Possible Specific Characteristics of Protracted War in the United States
As a Maoist, the thesis that the tenets and strategy of Protracted People’s War is universally applicable to all countries, including industrial capitalist countries such as the United States, is a key one. However, I believe that we must realize that PPW is not just a checklist of things that must happen. Let’s be real, there has never been initiation of Protracted People’s War in an industrial capitalist country in the Maoist era. The groups that struggled in the 1960s and ’70s had various applications of the Guevarist-Debrayist focoísmo theory, which we hold is tantamount to armed revisionism because, generally, it does not rely on the masses. What we now know is that the recycling of the Cuban experience will be a mistake and deadly blunder, because focoísm was the hegemonic military line in the imperialist metropole, along with Latin America, for two decades. Nowhere did it lead to victory. It got Che himself killed in Bolivia when he failed to link up with the Bolivian masses and the revisionist Communist Party in that country failed to offer support, leading to the isolation of his guerilla movement. While focoísmo should be studied, we should look at where it got the BLA and others that sought to apply it to the conditions of the United States and Europe. The strategy of protracted people’s war solves the focoísmo conundrum by rooting itself firmly in the masses and also stressing the primacy of the party, which commands the People’s Army. Gonzaloite left deviationists posit the formation of a “militarized party” , which essentially is a militarist (it’s right there in the name) deviation that, for all the crowing about it, did not lead to success in Peru, where the concept was synthesized and applied during the revolutionary armed struggle which took place there from 1980 to the mid 1990s. Gonzaloites position the formation of a militarized, clandestine party as one of the main theses of their odd Peruvian centered “Maoism”, yet in practice this has led to all kinds of weird anarchist/Lyndon LaRouche style shenanigans in the United States and what appears to be nothing but a bunch of “clandestine” committees and blogs in European social democracies like Norway and Germany. Huey P. Newton said that this type of obsession with clandestinity is the epitome of cowardice hiding behind the facade and aesthetic of hyper-militancy.
A word on the Party, and on cadre. The Party must be militant. Having a gun does not equate to militancy, nor does it make one a Communist, or a cadre. A Maoist cadre is defined, mainly, by adherence to the democratic centralism of their Party formation, the ability to forge strong and unbreakable ties to the basic masses (in the United States, this being the colonized proletariat and semi-proletariat), the ability to take information from the masses, synthesize it, and develop mass movements that generate new cadre in the heat of vigorous class struggle (think Ferguson — imagine if Communists had led there!), the ability to creatively apply Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to all aspects of their work and daily life, the ability to develop themselves as an indispensable part of the fabric of their community, constant and deep study of theory and how to apply it, and the ability to put politics in command in all aspects of their life. A lot of formations treat this as some sort of mystery or unscalable mountain, this is an ultraleft, closed doorist view. I have met basic mass organizers who are better cadre and better Communists than those who go back and forth in an arrogant fashion on the internet over who holds the “red line” on an insignificant matter, or who try to lecture those who have led initiations of revolutionary war and who have participated in that process, on what constitutes correct Party development and organization. Cadre development is not reducible to a series of classes, or readings, or anything else that can be knocked out at one blow, however. It is a commitment, a lifelong one. While the attempt to universalize the “militarized” party thesis can accurately be described as the work of a bunch of edgy, self-righteous petit-bourgeois children in the imperialist metropoles who are in love with the aesthetics and idea of violence, we should be careful to avoid the right deviation of rejecting militancy and taking up liquidationism into the mass movement. The Party is composed of those who are consciously building themselves, collectively sharpening theory and practice, and developing Marxist-Leninist-Maoist theory for the US context not through polemics and debates but through practice, which we Maoists know is the true test of correctness or incorrectness. The matter of whether or not Protracted People’s War is truly applicable to the imperialist metropole is not settled through back and forths online or in private, but by, as we say, actually doin’ the damn thing.
To do the damn thing requires taking into account the landscape and terrain in which the hypothetical people’s army will fight. Through my own analysis, I believe that I’ve discovered a rough sketch of how the Protracted People’s War strategy might possibly be applied to our specific context. The main thing to take into consideration is the fact that a majority of the United States population (and, thus, the Left) is concentrated in superregions such as the Northeast, (New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philly and other, smaller cities in their orbit), the Great Lakes (Flint, Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Gary, Detroit), and Southern California (centered on the LA megacity). 241 million people live in these super regions. Roughly 80% of the US population live in an urban area. So, we can safely say that most of our attention will be focused on these areas, lending any struggle here a decidedly urban character because that is where the lowest and deepest masses are. However, this is no cause to overlook or write off rural areas, particularly in the historic Black Belt. It will be essential for the Party to sink firm roots here as well. However, the primary aspect of the US struggle will be urban. Every Maoist should actively research and study the particular aspects of the area where they live. Study road maps, neighborhoods, architecture, sewer systems, and ways in and out for both reactionary and people’s forces.
Urban protracted war has a history in the 20th and 21st centuries. Iraq during the US occupation, the former Yugoslavia during the wars of the 1990s, Syria during the Civil War, Ulster during the Troubles, Lebanon, Chechnya and Palestine all offer rich experiences in protracted armed conflicts in a primarily urban context. Notably, these experiences put the lie to the revisionist canard that protracted people’s war is applicable only in rural contexts. Furthermore, they demonstrate that tanks, jets, and other such things are not undefeatable. The Iraqi insurgency was able to throw out the Yankees with crude roadside IEDs, RPGs, and small arms. The Provisional IRA gave the British hell with imported Semtex and molotovs. Warring Somali clans armed with technical trucks and small arms have turned Mogadishu into an open air school in urban insurgency and protracted war. Hezbollah kicked the shit out of the Israeli armed forces armed with the best training and equipment that money could buy. People are primary, not weapons. However, we should be mindful that the US struggle is for the heart of imperialism, and people’s forces will have all the weight of this empire on their heads. It will not go quietly or without oceans of blood. Initiation of revolutionary armed struggle and the appearance of the first base areas will most likely occur in the Great Lakes superregion, also known as the Rust Belt. The cities of this region are notoriously corrupt, inefficient, and gutted by neoliberalism. If a tool has been sitting long enough and rusts enough, it doesn’t take much to break it. You want to see a weak link? Consider that an American city, Flint, Michigan, does not have clean water for its citizens. Consider that Detroit, Gary and East Saint Louis resemble war zones, where weeds grow in abandoned, toxic factories. Consider that the city of East Saint Louis lost its city hall to a crack dealer in the early 1990s. These are where the lowest, deepest masses are, and keeping in mind the principle “avoid the solid, attack the hollow”, are where the correctly guided Maoist Party in the United States will concentrate its efforts in terms of recruitment, mass movement building, and general development. In these areas, the struggle will most closely approximate the Bolshevik seizure of power, a crisis leading to relatively quick seizure of power and control. Keep in mind that the development will still be protracted and the Party formation in these areas will have to observe rock solid, iron discipline. The Mafia was able to basically take over and loot the city of Reading, Pennsylvania in the mid twentieth century. These places are corrupt and their governments are highly dysfunctional. In STL you can buy an alderman for $500, the police department is divided along racial/ethnic lines like the Yugoslav army, and Kinloch, a black suburb of STL, doesn’t even have a government to speak of. These will fall first, and economic efforts for the well being of the masses, recruitment and base building efforts, and people’s militia training will have been initiated by the Party well beforehand. We very well may see the surrounding of the city centers from the urban periphery, with formations that control cities like Flint and Gary laying siege to Chicago, or the industrial wasteland of New Jersey laying siege to New York City.
The struggle in huge cities proper like LA, Chicago, NYC, etc. will resemble that waged by the Provisional IRA/Palestinian resistance. There will be a patchwork of areas controlled by reactionary government forces such as the police, revolutionary groups, lumpen gangs, private militia employed by the billionaires yet to be made from the continuing development of technology for the interests of capitalist hegemony. If you look at Belfast during the Troubles or Gaza and the West Bank now, these places are patchworks and various groups vie for control/dominance. It’s naive to think that any one group in a crisis situation would be able to claim control over an entire supercity. If the United States government with its trillions of dollars in hardware, millions of personnel, and near limitless financial reach cannot control Los Angeles, Chicago and New York, and it is embroiled in such a crisis that order can not be maintained in the old way, there will be in the early stages a free for all. Base areas will ebb and flow like the tide, and there will be turf wars/strife for months if not years. The most equipped to seize territory will be various lumpen gangs, with LA, San Diego, Phoenix, and other cities close to Mexico having the unique characteristic of having cartels coming across the border to engage in smuggling of all types of things ranging from arms and ammunition to food and water.
Speaking of food and water, that brings us to rural areas. These areas will undoubtedly be controlled by reactionaries from the onset. Rural areas are important in the US because much of the food that feeds the megalopolis has to pass through the hinterland before coming to store shelves. So, it would be easy for reactionaries, whether they be soldiers defected from the splintered US military or fascist bands, to cut off food supplies to the cities. Highways can be torn to bits, railroads can be pulled up. Food smugglers will undoubtedly make huge fortunes overnight at the very beginning. The war here will resemble a classic rural people’s war scenario, except it will be the reactionaries surrounding the city from the countryside, not revolutionaries. The exception will be in the rural South, the Black Belt, and the Southwest, due to the amount of Chicano, Indigenous and New Afrikan people here. Undoubtedly, a correctly guided party will already have cadre among these populations, nevermind the organic military formations of the people themselves who will belong to the United Front. These forces will have to first handle local colonizer reactionaries and then will most likely consolidate and expand base areas in the hinterland. The final bastion of American organized military reaction will be the mountain states. Idaho, Eastern Washington and Oregon, Montana, and portions of surrounding states will be infested with reactionaries, American loyalists, and others of that type. The Dakotas will be important due to the presence of Indigenous reservations that can possibly, if handled correctly by the Party and its Committee/Department for liaison with Indigenous peoples, serve as staging grounds or base areas that will enable encirclement of this reactionary bastion at the later, strategic offensive stage.
So, to sum up, it is erroneous with no prior model of successful initiation and carrying through to conclusion of a Protracted People’s War in an imperialist metropole to say what will happen for certain. This paper is intended to serve as food for thought and an attempt towards an objective analysis of specific characteristics of the United States that will be at play after the hypothetical initiation in the future of armed struggle. This armed struggle, I believe, will have elements of all three revolutionary styles that dominated the 20th Century. One, urban protracted warfare as seen in Iraq, Ireland, Somalia and Palestine. Two, Bolshevik type insurrections and seizures of power in the Rust Belt/smaller cities of the Great Lakes megaregion where the links of government are weak. Three, traditional style rural people’s war as it was sharpened to excellence by the Chinese Communist Party from 1927 to 1949. Experience may prove this analysis wrong, or partly right, or entirely right. Time and struggle will tell. Warfare is learned through the experience of making it.