III. The Urban Guerrilla Strategy of Revolution

Submitted by libcom on April 4, 2005

The Urban Guerrilla Strategy of Revolution

Around the world the word "terrorism" is used indiscriminately by politicians and police with the intention of arousing hostility to any phenomenon of resistance or preparedness for armed defence against their own terroristic acts. Terrorism is distinguished by the systematic use of violence against people for political ends. Assassination, sniping, kidnappings, hijacking and the taking of hostages from amongst the public, and assaults and bombings deliberately aimed to kill, maim or affright the populace are methods used particularly in non-state terrorism. Within this category a distinction can be made between attacks on the public and those on individuals in power, without implying approval in either case. Clearly attacks on the innocent are worse than those on people guilty of some crime.

In general it is important to differentiate between terrorism and what could be called intimidation. The state is constantly involved in trying to prevent the expression of political opinions by the threat of slander, harassment or disruption. Much activity of the state falls under the term intimidation. Some elements in the Australian left have attempted various types of intimidation against other leftists. We must also be careful to differentiate between terrorism and the damaging of property. Although it is clear that intimidatory activity and property damage are not usually as serious as terrorism, leftists should recognise the ease with which a preparedness for such activities can lead to worse consequences. This is not to argue that revolutionaries should have a reverent attitude to private property - merely that they should see that there is a vast difference between, say, the destruction of a nuclear facility building site by a mass occupation and the blowing up of that site by a few individuals.

Just as the rulers prefer the word "terrorist", terrorists prefer the description "urban guerrilla" as it lends them a spurious romantic air. Nevertheless, we believe that there is a distinction between terrorists and those revolutionaries who adopt the ideology and practice of "guerrilla-ism" which is to promote armed struggle as the revolutionary strategy. Especially in rural warfare these people can use non-terrorist armed action. This usually involves armed clashes with the police or army. However, because of the circumstances of urban guerrilla warfare, this method automatically leads to terrorism as will be discussed below.

In South America the increased use of urban guerrilla warfare was largely a result of the failure of the rural strategy which had become obvious by the late sixties. The rural strategy was based on tenuous theoretical conclusions drawn from an idealised view of what happened in the Cuban revolution. However, the strategy of the urban guerrilla was not in essence different from that of the rural campaigns. Both were based on the vanguardist concept of the armed group whose specifically military confrontations with the ruling regime's repressive forces would provide the small motor (the well known "foco") to start the big motor of political revolution. In this strategy successful military operation is the propaganda.

The Uruguayan Movement for National Liberation (called the Tupamaros), most successful of the urban guerrillas, express this strategy thus: "The idea that revolutionary action in itself, the very act of taking up arms, preparing for and engaging in the actions which are against the basis of bourgeois law, creates revolutionary consciousness, organisation and conditions". What a monomania! What simplistic reasoning! The total defeat of the urban guerrillas in Venezuela in 1962-63, who had support from the countryside and even the Communist Party should have warned them that the Strategy was flawed.

It is fractured thinking to identify the essence of revolution as illegality or as armed confrontation with the repressive instruments of the state. This totally obscures the essence of our objection to this society, which is not simply a disgust with state violence - the uses of gaol, brutality, torture, murder etc. - but with hierarchical relationships among people, with competition instead of cooperation. The "very act of taking up arms" may defy the law but it says nothing about what is being fought for. The essence of revolution is not armed confrontation with the state but the nature of the movement which backs it up, and this will depend on the kinds of relationships and ideas amongst people in the groups, community councils, workers councils, etc. that emerge in the social conflict.

The job for revolutionaries is not to take up the gun but to engage in the long, hard work of publicising an understanding of this society. We must build a movement which links the many problems and issues people face with the need for revolutionary change, which attacks all the pseudo-solutions - both individual and social - offered within this society, which seeks to demystify those solutions offered by the authoritarian left and instead to place the total emphasis on the need for self-activity and self-organisation on the part of those people willing to take up issues. We need to present ideas about a socialism based on equality and freedom.