Irish Labour Party, as the political representative of the trade unions, from the ‘Treaty’ election of 1921 ensured that there was no organised labour movement involvement in the civil war. The question of the working class leading the revolution never arose.

The present ‘peace process’ in Ireland is the outcome of a long political campaign by Sinn Fein’s leaders against the IRA ranks. As Arafat and Mandela had done before him, Gerry Adams took advantage of the ideological confusion following the counter-revolution in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union to abandon what he saw as a dead-end armed struggle.

Stalinism against the working class: China, Vietnam and Cuba

Modem Trotskyism has had to pay a heavy political price for attempting to reconcile its ideas with those of the 1960s New Left, which saw in the Chinese, Vietnamese and Cuban revolutions an alternative model to the Stalinist monolith in eastern Europe, based on peasant guerrilla warfare.

Yet the precondition for Stalinist parties taking power in each country was the conscious rejection of working class struggle and mass mobilisation, accompanied by the marginalisation of the working class and its subordination to Stalinist-led ‘Red Armies’, based mainly on the peasantry. This gave the Stalinists the freedom of manoeuvre to expropriate the bourgeoisie without an insurgent working class. The fact that these Stalinist parties originated in the working class movement, and still paid lip service to that movement; that they always displayed the utmost political hostility to proletarian class independence; but that they also acted in the name of the working class in overturning capitalist property relations is a dialectic not understood by the majority of ‘Trotskyists’ even today.

One of the basic tasks of Trotskyists today should be to educate the revolutionary vanguard on the truth of what happened in these conflicts, and to expose the Stalinist lie machine which has distorted the heritage of Trotskyism.

The writings of Wang Fan-hsi on China and Ngo Van on Vietnam deserve the fullest discussion and analysis among modern Trotskyists. Among the issues such writings raise are: In Vietnam, was Ta Thu Tau correct against the Internationalist Communist League (ICL) on the necessity for a united front with the Stalinists and nationalists? What were the causes of the divisions among Chinese Trotskyists, and were those who formed guerrilla groups correct to do so?

Ta Thu Thau’s group formed a united front around the paper La Lutte with the Vietnamese Stalinists between 1933 and 1937. The ICL regarded this collaboration and the maintenance of the discipline of the united front as unprincipled. The La Lutte, despite the constraints imposed on it, appears to have held its own line and produced its own independent literature in the underground, although final judgement on the nature of the bloc will have to wait on further material being translated. On an organisational level, however, Ta Thu Thau’s group brilliantly proved its point by politically defeating the Stalinists and winning the best of their militants and a number of radical nationalists to Trotskyism.

The presence of nationalists as well as Stalinists in this ‘anti-imperialist united front’ has also given rise to controversy, especially in the light of Trotsky’s denunciation of the Chinese Stalinists’ collaboration with the Kuomintang. However, N Van, an opponent of Ta’s, admits that the International Secretariat of the Fourth International wrote to La Lutte and Le Militant in July 1937 that the period for a united front with the Stalinists was now over – which implies that Trotsky had approved its operation up until then. [7]

In 1945, the Vietnamese Stalinists actively collaborated with French imperialism to decapitate the working class movement and assassinated many leading Trotskyists. It is important to note that the Trotskyists were in the leadership of the peasant action committees as well as the workers’ committees in the revolutionary situation that arose in Saigon and the surrounding area after the collapsed of the Japanese civic authority in 1945.

What the Stalinists opposed was the class independence of the working class, which was leader of the national revolution and was on the road to socialist revolution. They had to prevent, at all costs, permanent revolution sweeping away bureaucratic rule within the workers movement.

The influence of the Russian Revolution upon the rising anti-imperialist struggle in China produced a mass communist party, which grew from 55 members at the founding congress in 1921 to 50,000 in 1926. Trotsky’s criticisms of the disastrous policies of the Comintern in 1926-27, and his generalising of the theory of permanent revolution were major theoretical gains for Marxism.

His criticisms won over a significant layer of CCP leaders, including its first general secretary, Ch’en Tu-hsiu, as well as a majority of Chinese students in Moscow. However, Chinese Trotskyism was born out of the terrible defeats suffered by the Chinese working class in 1927, from which it has never recovered, either politically or organisationally.

The Chinese working class was abandoned by the CCP after 1927, when it withdrew to the countryside, and the CCP never again sought to mobilise it as anything but an auxiliary force. When the Red Army re-entered the cities 22 years later, it was as a peasant army, hostile to independent working class action.

Only the Trotskyists stayed with the working class in the coastal cities, first under the Kuomintang, and subsequently under the Japanese occupation, and fought to re-establish its class independence. In Wang Fan-hsi’s memoirs, Chinese Revolutionary, he explains the dilemma faced by the Trotskyists: should they have followed the Stalinists into the countryside and work among the peasantry as a guerrilla army, and thereby abandon the working class to the repression of the Kuomintang, or fought on in the cities to revive the working class movement?

Wang acknowledges there was a certain dogmatism in the Chinese Trotskyist movement, but that it was a product of isolation. Reflecting on these questions in exile, Wang made the following balance sheet of Chinese Trotskyism:

Looking back I can now see we ignored four main facts. First, the CCP withdrawal from the cities was neither voluntary nor deliberate, but mainly the result of Kuomintang persecution and repression, so it could not be taken as proof that the CCP had committed itself to a new strategic orientation toward peasant war rather than proletarian revolution. Second, after withdrawing into the countryside the CCP did not forsake, in either words or deeds, the platform of ‘a revolutionary united front under the leadership of the proletariat’. Third, it is true that the CCP abandoned class struggle during the second united front, i.e., it called off land revolution and submitted to the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek in a decisive turn that we rightly denounced at the time as a final capitulation, by and large the turn was at the level of tactical manoeuvre rather than of strategy and was never carried to its logical conclusion, the main reason being that there were still revolutionary tendencies in the CCP that opposed Stalin’s policy of capitulation. Fourth, during both the ‘soviet and Red Army’ period and the ‘united front and Eighth Route Army’ period, the CCP all along remained an organisation of highly disciplined revolutionaries and carried out Its recruitment (both political and military) on a class basis. [8]

This did not, according to Wang, mean that the CCP had ceased to be Stalinist or that Trotskyism’s analysis was essentially wrong:

In fundamental ideological terms Stalinism means the substitution of nationalism or internationalism, of tactical inter-class manoeuvres for class struggle and of bureaucratic dictatorship for the democracy of the toiling people. In practical terms it means that all initiatives from lower levels of party and government organisations are stifled, that everything is done according to instruction, that political and social life is dominated by a frantic personality cult and a hierarchy of privilege, that all forms of thinking are controlled by the secret police, that all opposition are purged, that all factions and parties are forbidden, and so on ad nauseam. [9]

And again:

First, while it is true that, Stalinist parties are far less easily reconciled to capitalism than are the social democratic parties, there is no reason to believe that they can adopt a strategy and tactics of the sort that is necessary for socialist revolution. Second, even if Stalinist parties can under certain circumstances fight capitalism and carry out a revolution, we should not neglect the equally fundamental question of how they do so, and what sort of regime they form . . . bureaucratic rule will never create a truly socialist society. In the absence (however unlikely) of a successful anti-bureaucratic upsurge by the workers, bureaucratic rule, with its inevitable inter-state wars and conflicts, will spell the collapse into barbarism of human society as a whole. [10]

These views, while containing valuable insights, are also somewhat contradictory on the nature, role and conduct of the CCP. Wang’s description of the CCP as a ‘working class party of sorts, though it was more so in some periods than in others’ [11] is at odds with Trotsky’s analysis that the CCP had become by the 1930s a peasant party, which had ‘[torn] itself away from its class’. [12]

It is difficult to know whether different tactics would have produced a different result for the Trotskyists, such was the prestige of the Soviet Union and the Russian Revolution on the one hand, and the repression faced by the Trotskyists at the hands of the Kuomintang, the Stalinists and the Japanese on the other.

In neither China nor Vietnam did Trotskyists ‘underestimate the peasantry’. According to Wang Fan-hsi, some Chinese Trotskyists, including Ch’en Chung-hsi, Wang Chang-yao and Chang San-chieh did form significant guerrilla detachments, but were wiped out, either by the Stalinists or the Japanese. In Vietnam, the Trotskyists built up a strong network of support in the rural areas, and the paper Cam Tu, which appears to have been under Trotskyist influence, agitated in favour of guerrilla warfare in 1945.

Mao’s victory over Wang Ming, Stalin’s direct agent in the leadership of the CCP, combined with his mass peasant base in the interior of China, gave him a strong measure of independence, even if his politics remained thoroughly Stalinist. This enabled him to balance between co-operation with Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek and prosecution of the war against the Kuomintang. If nothing else, Mao had no intention of suffering the same fate as the Shanghai and Canton communists in 1926-27.

The military strength of the CCP, partly the result of Russian aid, gave it enormous political advantage against the Opposition. The Trotskyists fought to the death for revolutionary socialism, together with their comrades in Vietnam, and suffered severe repression as a result. Individuals and groups of Trotskyists who worked within the CCP were hunted down and assassinated by Mao’s political police. The traitor, Ma Yu-fu, tipped off the Kuomintang and almost the entire standing central committee of the four reunited Opposition groups were arrested in May 1931. This followed closely on the arrest and execution of the Kiangsu group within the CCP, whose members were workers’ leaders and close to many of the positions of the Trotskyists.

In Cuba, Fidel Castro came to power at the head of a small guerrilla army, composed of peasants and urban petty bourgeois who had fled to the countryside, which was backed by a limited mobilisation of urban workers in the final stages of the collapse of Batista. Faced with a set of stark choices between total capitulation to US imperialism and developing a deformed workers’ state, he was forced to choose the latter. This was possible because of his collaboration and subsequent incorporation of the Cuban Stalinist party, the PSP. Once again, guerrilla warfare proved to be a ramp for politically expropriating the working class.

It is surely a measure of the degeneration of the post-war Fourth International that, with some honourable exceptions, its various wings abandoned the genuine revolutionaries of China, Vietnam, Yugoslavia and Cuba to their fate, while praising their jailers and executioners to the high heavens as a new revolutionary model.

The ANC: From ‘armed propaganda’ to ‘the new South Africa’

The present situation in South Africa is a very good example of where token guerilla warfare – or ‘armed propaganda’ as the ANC liked to call it – leads. The masses have gained very little, but the sell-out leaders have found a place in the sun.

Neville Alexander, the main theoretician of the Workers Organisation for Socialist Action (WOSA), has made some telling comments on the role of guerillaism, although his objectivist method avoids any judgement on the events he is describing:

The underground leadership of the ANC and its allies made it clear repeatedly that the strategic goal of their struggles was to force the government of South Africa to the negotiating table. Although from time to time voices could be heard that put forward the idea of fighting for the revolutionary overthrow of the regime these were never, (except perhaps from 1984 86) the dominant voices in the Charterist camp. The moderates’ position was further strengthened by the practices and theories of the anti colonial struggles in Africa during the 60s and 70s. All of these struggles were conducted against foreign colonial overlords represented in their African colonies by a small coterie of administrators, business people, and the church hierarchy. They were, of course, supported by collaborationist classes of traditional chiefs and would-be or sell-out (comprador) Black capitalists. In all these cases, as in Asia a decade earlier, the colonial powers (Britain, France and Belgium mainly) decided to withdraw and to ‘transfer power’, to the new elite of African professionals and middle class men and women who usually led or gave voice to the demands and the struggles of the urban and the overwhelmingly rural masses In most of the African colonies.

. . . The pattern of mass protest and direct action followed by negotiations became the model for one struggle after another. Only in those colonies where there was a sizeable white settler minority (Kenya, Algeria, and the ‘white south’ of the Portuguese colonies, Rhodesia, and South West Africa) was a higher level of force necessary. Guerrilla warfare and mass action – followed usually by a negotiated settlement – became the tried and tested model of liberatory struggle in all these cases.

‘Although from time to time voices could be heard that put forward the idea of fighting for the revolutionary overthrow of the regime these were never, (except perhaps from 1984-86) the dominant voices in the Charterist camp’. Thus Alexander dismisses a revolutionary situation as an extraordinary, unusual, state of affairs which contradicts the normal run of things, and therefore one which we should disregard! The very focus and aims of a lifetime’s propaganda and agitation finds mass expression, but revolutionaries should wait for a return to normal times to resume their struggles! Here is contained all the fear of the petty bourgeois at the sight of the masses gripped by revolutionary upheaval.

Alexander clearly regards the ANC’s method of ‘armed propaganda’ as more realistic than such foolish illusions in insurrectionary revolution. What type of revolution is he supporting when he tells us that:

. . . the ANC proved to be the most suitable vehicle for the promotion of the revolutionary dreams and aspirations of this youth . . . It was the armed propaganda of the ANC ‘ together with the fact that the majority current in the independent trade union movement that had been developing alongside the student, civic, youth, church, and women’s organisations in the 70s and early 80s decided to support the Charterist current – that eventually gave the United Democratic Front (UDF) the edge over the National Forum as the main opposition to the tricameral dispensation of P W Botha.

Did the ANC not subvert, betray and destroy those revolutionary dreams and aspirations by counterposing small-scale ‘armed propaganda’ to class struggle? And when young revolutionaries spoke out against their wasted years in ANC camps in the ‘front-line’ states did not the ANC silence the dissidents by torture, murder and merciless repression?

WOSA may be to the left of the Congress Alliance, but its objectivist method eliminates or marginalises the subjective factor of the necessity for building revolutionary Trotskyist leadership to carry out socialist revolution.

Conclusion

What conclusions can be drawn from these experiences? Guerrilla warfare is entirely justifiable to supplement the struggles of the working class. But, if it is counterposed to proletarian mass mobilisation; if its aim is a negotiated settlement based on preservation of capitalist property relations, then it is a petty bourgeois method of struggle which leads inevitably to conflict with the working class whose role it has usurped.

In China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia, guerrilla warfare did go over to conventional warfare. But Stalinist methods prolonged these wars and cost countless lives by their hostility to independent working class leadership of these struggles. They were able to rely in varying degrees on the huge resources of the Soviet Union to circumvent the working class and impose deformed workers states in these countries from their inception.

The confusion of the Fourth International on these three revolutions was compounded by the impact of the Cuban Revolution, and led to the disastrous ‘guerrilla turn’ of the United Secretariat in 1969, which in turn resulted in a ten-year internal feud. Whereas in the 1940s the Fourth International had ruled out the possibility of Stalinism overturning capitalism, by the 1960s degenerated Trotskyism was seeking alliances with the New Left, liberal Stalinists and petty bourgeois radicals, and proceeded to adapt Trotskyism to this milieu. The origins of the present day in the USec can be traced to this period.

The Stalinists and Stalinist-dominated nationalist movements took over the method of ‘armed propaganda’ from petty bourgeois nationalists such as Sinn Fein and the early IRA in 1919-21. With the exception of China, Yugoslavia and Vietnam under Stalinist leadership, and the variant of Cuba, where a petty bourgeois leadership went over to Stalinism, all other guerrilla-type campaigns have had as their aim negotiated settlements from the outset. Stalinism strongly influenced and assisted the vast majority of these movements, and its ideology perfectly complemented the essentially bourgeois prejudices of these leaderships against working class forms of struggle.

They sought either to subordinate workers’ organisations to themselves, as the ANC did with Cosatu or, if this was not possible, to eliminate them altogether. The forging of a Trotskyist leadership for these struggles remains the central task of the epoch.
LTT, March 1995


Notes

1. L. Trotsky, How the Revolution Armed, Vol. 2, New Park, 1979, p. 81.
2. Ibid, p. 406.
3. Ibid, p. 87.
4. Ibid, p. 83.
5. Ibid, p. 87.
6. T. P. Coogan, The IRA, Fontana, 1971, p. 42.
7. N. Van, Revolutionaries They Could Not Break, Index Books, 1995, p. 50.
8. Wang Fan-hsi, Chinese Revolutionary, Columbia University Press, 1991, p. 261.
9. Ibid, pp. 270-271.
10. Ibid, pp. 265-266. Our emphasis.
11. Ibid, p. 262.
12. L. Trotsky, On China, Pathfinder, 1978, p. 27
.

2 thoughts on “Guerrilla warfare and working class struggle

  1. […] [3] Tom Barry’s devastating victory at Crossbarry on 19 March 1921 where 104 IRA fighters defeated 1,200 British army and 120 RIC was but part of the development of increasing professional guerrilla forces with 90% popular support who were by then outfighting and humiliating Britain’s Black and Tans throughout Ireland. The next stage, as we saw in Vietnam in 1975, was to progress from guerrilla warfare to more conventional war inflicting outright military defeat on the British forces and this was now beginning to be posed. See The Leninist Trotskyist Tendency’s In Defense of Marxism, Number 4 (May 1996), Guerrilla warfare and working class struggle, drafted by Gerry Downing, for a full exposition of these ideas: https://socialistfight.com/2016/04/21/guerrilla-warfare-and-working-class-struggle/ […]

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  2. Viriato says:

    The questions raised by this paper are important.
    I have always think that there is not so big a barrier between real trotskyists (or Trotsky) and real marxists-leninists. And that there are a lot of misunderstanding between them.
    I understand that the picture of “stalinism” (as is presented by trotskyist) is wrong but, every “stalinist” tendency, were always “so wrong”? (or worse). After all, they have done what trotskyists have never been able to do. Change the world. Not in the proletarian sens, of course, but in a way that had helped and will help the emancipation of the working class. Nonetheless their crimes or treasons. If that were so , or just “tactical steps” as they have seen them.

    The resume by Wang of Chinese trotskyism of the PCC is quite “speaking” by itself:
    “Wang acknowledges there was a certain dogmatism in the Chinese Trotskyist movement, but that it was a product of isolation. Reflecting on these questions in exile, Wang made the following balance sheet of Chinese Trotskyism:
    Looking back I can now see we ignored four main facts. First, the CCP withdrawal from the cities was neither voluntary nor deliberate, but mainly the result of Kuomintang persecution and repression, so it could not be taken as proof that the CCP had committed itself to a new strategic orientation toward peasant war rather than proletarian revolution. Second, after withdrawing into the countryside the CCP did not forsake, in either words or deeds, the platform of ‘a revolutionary united front under the leadership of the proletariat’. Third, it is true that the CCP abandoned class struggle during the second united front, i.e., it called off land revolution and submitted to the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek in a decisive turn that we rightly denounced at the time as a final capitulation, by and large the turn was at the level of tactical manoeuvre rather than of strategy and was never carried to its logical conclusion, the main reason being that there were still revolutionary tendencies in the CCP that opposed Stalin’s policy of capitulation. Fourth, during both the ‘soviet and Red Army’ period and the ‘united front and Eighth Route Army’ period, the CCP all along remained an organisation of highly disciplined revolutionaries and carried out Its recruitment (both political and military) on a class basis. [8]
    This did not, according to Wang, mean that the CCP had ceased to be Stalinist or that Trotskyism’s analysis was essentially wrong”
    Well, yes, it was a wrong analysis because of prejudges coming from a very biased prospective, “whatever comes from ‘stalinists’ (even if the majority in the PCC opposed in fact the policies of Staline) should and cannot be but wrong.
    Today, is there place for this polemics? Is the “permanente revolution” a good perspective for the so called “third world” countries. The vast majority of them has passed the condition of peasants fully underdeveloped countries and are part of the capitalist international and “close knitted” world. Every country produces for the world market, there is no possibility for a “new democracy” system, isolated from the world market. All the XX century has proved this and the way that Cuba and North Korea takes are exemples of this.
    Even staunch “stalinists” as the KKE grec, has studied and criticized the roots of their mistakes and fight today for a “socialist” alternative. People are not always dishonest but sometimes just wrong. (See their work about their own history on their site).
    Maoism is been criticized also by ancient maoists, and perhaps not falling in misinterpretations (as Wang has seen) or just opens lies or non sens. This is a long process, but now, merely an historic one, with no or very little importance because the ones who have followed these people (Mao or Stalin) just could not refer to them because the situation has so fully changed that they are useless, cannot be put in practice, has only some ideas that has been said by others, etc. They came out of the actual needs.
    What can we take from Mao or Stalin to address the actual situation? Almost nothing. From Trotsky there are importants things to learn but our main source is (and should be for every one) Lenin.
    In fact, today, in my opinion, their is a solid socle, that is Marx Engels and mostly Lenin, and the rich experience coming from every real fight of the working class AND the other classes or nations that has fight the imperialism.
    Today, what we need, is to study more what happened in social democratic Germany before the war, all the fight between the three main courants inside it, and mainly the works of Lenin and his practice.
    Perhaps on that base there could be more understanding between trotskyists (even if this category is a basket of crabs impossible to define) and marxists-leninists (another basket of crabs).
    We should look for could be a minimum common program or other that could unite us (as vietnamese trotskyist have done) to fight imperialism.
    I understand that this should be done on the basis of a United Front, but this tactics are not exclusive trotskyists but of the whole communist world.

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