3 Stages of War

This post is taken from a pamphlet I published in 1996 called The Revolutionary Times Information Pamphlet.

I’ve always been fascinated at how a scraggly band of half-starved, idealists could wage war against an established, powerful government and win. Apparently, it’s not by luck; there’s a science to it. The following is an outline of the three stages of revolutionary guerrilla warfare as put forth by the late Chinese communist leader Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong).

Stage One: Organization. Stage one is the subversive stage. Here the revolutionary party quietly and systematically builds its strength, organizes the people, and creates an armed defense force. The party sets up a base of operations in difficult and isolated terrain. These areas offer the best security, and the best defense against government security forces. These bases are used to organize, train and conduct operations.

At this embryonic stage, the party is at its weakest. Therefore, security is of primary importance. A cadre is formed out of motivated and highly capable volunteers. They are trained and sent out, individually or in groups, to educate the people living in the surrounding areas, and to obtain their support. An effective cadre increases the strength and security of the party as more people flock to it, and a ring of supporters is formed around each base area. These supporters will supply the revolutionaries with food, shelter, recruits, equipment, labor and information about the enemy.

Patience, diligence, security and discipline are very important at this, the most vulnerable stage. The objective is to strengthen the party. This is done by using political education to get as many people as possible to commit themselves to the struggle, consolidate the party by organizing the people and the party itself, and arming the people in the event that the government tries to crack down on its operations. These activities are a part of a process that is carried out secretly, methodically and progressively.

Stage Two: Insurrection/Expansion. Now the active guerrilla insurgency begins. Large sections of the population will, by now, be actively supporting the revolutionaries. Each town and village will have its own small, local band of guerrillas, and each region will have a platoon or company of “regular” guerrillas operating from remote bases.

Guerrillas will target select individuals (e.g. political figures, government supporters of note, the chief of police, tax collectors, etc.), for kidnappings and assassination. Enemy equipment will be sabotaged, roads and railroads mined, culverts blown and telephone lines cut. Vulnerable — isolated and undermanned — police and military outposts will be attacked, and small enemy patrols and convoys ambushed. Guerrillas will use these opportunities to obtain weapons, ammunition, medicine and other supplies.

The objective of this phase is to weaken the enemy by bleeding him dry. This is done by constantly attacking him where he is weakest. To do this, guerrillas must operate  over a large area, and everywhere be active. When the enemy focuses his attention in one area, another one blazes up. In this way, the enemy is kept off balance and will begin to spread his forces thin (making previously strong points weaker), in a futile attempt to catch the elusive guerrillas.

As the guerrilla force grows, so does the frequency and intensity of their attacks. Eventually, the enemy will divert hundreds, then thousands of combat troops from hunting guerrillas to the static role of defending installations and towns; consequently, eroding his offensive capabilities. The guerrillas continue to put the enemy under relentless and continually mounting pressure.

Stage Three: Decision or Defeat. As stated before, revolutionary war is progressive. The activities of Stage One never stopped. In fact, they increased during the next phase. The same is true of the second phase.

Finally, phase three is where the guerrillas find out if they carried out the first two stages correctly. Either the enemy or the revolution will be defeated. By now, guerrilla units have grown so much that they begin to organize themselves along the lines of a regular army, and begin to adopt more conventional military tactics — maneuver and encirclement — in an attempt to annihilate large enemy forces (battalions, regiments, divisions, etc.), in battle. However, guerrilla operations continue, and are closely coordinated with, and in support of regular army operations. The objective at this stage is to destroy the enemy. Politically, this should already have been done as the majority of the people should now be in full support of the revolutionaries, and the movement recognized as legitimate by other nations.  

This formula isn’t infallible, but it woked for Mao and the Chinese communists. In the future I will look at the American and other revolutions.

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