Mao Tse-Tung on Guerrilla Warfare

When various methods of lawful process eventually fail, the only realistically available remedies left are those involving physical force; guerrilla warfare is one manifestation of that, which necessitates an understanding of military science. The characteristics of a warrior do not necessarily entail the use of conventional weapons; it was neither semi-automatic carbines nor cardboard signs that have brought revolutions into being, but the character of the citizens of the formative nation that brought it into being. Courage, like marksmanship, can be taught to a man, but you have to drill it into his head, all the while emphasizing that strength and training without discipline is virtually useless.



Guerrilla warfare is not to be considered as something independent unto itself, but merely an element of a much larger overall effort. Strategy emphasizes offensive, situationally aware nimbleness. Most importantly, is must have the mass popular support of the domestic population, without which, it would be better not to begin a campaign in the first place.

As an unconventional form of warfare, guerrilla operations, when compared relative to more conventional tactics and military units, possess distinct advantages and weaknesses. The fluidity and flexibility of guerilla bands contrasts that of conventional armies who tend to be much more static defensively as well as focused offensively more on waging pitched battles. Simultaneously, guerrillas are materially dependent (at least initially) upon their enemies by stripping their weapons and equipment from defeated soldiers (in this way, guerrillas get stronger as their opponents gets weaker); the sheer numerical strength of a well-financed opponent must be taken into consideration, for any sort of supposed “last stands” can only end in defeat for the guerrilla.

Mao Tse-Tung at one point refutes some excuses that came from civilians who were reluctant to become guerrillas:


“There are those who say: ‘I am a farmer,’ or ‘I am a student;’ ‘I can discuss literature but not military arts.’ This is incorrect. There is no profound difference between the farmer and the soldier. You must have courage. You simply leave your farms and become soldiers. That you are farmers is of no difference, and if you have education, that is so much the better. When you take your arms in hand, you become soldiers; when you are organized, you become military units.”


He then goes onto to describe how those individuals who fight “valiantly and aggressively” become battle-tested leaders who surpass those professional soldiers who lack actual combat experience.

Nationalism is considered by Mao is be an indispensable tool in uniting the people against their Japanese oppressors. Many times, Mao reinforces not just the military, but also political training of the guerrillas, particularly in regards to their efforts in recruiting individuals into the resistance as well as maintaining cordial relations with the people in general. By having a concrete political goal (in Mao’s case, the expulsion of the Japanese from mainland China), the “national consciousness [is] awakened,” and therefore there would be more than enough volunteers joining up, which is also good since Mao considered draftees to lack the fortitude for the fight anyway.

Interestingly, Mao expressed his desire for what he called, “an unprecedented epoch of peace.” He saw the guerrilla war by the Chinese against the Japanese as not just a nationalistic struggle, but also a global one for all mankind, where “the independent, happy, and liberal China that we are fighting to establish will be a part of that new world order.” A part of me wonders whether that concept is the same as that described by H.G. Wells as the New World Order; just a thought.

Rules of conduct, securing base areas, and tenacity in harassing the enemy slowly over time are all aspects of guerrilla warfare that Mao placed importance on as part of his resistance strategy. Valuing hierarchical structure, Mao described the scale of units ranging from a guerrilla band all the way up to a regiment, and everything in between. He did favor merging regular army units with civilians into cohesive guerrilla units so as to marry the military and political elements together, since he saw that synergistic dynamic as being vital to the success of the revolution; admittedly, he also mentioned the limitations of local militia units, since they were not allowed to venture beyond the boundaries of their own particular areas.

Mao Tse-Tung’s On Guerrilla Warfare (as translated by USMC Brigadier General Samuel Griffith) is a uniquely insightful look at the practical utility of guerrilla warfare by someone who empirically demonstrated that it could win wars. Despite what your feelings are about his later tyrannical actions, it cannot be denied that Mao was able to rally the Chinese and get them focused on defeating the Japanese invaders with devastating effectiveness. I do suggest that political dissidents read this short book if for no other reason than to learn not from a historian, but instead from an actual participant who was able to put those guerrilla principles into action and achieve victory.

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