Guerrilla Militancy: A Viable Option?

We have seen how the Weather Underground organization has taken the role of guerrilla militants in an effort to advocate for mass scale social change. This question still remains however: Was this even a viable option for movement tactics to begin with? Throughout history, we’ve seen many militant guerrilla forces succeed over a larger government oppressor, the most contemporary of which being in Russia, China, and Cuba, However not a single one of these movements have been successful within a modern democracy. Does a modern democracy, such as the United States have a power structure and dynamic social system in which a militant revolution that is deemed radical to be useful? Or has a movement just not maintained the longevity and conviction in order to succeed in the action. This Article will be examining the idea of modern democratic militancy, and will discuss issues of this tactical option to expose it’s possible effects in promoting social change.

Disclaimer: A few controversial topics such as the hypothetical idea of national terrorism in an effort to promote positive social change will be discussed within this article. In no way, shape, or form am I advocating for guerrilla militancy, or a radical takeover of the government. Any form of subjective language that may seem to arise for or against these ideals are completely coincidental. This article is simply to pose a question and facilitate academic discussion from a non bias, objective basis.

Lets start by viewing the 3 most prominent guerrilla revolutions within the last century. The first of these 3 was the Russian revolution of 1917, in which the people of Russia coming off the decline from a turbulent World War One period overthrew the czarist regime that was the autocratic leadership of the nation for the majority of its past. In march of 1917 turbulent revolution centered around what would now be known as St. Petersburg, lead by the Soviets (or workers councils), overthrew the czarist autocracy, and instated a provisional government lead by the former imperial parliament. Soon after, in November of 1917, the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, combined with the lower class worker power of the Soviets, began to form militias in a mass guerrilla tactic, that would later join together to form the Red Guard, later known as the Red Army. Using this force of working class soldiers the Bolsheviks and Soviets overthrew the provisional government, and later after an upheaval of civil unrest formed the U.S.S.R or Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Second of these 3 major (initially) guerrilla uprisings occurred during the Chinese Revolution, also known as the Chinese Civil War between 1948 and 1952. The revolution itself occurred in 1949. What once started as a communist Guerrilla revolution in China, being the Chinese Soviet Republic lead, by Mao Zedong, flourished by the time of 1948 to include much of Northern China. Against the in power Chinese Nationalist party, who also had superior numbers, weapons, and privy to excess amounts of U.S. support, the Chinese Soviet Republic, who at this point had become the Chinese Communist Party, still managed to succeed. Due to superior morale, information and the use of Guerrilla tactics. It was in October 1949 that Mao Zedong was able to proclaim China officially as The People’s Republic of China.

The final of the 3 most contemporary militant take-overs, and also the one which holds the most historically traditional ideology of the guerrilla war, was the Cuban Revolution. During the years of 1953 to 1959, Fidel Castro and later Che Guevara, led the 26 July Movement against the Batista dictatorship regime, and its foreign support, most prominent of which was a wealthy United States. Starting with small rural guerrilla tactics and slowly gaining support by the population. Until January 1st 1969 The Batista regime was removed from power and a new revolutionary government lead by Castro took control.

So what do these three guerrilla movements have in common, besides the fact that they all lead to communism. Well each one was not against a democratic government, however it is interesting to note that except for Russia, The United States supported the government in power. This is an especially odd coincidence considering the country itself was founded by what could easily be considered a guerrilla militant revolution. Also all of these still occurred over 60 years ago and technology has changed dramatically sense that point. On a different note however all three movements fought against what was considered a form of oppressive imperialism, an ideology very similar to The Weather Underground. All three of these movements also started as small militant groups banding together into a driving force against a single government, also similar to the Weather Underground. So using these 3 revolutions as a lens we could possibly answer the question, is a militant guerrilla social movement a feasible way to facilitate change within a modern democracy? Or was the Weather Underground doomed from the start?

Lets begin with the idea of a modernized government impeding the ability of a Guerrilla movement to succeed. Although modern technology has brought with it new forms of firearms, surveillance, and counter-terrorism techniques, a modern nation still doesn’t pose much of a new counter guerrilla threat than one 50 years ago. The question still remains though as to why? When it comes to a more above ground mass revolutionary tactic, such as large scale protest and rioting, the specific technology really has not changed to much in the last 50 years, at least on a mass scale, of how to quell such actions.This relating primarily to harmful and oppressive types of technology, certain other developments such as the cell phone have entered the field, however considering information is far more of a necessity to the guerrilla, if anything they have helped revolutionary movements. Although taser’s and certain sonic weapons which have not entered the general police force are now being used, the use of riot police, tear gas, and rubber bullets still to this day, make up the general counter riot armament. This means that the tactics used 50 years ago by protestors and rioters alike, both in the United states and in foreign movements, both revolutionary, can still not hold weight. There’s many examples of riots growing and over-coming police forces throughout history, so to that degree technology has not truly impeded the “above ground” or mass actions of a militant guerrilla social movement.

What about quelling the “underground” or militant armed portion of a guerrilla social movement. Surely with new technological advances in firearms and lethal weaponry, a government force could easily overpower a guerrilla uprising. While being true to a degree, this still does not pose a large damper in the success of possible guerrilla militancy. With both the Cuban and Chinese revolution the forces of the government had far better weapons and far more soldiers. A guerrilla force firstly survives through it’s tactics. By avoiding large scale decisive conflicts and surviving by using strictly offensive surprise attacks that render the enemy confused and disoriented, a guerrilla force “evens the odds”, if you will. Secondly a guerrilla force gets past this with a normally higher morale based on ideology. Within Mao’s little red book he describes how even an untrained revolutionary willing to die for a cause he believes in will far surpass a paid enforcer of government law. The book “Social aspects of Guerilla and Anti-Guerilla Warfare” By: Eliezer Ben-Rafael & Moshe Lissak, also agrees with this ideology. Although not strictly academic there’s a great example of this ideal within guerrilla warfare presented in The Godfather part: 2. In which when discussing the Cuban revolution there’s an exchange of words between Michael Corleone and a guest of Hyman Roth saying, Michael: [about the unrest in Cuba] We saw a strange thing on our way here. Some rebels were being arrested and instead of being arrested, one of them pulled the pin on a grenade he had hidden in his jacket. He took himself and the captain of the command with him. Guest: Ah, the rebels are insane! Michael: Maybe. But the soldiers are paid to fight; the rebels aren’t. Hyman Roth: What does that tell you? Michael: They can win.

Also within the aspect of modern weaponry both Che Guevara and Carlos Marighella discuss in their writings how as the enemies weapons improve so does the movements. This is due to the fact that most of the weapons a Guerrilla movement acquires will be from enemy hands, both on the battle field and in raid scenarios. Meaning that as the technology level of the government grows so does the technology of the weapons used by opposing forces. The question still remains about weapons that damage large areas such as missiles, bombs, and heavy air to ground weaponry. although true that a single use of one of these devices could entirely devastate a single guerrilla cell, the guerrilla counteracts these in two very different ways. Firstly guerrilla cell locations, besides being extremely secretive in most cases, are also constantly moving, making planning an attack difficult. This in combination with multiple cells throughout the nation, means this would not be a very fruitful counter guerrilla tactic.

Another and arguably more powerful counter to the use of these weapons is the collateral damage potential they posses. Within any government especially, a democratic one, a single death from collateral damage could be far more disastrous for the institution, advantaging the Guerrilla movement. In his writings “The Handbook of the Urban Guerrilla”, Carlos Marighella states in reference to the use of bombs, and mass destructive weapons that, “With a single innocent death, the words of the movement will spread farther, than the blast ever could.”

Now although we’ve scene how a modern society, strictly from a technology sense, creates very little resistance towards possible guerrilla activism, the ideology of a democratic society puts far more of a damper and deterrent for such types of social movements. Due to such institutionalized rights such as right to protest and freedom of speech, as well as the fact that a democratic government is ran by and for the people, the ability of a group to advocate for a particular cause in a peaceful non-violent way, is far greater than in other nations where guerrilla militancy has succeeded. Even looking at the time of The Weather Underground where a mass collective of individuals where fighting against various forms of government control, very few even tried militant activism, and where arguably far more successful. A major difference being that the most basic premise of guerrilla activism being government overthrow rather than legal or social change.

To this degree the only feasible way a guerrilla movement could succeed within a democratic society, comes down to a few major key things. Firstly the government itself has to go against the ideology of the masses, similar to what was seen with the entrance into The Vietnam War. The Government then has to continue opposing mass ideology and furthering it’s own personal goals. Individuals within the masses must then consciously see this chain of events, and gain support, through non-violent means, while at the same time protesting and raising their concerns to the government as a whole. Over the course of time the government must continue to ignore, and or completely repute these concerns, and began to respond to mass demonstration with hostility, and these actions continue frequently overtime. A large portion of the masses then has to hold true to the ideology that complete government change is the best solution and begin to gain support and react accordingly. Only if this chain events continues over time, could a militant guerrilla social movement feasibly succeed within a democratic nation.

Prairie Fire

In 1974 Weather Underground members Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn, released a new document from the Weather Underground. This document titled Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism” took in the new age of a post Vietnam America, began to confront American imperialism from a more Marxist/Leninist approach. The name for the writing was derived from the writings of Mao Zedong, the famed Chinese communist revolutionary. In Mao’s writings, in his “Little Red Book,” he states “a single spark can set a prairie fire,” this being an analogy for revolution.  Fallowing the ideology of a Marxist/Leninist and a Mao philosophy “Prairie Fire”, called for a violent overthrow of the United States government, and the installment of a Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat refers to the Marxist system of government in which the proletariat, or working class, holds the absolute political power. This is a sign that at this point The Weather Underground is dismissing, it’s once primary ideals of a “youth revolution”, and returning to former somewhat S.D.S ideals dealing with a labor driven movement.

Over five thousand copies of “Prairie Fire”, circulated throughout the nation and lead to the creation of multiple Prairie Fire Organizing Committees within several U.S. cities. What essentially happened here is after the failure of “Days of Rage“, to inspire thousands of youth to  bring violent revolution to the streets the Weathermen of the time decided to renounce the far “left”, and move underground. This however caused the Weather Underground to lose sight of its commitment to mass struggle. Furthermore this made any attempt of an alliance with a more left mass struggle supporter far more difficult.

In 1974 when “Prairie Fire” was written the Weather Underground had realized the shortcoming of there underground tactics in the previously stated sense. So “Prairie Fire”, called for the creation of both mass and clandestine, or underground, organizations. The clandestine organizations would be in charge of the development and early creation of a people’s militia, as well as carrying out previous underground tactics, and raising consciousness. That mass organization would support and encourage armed action to the mass of the public, in a more legitimized fashion. Under this ideology The Weather Underground could facilitate a far larger mass fallowing, while still advocating for a violent militant revolution. A quote within “Prairie Fire”, states “to leave people unprepared to fight the state is to seriously mislead them about the inevitable nature of what lies ahead.” This quote is in reference to the necessity of militant revolution a later quote states, “never disassociate mass struggle from revolutionary violence to do so was to do the states work”.

“Prairie Fire”, had an unforeseen consequence however. After its release the Weather Underground split into two separate factions. The first was the “Prairie Fire Collective”, who favored a more mass, above ground, revolutionary tactic. Due to the fact that many of the Weather members faced limited to no charges due to illegal F.B.I surveillance, many members, including Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, came out of hiding to mass the “Prairie Fire Collective”. The other faction that came into being due to the writing was the “May 19th Communist Organization”. Who remained underground, and would later be known for being responsible for the Brinks robbery.

Declaring War: The Death of Fred Hampton

Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois sect of the Black Panther Party, was one of the most prominent leaders in the organization during the 60’s. Even for his young age, and lack of formal education Hampton was one of the most eloquent, and intelligent members of the party. Arguably he was the primary face of the party during the 60’s, his speeches being heard and interpreted, by members of the party throughout the nation, and by almost any individual involved in left social movements during the era. On the night of December 3rd 1969, Fred Hampton was drugged with a powerful barbiturate by undercover F.B.I informant William O’neal. Later that night, or actually morning at 4 a.m. the Chicago police raided Hampton’s apartment killing him, and several others in what was arguably a cold blooded unprovoked raid.

Fallowing Hampton’s death on May 21st 1970, the Weather Underground issued a declaration of war, against the United States, in outrage. Although Hampton was quite critical of the Undergrounds tactics and beliefs, this did not detour the organization to seek justice for this fellow revolutionary. Within the “Declaration of War”, presented by The Weather Underground, initially included the preparations for bombing the non-commissioned officers ball at Fort Dix New Jersey. This document is also the first time when the Weather first adopted there new title formally, The Weather Underground.

Also within this document The Weather stated that due the outrage another structure of American imperialism would be bombed, however no formal attack occurred till June  9th when the New York City police station was bombed.

The document ended with a quote by Bernadine Dohrn Stating, “We felt that the murder of Fred required us to be more grave, more serious, more determined to raise the stakes and not just be the white people who wrung their hands when black people were being murdered.”

The Last of the S.D.S: Flint War Council

Following the events of ,”Days of Rage”, S.D.S facilitated another national conference in Flint Michigan on December 26th 1969, until December 31st. This meeting was dubbed the “Flint War Council”, based on the emphasis the meeting had on John Jacobs call for violent revolution and direct action social movement organization. This event called for the necessity of armed struggle and guerrilla warfare being a necessity in order to combat American imperialism. During this time violence justification seminars where conducted, as well as group discussion on ideology and goals. Rudimentary military training was conducted and copies of Carlos Marighella’s “Manueal of The Urban Guerilla” were circulated.

The first major change produced by the “War Council” was the dissolution of S.D.S. In order to distance the group from the non-violent protest history of their past, as well as the focus on labor rights. Its was officially decided that the S.D.S would be taken over by the Weatherman. This radical change however, caused a major backlash, soon after this meeting many local chapters of S.D.S disbanded and later the national headquarters was closed down. This limited the Weather Underground’s ability to communicate with the mainstream culture.

The Second and more prominent decision of the “War Council” was the Weathermen’s decision to take up arms, go underground, and begin the militant guerrilla war against American imperialism. In an effort to promote direct action. Fallowing the writing of Carlos Marighella, and creating a formation based on Che Guevera’s revolutionary “Foco”, method The Weather Underground organized the creation of hidden cells throughout the nation (See Guerrilla Militancy: A Viable Option?). Each would be under it’s own command and would conduct their own attacks. They would also all be in communication with each-other through the unofficial primary cell in New York City. They then decided that the first planned attack of the Underground would be in New York against Judge John Murtagh, who at the time was overseeing the trial of “Panther 21”.

The “War Council”, ended with John Jacobs speaking against the complacency of mainstream America, and the pacifism seen in you prto-tests to this day. He then continued to speak about how the youth of today, where the high energy members of tomorrows world, and through armed struggle and conflict, would create a new world driven by sex and drugs, that they where against all things considered good and decent by the American mainstream. He finalizes by saying “We will burn and loot and destroy. We are the incubation of your mother’s nightmare.” The Weather Underground was then born.

Brinks Robbery: The End of The Underground

After the dissolution of much of the Weather Underground, remaining members David Gilbert, Samuel Brown, Judith Alice Clark, and Kathy Boudin, formed a new organization titled, ” The May 19th Communist Organization”. In coalition with Wayne Williams, and Donald Weems, two senior members of “The Black Liberation Army”, a plan was set in action to rob a Brinks Armored truck, in Nanuet New York, carrying 1.6 million dollars in order to fund further militant activism.

The plan went into action at 3:55 p.m. at the Nanuet Mall, on October 20th 1981. Two brinks security guards Peter Paige and Joe Trombino, had just begun to load bags of money taken from the mall that day into their armored brinks truck. As they where loading this is when the members of the “Black Liberation Army”, and the newly formed “May 19th Communist Organization”, emerged from a nearby van and began to fire on the two security guards with shotguns and M16. All for mentioned members where present for the shooting except for Kathy Boudin, and David Gilbert, who were waiting in a U-haul truck in a nearby parking lot. Paige was killed instantly at the scene, and Trombino was severely injured, but managed to survive.

After taking the money and fleeing the scene in the original van, the two groups reconvened, at the U-Haul truck, and loaded the van into the back, to drive off. A college student who lived across the street, however witnessed the exchange and warned local authorities. Four police officers later spotted the truck, and pulled it over off the entrance ramp of New York State route 59. The officers where then confused if they had apprehended the right vehicle, with Boudin and Gilbert in the drivers seats. Both of whom did not match the description of any of the original assailants.

Feigning innocence Boudin, and Gilbert where able to convinve the officers to lower their weapons. As they did the remaining six members of the robbery sprung from the back of the U-Haul firing into the 4 officers. Officer Waverly Brown was instantly shot multiple times and dies at the scene. Officer Edwin O’grady, who was also hit died soon after in the ambulance the the hospital. The other two officers where injured. At this point the members of the robbery retreated back into the armored truck and fled the scene of the second shoot-out.

While fleeing though one of the remaining officers, Brian Lennon, shot the speeding U-Haul, catching it’s tire and causing it to collide with his police cruiser.

With U-Haul totaled, the assailants fled the scene, some leaving in the van in the back, others attempting to steal vehicles from nearby motorists. Kathy Boudin, attempted to flee on foot. Soon after the van carrying Gilbert, and Clark, during the high speed, getaway collided with a guard rail, and the two where soon apprehended. Another “May 19th Communist”, and former “Weather Underground”, member Marylin Buck was traced back to her home using the license plate off the Van, and was soon arrested.  Boudin, Brown, and Weems, where soon arrested later. Finally in 1986, enough evidence was compiled to apprehend Williams.

Many have described the Brinks robbery as the last of the “Weather Underground”. The film “The Weather Underground”, describes the event as the unofficial end. The reasons behind this coincided with the fact that this was the resort of the few remaining members of the organization, to regain power. The event rested on the death of individuals, which earlier and more prominent tactics of the organization did not, causing the once semi-sound ideology of the movement to rupture. This break in ideology marked the end of the organization, and the beginning of new forms of activism.

Days of Rage

On October 8th-10th 1969, The Weathermen hosted a protest in Chicago. Fallowing John Jacobs ideology of “bringing the war home”, this protest was title “Days of Rage”, and was created in an effort to bring public awareness to a higher level about the war in Vietnam. This protest in accordance with Vietnam was also an effort to bring to light the ideology of a brutal imperialistic America.

Although the protest failed to draw as many members as expected, only a few hundred attended, the event did not fail to raise public awareness, and present a message. The first rally held on October 8th, shocked the public eye when members of the Weatherman rioted through Chicago’s upper-class Gold Coast neighborhood. They smashed the windows of parked expensive cars, broke into lining banks, and multiple retail business, as well as attempting arson on one of mentioned banks. The riot continued 4 blocks before encountering police barricades. These first barricades however, where broken by rioters, and the protest continued until finally Chicago police sent in over 500 officers with tear gas and riot gear to quell the rioters. In the aftermath 28 police officers where injured, 6 Weatherman where shot, and another 68 members where arrested.

Although the Weatherman held no more rallies until October 10th. On October 9th, Mike Klonsky, and Noel Ignatin with the S.D.S held a peaceful march  of over 2000 international members through Chicago.

On October 10th the Weathermen continued their demonstrations marching through the Loop, Chicago’s premier business area. With over 300 protesters the Weatherman where being watched by multiple line of riot officers. Despite this protection the Protesters eventually broke through the line officers smashing car windows and store fronts. This however only lasted about 15 minutes, and resulted in the arrest of about half the Weathermen members.

Although the Weathermen protest resulted in the incarceration of many members, the idea behind the riots was not lost, nor was the message. The actions of “Days of Rage”, would act as a cataclysm, for the S.D.S December convention in Flint Michigan, aptly named the Flint War Council.

Preparing for Rage: The Haymarket Memorial Bombing

On October 7th 1969, the still weatherman planted a bomb that destroyed the statue, dedicated to the police officers involved in the 1886 Haymarket Riot. The Haymarket Riot was the cataclysm of Chicago’s turn of the century movement for labor activism. During the riot a bomb was planted that killed 7 police officers. Even though these deaths did occur many activists believe the statue is almost an atrocity depicting the “heroic”, demise of 7 officers, while completely ignoring, and arguably even villanizing the much larger amount of protesters killed due to police gunfire during the riot, and the even larger number killed prior because of police brutality that was facilitated by Chicago’s elite.

Due to this bigotry the weatherman destroyed the statue as a sign of protest against American imperialism, and distribution of wealth. The statue was then rebuilt on May 4th 1970, and sub-sequentially was destroyed by the Weather underground again on October 6th of the same year. The statue was then again rebuilt a third time, and a 24 hour police guard was posted, later however the statue was destroyed again. This final destruction however, may or may not have been caused by the Weather Underground.

Bombs and Arson: The First Strike of the Weather Underground

February 1970, The Weather Underground conducted their first two violent strikes against what they considered to be prime examples of American imperialism. The first attack occurred on February 16th at the Parks County Police station in San Fransisco. When at 10:45 P.M. a pipe bomb filled with nail shrapnel exploded on a ledge on the top floor of the station fatally wounding police sergeant Brain Mcdonnell and wounding 9 others. Although this attack could not be traced back to the Weather Underground, it’s still quite speculated that the organization was behind the bombing. In fact F.B.I agent Larry Grathwohl stated in a report that “there are irrefutable and compelling reasons that establish that Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, are responsible for the bombing.”

The Second attack of February 1970, occurred at the residence of New York supreme court justice judge John M. Murtagh. Murtagh at the time was ruling over the trial of “Panther 21” a case in which members of the Black Panther Party where allegedly plotting to blow up New York landmarks, and department stores. On the night of February 21st. a molotov cocktail was thrown onto Murtagh’s front porch, as well as on his car. In addition multiple windows of his home where broken, and spray-painted in red on the side-walk in front of his home where the words “Free Panther 21”, “Kill the Pigs”, and “The Vietcong have Won”. Although no one was caught or accused of the crime, it is speculated that the Weather Underground where responsible based on the decision and speculation of the last S.D.S conference in in December.

Before the Weather, Students For a Democratic Society

S.D.S or Students for A Democratic Society was created the Summer of 1960, and held its first meeting that same year at the University of Michigan Anne Arbor. Formed out of the organization, The Student League for Industrial Democracy, S.D.S, originally started as a labor based organization, associated with proper worker treatment, and labor unity. This However changed dramatically when a document called the Port Huron Statement, written by Tom Hayden, was adopted as S.D.S’s political manifesto.  With this new ideology in place the S.D.S expanded to critiquing other major issues, including the arms race, racial discrimination, the war in Vietnam, and economic inequality. During this time S.D.S lead many political rallies, teach-ins, and sit-ins in order to raise public awareness, and to further their goals. They also banded in many instances with other social movement organizations of the time including the Progressive Labor Party, and S.N.C.C.

This continued until 1969, when the S.D.S, split with the Progressive Labor Party, this was due to an ever increasing rift between, S.D.S’s original labor emphasis of the past, and the new civil rights and anti-war sentiments that began to dominate the organization. During this turbulent time S.D.S Mike Klonsky published a pamphlet titled “Towards a Revolutionary Youth Movement” or the RYM.  The RYM instilled the philosophy that young workers possessed the potential to be a revolutionary force to overthrow capitalism, and was quickly used as the official S.D.S doctrine. However, this new philosophy caused a new rift to emerge within the S.D.S

At the S.D.S convention of June 1969, two major documents circulated throughout the crowd, in order to convince membership to not be taken over by progressive labor. The first document was a revised edition of Klonsky’s RYM, which stuck behind original ideals of non-violent actions in order to raise awareness, uphold young worker ideals. The second document was titled “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows“. Adapted from Bob Dylan lyrics in his song Subterranean Homesick Blues, this piece of literature, described that the use of non-violent resistance had done little to nothing to stop the Vietnam war, and secondly called for the creation of a clandestine revolutionary party. Signed by major S.D.S member Karen Ashley, Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, John Jacobs, Jeff Jones, Gerry Long, Howie Machtinger, Jim Mellen, Terry Robbins, Mark Rudd, and Steve Tappis.

This document and these leaders during the convention would facilitate the Weatherman faction, the predecessor to the Weather Underground. With the creation of this faction John Jacobs presented the slogan “bring the war home”, as well as a resolution he had created at a convention the previous year titled “The Elections Don’t Mean Shit—Vote Where the Power Is—Our Power Is In The Street, which further emphasized the need for direct action. Finally planning took place for the creation of  a later event, “Days of Rage”.

Soon After the convention in July of 1969 30 members of the newly former Weathermen chapter of S.D.S, traveled to Cuba in order to meet revolutionary leaders. This was in order to discuss tactics, ideology, and American imperialism. It is also speculated that it was during this time the Weather Underground gained knowledge in homemade explosives, which they use quite frequently later on.

From Guevara to Marighella: The Guerrilla Tactics of The Weather Underground

The Weather Underground are primarily remembered for the violent militant tactics they used as a form of social activism. From bombings to prison breaks, to later arguably robbery in the case of Brinks, the question remains where did these tactics derive from? Where they the product on inspiration derived from a conflicting socio-economic climate brewing in America, and arguably the world at the time? Well to a degree yes, and to a degree no. During the 1970’s The Weather Underground took tactics from two of South and Central Americas most renown guerrilla revolutionaries, Those being Che Guevara, out of the Cuban Revolution, and Carlos Marighella, who was both involved with Guevara during the Cuban Revolution, and attempted to form his own communist revolution is his own country of Brazil. Taking tactics from these individuals and, putting their own ideology and form behind the ideals these two men presented the Weather Underground formed their own form of unique guerrilla tactics designed to succeed within a modern democracy.

To start what did the Weather Underground adapt from Guevara and the Cuban Revolution? Well to start it was in Cuba from prior revolutionaries that the Weather underground was first trained in the art of making explosive and propaganda, shortly after their conception at the Summer 1969 S.D.S convention. Furthermore the weather undergrounds entire organizational model was derived from the model primarily created by Guevara known as “Foco”. Foco itself was to a degree derived from Marxist tactics, including the Stalin tactic of a popular front, for the most part it also took in ideology from the Maoist strategy of “a peoples war”, in which large decisive battles would be strategically avoided, and the uprising would start within small groups, and then would begin to continuously grow larger. Foco changes, from traditional Maoist and Marxist tactics by focusing on an uprising entirely driven by workers and peasants without any outside or government help. Guevara believed it was a peoples war and an overthrow would occur because of the people.

Foco was employed by The Weather Underground as a basis for their organizational structure. Using small guerrilla cells throughout the nation, The Weather Underground was able to use tactics from hiding, and then disappear. Like the way Guevara planned these cells in Cuba, so did the Underground, having each cell use its own form of leadership, while communicating through a network of cells, and to the main cell located in New York. The Weather also actively advocated for the Foco idea of having the “revolution” be a people revolution, without the aid of outside government. Finally the ideology of avoiding decisive battles was taken into account. With the very limited personnel the Weather had at it’s disposal large scale decisive attacks would have to avoided. The way weather differs from Guevara and fallows more the ideology of Guerrilla tactics proposed by Carlos Marighella, was in location,ideology, and guerrilla action oriented tactics.

Within his writing, “Manuel of the Urban Guerrilla”, Carlos Marighella uses a very similar model to that of Guevara, except for a few key components. Components that would later be used by the Weather Underground. To start Marighella doesn’t believe that a successful revolution should begin in hidden suburban areas, such as woods and mountains. Marighella calls for action to be fought starting within large urban areas then spreading out towards the country-side. This is done in an effort to damage those in power where they hold the most power, and to show the greatest amount of the population how much damage a single individual can cause. This is also in an effort to in crease the speed of recruitment of new individuals to believe in the Guerrilla cause. Secondly Marighella, calls for direct hard hitting action attacks. Rather then attacking only to liberate new land, then retreating to rebuild such as the idea of Foco, Marighella calls for a continuously offensive Guerrilla movement, sometimes for no reason, but to keep the government guessing. This is in an effort to continuously pressure the enemy in order to draw them out, and have them make errors within their tactics. Finally Marighella, has a very unique ideology that differs from Guevara and greatly influences the Weather Underground. Where Guevara believes that a government is the oppressor, Marighella states that all oppressive governments have a large source of power backing them, of a more foreign government oppressor. In most of Marighella’s writings, and within the Weather Underground this oppressor is United States Imperialism.

The use of Marighella’s tactics are easy to see within The Weather Underground during the 1970’s. Almost all weather cells where located in large urban cities, The majority of the undergrounds tactics where offensive in nature, and maybe most importantly, both viewed the United States government as the primary imperialistic oppressor.

The Weather Underground did differ from these two models, however in two major ways. Firstly rather than a workers, (peoples) war, much of the weather underground believed  far more in a war of the new age a youth war, fighting against archaic ideals of American Imperialism. Secondly, especially after the Greenwich Village explosion, The Weather Underground didn’t believe in or facilitate the death of “those compliant with the oppressor”, in this case officers of the law, government officials, and military personnel. In fact the Weather Underground went to very extensive lengths to avoid such deaths. This final non-fatality based ideology is the one major separator between the Weather Underground and other South and Central American revolutionary organizations.