Leadership: June 8, 2002

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How To Create a Successful Guerilla Movement- The Chinese communists were the most energetic 20th century guerillas and were the ones to literally "write a book" on how to run a guerilla war. There was nothing the Chinese communists did with guerilla war that was particularly unique, except that they wrote it all down and ran a formal educational program to produce more well trained guerillas. This was a typical 20th century development, where procedures that had been reinvented, and then forgotten, many times in the past were finally recorded and preserved for easy reuse. This makes a difference. In the past, an exceptionally sharp leader could reinvent the many steps needed for successful guerilla warfare, but many of his subordinates would not have as many of the details right, and that can cause fatal problems. An example of this was seen among the Philippines guerillas during World War II. Most of the guerilla bands formed, after the Japanese conquered the islands in early 1942, were led by U.S. or Filipino officers who refused to surrender. Some of these guerilla groups were more successful than others, and those differences can be traced directly to how well the guerilla leaders reinvented the practice of guerilla warfare. Some of these officers were very good at it, and they survived and thrived. Others missed important details, and many of these were less successful, and were often caught and killed by the Japanese. 

The "Book of Guerilla Warfare" that the Chinese communists created was based on a lot of trial and error. The Chinese observed the success of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and quickly learned how flawed was the Marxist belief that urban workers were the vanguard of the revolution. Karl Marx believed that when he wrote about communist revolution in the 19th century, and the Russians were able to get their revolution going in the cities. But the Chinese discovered that in China, as in most countries that were ripe for a revolution, the majority of discontented people were in rural areas. The Chinese communists made a lot of mistakes as they pursued their guerilla war, and they took notes. The basic drill the Chinese communists developed involved a three phase, long term, operation. 

First there was Organization Phase. The guerilla leaders had to first find each other and determine who had the smarts, skills and dedication to get a guerilla war started. These key people were generally referred to as the "cadres" (professional revolutionaries.) Then you concentrated on developing local support. The cadres organized themselves into small cells, got themselves educated (on guerilla procedures) and proceeded to convert as many people (usually poor farmers) on the virtue of the revolutionary cause (in this case, communism). This was often accompanied by combat operations that made the local government control weaker, and helped in gaining more recruits. This included killing corrupt, and unpopular, local government officials, landlords, police informers, and businessmen. This terror was also meant to show the locals that the communist meant business and were not to be messed with. 

Once local areas were effectively under communist control (either openly, as in "liberated zones" run by communists, or covertly, where the local government officials were terrorized into cooperating with the communists) you moved on to the Guerilla Phase. Here the cadres created combat units (usually small ones with 20-30 men and women each). Weapons are bought or stolen and the initial attacks are against local police. This also provides more weapons (taken from dead policemen). Ambushes are the favored form of fighting. At this point, the idea is to expand the size of liberated zones. With larger areas under guerilla control, the cadres can establish more popular forms of government ("sharing the wealth") and taxing the people to keep the war effort going. Popularity is the key here, as it helps recruiting new fighters and cadres. Terror is used, but only against "enemies of the people" (government officials, wealthy people and anyone who doesn't agree with you.) At this point (if not earlier), the government is likely to send the army and more police after you. You don't want to go the Guerilla Phase unless you are pretty sure you can handle the heat. You are basically going to wear the government forces down with constant small attacks. Avoid any battles you cannot win. Remember, you won't survive this phase if you haven't got most of the population on your side. If the government shapes up and wins back the allegiance of most of the population, you're toast. 

If you do go from success to success during the Guerilla Phase, eventually you will switch over to the Mobile Phase. Here you create larger military units (battalions of several hundred men and women, brigades of 2-5 battalions and divisions of 2-5 brigades.) At this point you are basically fighting a civil war. You drive the government forces out of the countryside and into the cities. Once you have the cities surrounded, you starve them out and victory is yours. This is the playbook used by all post World War II communist guerilla wars. 

During World War II, hundreds of American military personnel and OSS agents came into contact with the Chinese communist guerillas and many of these Americans understood that they were observing something special. Once the Cold War began in the late 1940s, and it became apparent that the Chinese communist guerilla playbook was going to be applied world wide, there was a lot of thought given to how this threat could be countered. This was one of the reasons the U.S. Special Forces were created (to help governments beat the communist guerilla methods). About the same time, Britain also confronted similar guerilla movements and developed their own methods for dealing with the problem. In the end, the Chinese guerilla "how to" books didnt unleash world wide revolution. But the wide distribution of this knowledge has resulted in more guerilla movements, and more of them are having more success. Which reminds us that education is not always a good thing.

 


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