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.

Communiqués and Publications

You Don’t Need A Weatherman To Know Which Way The Wind Blows (New Left Notes, June 18, 1969) “Long live the victory of the peoples war!” This lengthy piece is the Weather Underground’s Manifesto. The manifesto focused on how to overthrow capitalism and make a communism base while using international forces, such that they had been gaining from trips to Cuba. After explaining their struggle for “Socialist Self-Determinism” they defined black liberation as revolution.

WUO reminds us that it was born out of the Revolutionary Youth Movement faction of Students for a Democratic Society –something like 50% of people were under the age of 18 in the 70’s; as well as most likely working class– which is fighting US imperialism, their goal? Communism. By stressing the impact of US imperialism internationally as well as nationally, WUO hope to provide an answer questions of the nature of the organization. WUO provides two stages that they believe will have to happen for revolution. The anti-imperialist stage and the socialist stage. One to rally up the masses and one to make change.

The Weather Underground didn’t always plan on bombing buildings. In fact their first Communiqué wasn’t about a bomb at all. Issued on May 21, 1970 it was “A declaration of a State of War”. Making known that:

“Freaks are revolutionaries and revolutionaries are freaks. If you want to find us, this is where we are. In every tribe, commune, dormitory, farmhouse, barracks and townhouse where kids are making love, smoking dope and loading guns- [where] fugitives from Amerikan justice are free to go.”

The Weather Underground found it important to ally third world countries and their rebellions in order to strengthen the fight at home. Subsequent communiques including Communiqué 2 written on June 9 and Communiqué 3 written on July 26, 1970, were announcements of bombs that they were taking credit for. Both of which they called in before hand to try to make sure no one was hurt. In response to things like the murder of Fred Hampton, Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and Amerikan imperialism riots and bombs were communicated to the public. The communiqué’s were written not only to give reasoning for their violence but also to make connections and alliances throughout the country.

The fourth Communiqué was written on September 15, 1970 after the successful escape of Timothy Leary from prison, who joined The Weather Underground in their war, despite his previous non-violent stroke. Leary also wrote “The P.O.W. Communiqué” noting the time for peace has past, that “this is a war for survival” and calling for mass resistance.

“New Morning” issued in December of 1970 was another communiqué that didn’t accompany a bomb. This communication directly responds to the townhouse explosion that killed three of their own. In response to the incident there was a massive tactical move from their previous intentions to bomb the police ball in Fort Dix, to attacking symbols of American Imperialism. This shift is hidden by the media when they describe WUO as “terrorists”. In this article they write “Kent and Augusta and Jackson brought to all of us a coming of age, a seriousness about how hard it will be to fight in Amerika and how long it will take us to win.” This article is their first communication that personalizes their story, speaks about specific actions and brings humanity to the WUO. These are probably the same reasons it has been excluded from the media’s coverage, unlike Dohrn’s other communiqués which are quoted often.

Other publications include “Prairie Fire” (1974) and “Osawatomie” (1975). Prairie Fire, a manifesto calling again for mass resistance against US imperialism. As for Osawatomie, you can’t hear about it now-a-days without seeing Obama criticism. A newspaper written and published while they were underground was a successful way of working from the inside for revolution. The paper concerns itself with Weather Underground issues and tries to encourage action on the local level to organize a socialist movement.

Communiqués were important because they not only announce and take credit for bombs, it was a way to “share thoughts, ideas and analysis with the movement” according to Dan Berger’s article “The Weather Underground’s place in history: A response to Jonah Raskin, Socialism Democracy”. Communiqués were important for making the WUO’s ideology known and spreading their message.