Communist terrorism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Communist terrorism is terrorism perpetrated by individuals or groups which adhere to communism and ideologies related to it, such as Marxism–Leninism, Maoism, and Trotskyism. Historically, communist terrorism has sometimes taken the form of state-sponsored terrorism, supported by communist nations such as the Soviet Union,[1][2] China,[2] North Korea[2] and Cambodia.[3] In addition, non-state actors such as the Red Brigades, the Front Line and the Red Army Faction have also engaged in communist terrorism.[4][5] These groups hope to inspire the masses to rise up and start a revolution to overthrow existing political and economic systems.[6] This form of terrorism can sometimes be called red terrorism or left terrorism.[7]

The end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union have been credited with leading to a notable decline in this form of terrorism.[8]


In the 1930s, the term "communist terrorism" was used by the Nazi Party in Germany as part of a propaganda campaign to spread fear of communism. The Nazis blamed communist terrorism for the Reichstag fire, which they used as an excuse to push through legislation removing personal freedom from German citizens.[9][failed verification][10] In the 1940s and 1950s, various Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, witnessed the rise of communist groups engaging in terrorism. John Slocum claimed that communists in present-day Malaysia used terrorism to draw attention to their ideological beliefs,[11] but Phillip Deery countered that the Malaysian insurgents were called communist terrorists only as part of a propaganda campaign.[12]

In the 1960s, the Sino–Soviet split (between two communist states) led to a marked increase in terrorist activity in the region.[13] That decade also saw various terrorist groups commencing operations in Europe, Japan, and the Americas. Yonah Alexander deemed these groups Fighting Communist Organizations (FCOs),[14][15] and says they rose out of the student union movement protesting against the Vietnam War. In Western Europe, these groups' actions were known as Euroterrorism.[16] The founders of FCOs argued that violence was necessary to achieve their goals, and that peaceful protest was both ineffective and insufficient to attain them.[17][18] In the 1970s, there were an estimated 50 Marxist or Leninist groups operating in Turkey, and an estimated 225 groups operating in Italy. Groups also began operations in Ireland and the United Kingdom.[19] These groups were deemed a major threat by NATO and the Italian, German, and British governments.[20] Communist terrorism did not enjoy full support from all ideologically sympathetic groups. The Italian Communist Party, for example, condemned such activity.[21]


While Vladimir Lenin systematically denounced the terrorism practiced by the Socialist Revolutionaries and opposed regicide, he also supported terror as a tool, and considered mass terror to be a strategic and efficient method for advancing revolutionary goals.[22] According to Leon Trotsky, Lenin emphasized the absolute necessity of terror and as early as 1904, Lenin said, "The dictatorship of the proletariat is an absolutely meaningless expression without Jacobin coercion."[23] In 1905, Lenin directed members of the St. Petersburg "Combat Committee" to commit acts of robbery, arson, and other terrorist acts.[24]

Not all scholars agree on Lenin's position towards terrorism. Joan Witte contends that he opposed the practice except when it was wielded by the party and the Red Army after 1917.[24] She also suggests that he opposed the use of terrorism as a mindless act but endorsed its use in order to advance the communist revolution.[24] Chaliand and Blin contend that Lenin advocated mass terror but objected to disorderly, unorganized, or petty acts of terrorism.[22] According to Richard Drake, Lenin had abandoned any reluctance to use terrorist tactics by 1917, believing that all resistance to communist revolution should be met with maximum force. Drake contends that the terrorist intent in Lenin's program was unmistakable, as acknowledged by Trotsky in his book Terrorism and Communism: a Reply, published in 1918.[25] In the book, Trotsky provided an elaborate justification for the use of terror, stating "The man who repudiates terrorism in principle, i.e., repudiates measures of suppression and intimidation towards determined and armed counterrevolution, must reject all ideas of the political supremacy of the working class and its revolutionary dictatorship."[23] Trotsky's justification largely rests on a criticism of the usage of the term "terrorism" to describe all political violence on behalf of the Left, but not equally vicious political violence carried out by liberal or reactionary factions.[26] Scholars on the Left argue that while it is a matter of historical record that communist movements did at times employ violence, the label of "terrorism" is disproportionately used in Western media sources to refer to all political violence employed by the left, while similarly violent tactics employed by the United States and its allies remain unscrutinized.[27][28]



The St Nedelya Church assault on 16 April 1925 was committed by a group from the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP). They blew up the roof of the St Nedelya Church in Sofia, Bulgaria. 150 people were killed and around 500 were injured.


The Cambodian genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge, which led to the death of an estimated 1.7 million to 2.5 million people has been described as an act of terrorism by Joseph S. Tuman.[29]


Benjamin A. Valentino has estimated that the atrocities committed by both the Nationalist government and the Chinese Communist Party during the Chinese Civil War resulted in the death of between 1.8 million and 3.5 million people between 1927 and 1949.[30] In the late 1940s, the United States Department of State reported that after World War II, communist terrorism—including looting, massacres, and forced conscription into militias—in China surpassed the actions of Imperial Japan.[31]


The Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) had been engaged in what perceived as an act of terrorism during a communist rebellion in 1948, as well as the failed coup attempt in 1965.[citation needed] However, under the leadership of D. N. Aidit, the PKI was transformed into a legal party operating openly within the country and rejected armed struggle.[32] The alleged coup attempt culminated in a violent anti-communist purge and a subsequent regime change into a right-wing military dictatorship following the purges.[33]


In the late 1960s, Japanese communist Fusako Shingenobu formed the militant Japanese Red Army terrorist group. Their goal was to start a worldwide communist revolution through the use of terrorism.[34] They committed multiple embassy attacks, airplane hijackings, bombings and taking hostages. They were responsible for the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre, in which 26 people were killed and 79 injured.[35] In 1988, members of the JRA detonated a car bomb outside of a USO recreational facility in Naples which killed 4 Italian civilians, 1 U.S. Servicewoman, and injured 15 other people.[36]

Members of the JRA merged with members of the Revolutionary Left Faction to form the United Red Army, which became known for the Asama-Sansō incident, a weeklong standoff with the police after the group had murdered fourteen of its own members.[37]


Shining Path was founded in 1969 by Maoist philosophy professor Abimael Guzmán as a split from the Peruvian Communist Party. In 1980 when the Peruvian government held elections for the first time in 12 years, Shining Path rejected participation instead declaring a guerilla war against the government. They engaged in acts such as assassinations, bombings, beheadings, massacres as well as stoning victims to death, or boiling people alive.[38] Guzmán was arrested in 1992 and sentenced to life in prison on charges of aggravated terrorism and murder.

The Shining Path is regarded as a terrorist organization by Peru, Japan,[39] the United States,[40] the European Union,[41] and Canada,[42] all of whom consequently prohibit funding and other financial support to the group.

The Philippines[edit]

The New People's Army (NPA) founded in 1969 has been described as the third largest terrorist group operating in the Philippines. The group carried out attacks between 1987 and 1992 before entering a hiatus. Between 2000 and 2006, they carried out an additional 42 attacks.[43] The NPA is designated as a terrorist group by The Philippines,[44] The United States,[45] The European Union,[46] and New Zealand.[47]


In Rhodesia (renamed Zimbabwe in 1980), during the Bush War of the 1970s, guerrillas operating in the country were considered communist terrorists by the government. The organisations in question received war materiels and financial support from numerous communist countries, and they also received training in several of those same countries, including the Soviet Union, China and Cuba. Both guerrilla armies involved in the war—the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), and the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA) attached to the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)—were initially based in the Lusaka area of Zambia, so as to be within striking distance of Rhodesia.[48] ZANU and ZANLA moved their bases to Mozambique's Tete Province around 1972, and based themselves there until the war's end in 1979. ZIPRA remained based in Zambia. In line with the Maoist ideology professed by its parent organisation, ZANU, ZANLA used Chinese Maoist tactics to great effect, politicising the rural population and hiding amongst the locals between strikes.[49] While ZIPRA conducted similar operations to a lesser extent, most of its men made up a conventional-style army in Zambia, which was trained by Cuban and Soviet officers to eventually overtly invade Rhodesia and openly engage in combat against the Rhodesian Security Forces. This ultimately never happened.[50]

Soviet Union[edit]

After the Russian Revolution in 1917, the use of terrorism to subdue people characterized the new communist regime.[51] Historian Anna Geifman stated that this was "evident in the regime's very origins." An estimated 17,000 people died as a result of the initial campaign of violence known as the Red Terror.[52] Lenin stated that his "Jacobian party would never reject terror, nor could it do so," referring to the Jacobian Reign of Terror of 1793–1794 as a model for the Bolshevik Red Terror.[53] Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka (the Soviet secret police), widely employed terrorist tactics, especially against peasants who refused to surrender their grain to the government.[54] Upon initiating the New Economic Policy (NEP) Lenin stated, "It is a mistake to think the NEP has put an end to terrorism. We shall return to terrorism, and it will be an economic terrorism".[55]

South Africa[edit]

During the apartheid era in South Africa, the government under the Afrikaner National Party deemed the ANC and its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, communist terrorists.[56] As a result, a series of laws were introduced by the government, such as the Suppression of Communism Act, which defined and banned organizations and people that the government considered communist. In 1967 the government promulgated the Terrorism Act, which made terrorist acts a statutory crime and implemented indefinite detention against those who were captured.[56]


During World War II the communist Viet Minh fought a guerilla campaign led by Ho Chi Minh against the Japanese occupation forces and, following Japan's surrender, against the French colonial forces. This insurgency continued until 1954 as the Vietminh evolved into the Vietcong (VC), which fought against both the South Vietnamese government and American forces.[57] These campaigns involved terrorism resulting in the deaths of thousands.[58][59] Although an armistice was signed between the Viet Minh and the French forces in 1954, terrorist actions continued.[60] Carol Winkler has written that in the 1950s, Viet Cong terrorism was rife in South Vietnam, with political leaders, provincial chiefs, teachers, nurses, doctors, and members of the military being targeted. Between 1965 and 1972, Vietcong terrorists had killed over 33,000 people and abducted a further 57,000.[61][62] Terrorist actions in Saigon were described by Nghia M. Vo as "long and murderous." In these campaigns, South Vietnamese prime minister Trần Văn Hương was the target of an assassination attempt; in 1964 alone, the Vietcong carried out 19,000 attacks on civilian targets.[63]

Infant victim of Dak Son massacre

Historian and former U.S. State Department analyst Douglas Pike has called the Massacre at Huế one of the worst communist terrorist actions of the Vietnam War.[64] Estimates of the losses in the massacre have been cited as high as 6,000 dead.[65][66] The United States Army recorded as killed "3800 killed in and around Huế, 2786 confirmed civilians massacred, 2226 civilians found in mass graves and 16 non Vietnamese civilians killed."[67] While some historians have claimed that the majority of these deaths occurred as the result of US bombing in the fight to retake the city, the vast majority of the dead were found in mass graves outside the city.[68] Benjamin A. Valentino has estimated a total death toll of between 45,000 and 80,000 people between 1954 and 1975 from VC terrorism.[30]

Douglas Pike also described the Đắk Sơn massacre, in which the Vietcong used flamethrowers against civilians in Đắk Sơn, killing 252, as a terrorist act.[69] In May 1967, Dr. Tran Van-Luy reported to the World Health Organization "that over the previous 10 years Communist terrorists had destroyed 174 dispensaries, maternity homes and hospitals."[70] Ami Pedahzur has written that "the overall volume and lethality of Vietcong terrorism rivals or exceeds all but a handful (e.g. Algeria, Sri Lanka) of terrorist campaigns waged over the last third of the twentieth century,"[71] and that the VC used suicide terrorism as a form of propaganda of the deed.[72] Arthur J. Dommen has written that the majority of those killed due to VC terrorism were civilians, caught in ambushes as they traveled on buses, and that the group burnt down villages and forcibly conscripted members.[73]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Fleming pp110
  2. ^ a b c Chaliand page 197/202
  3. ^ Clymer page 107
  4. ^ C. J. M. Drake page 19
  5. ^ Sloan pp61
  6. ^ Yonah ppIX
  7. ^ Grzymala-Busse, Anna M. (2002), "CONVINCING THE VOTERS: CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS", Redeeming the Communist Past, Cambridge University Press, pp. 175–226, doi:10.1017/cbo9780511613388.005, ISBN 9780511613388
  8. ^ David C. Wills page 219
  9. ^ Conway pp17
  10. ^ Gadberry pp7
  11. ^ Slocum pp75
  12. ^ Phillip Deery. The Terminology of Terrorism: Malaya, 1948–52. Journal of Southeast Asia Studies, Vol. 34, No. 2 (June 2003), pp. 231–247.
  13. ^ Weinberg pp14
  14. ^ Alexander pp16
  15. ^ Harmon pp13
  16. ^ Harmon pp58
  17. ^ Drake pp102
  18. ^ Sandler pp10
  19. ^ Alexander pp51-52
  20. ^ Paoletti p202
  21. ^ Richard Drake. Terrorism and the Decline of Italian Communism: Domestic and International Dimensions. Journal of Cold War Studies, Volume 12, Number 2, Spring 2010 1531–3298
  22. ^ a b Chaliand, Gérard; Blin, Arnaud (2007). The history of terrorism: from antiquity to al Qaeda. University of California Press. p. 198. ISBN 978-0-520-24709-3.
  23. ^ a b Dallin, Alexander; Breslauer, George W. (1970). Political terror in communist systems. Stanford University Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-8047-0727-5.
  24. ^ a b c Harmon, Christopher C. (2008). Terrorism today. Routledge. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-7146-4998-6.
  25. ^ Smith, Paul J. (2008). The terrorism ahead: confronting transnational violence in the twenty-first century. M.E. Sharpe. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7656-1988-4.
  26. ^ Trotsky, Leon (24 December 2016) [1920]. "Terrorism and Communism". Marxist Internet Archive.
  27. ^ Chomsky, Noam; Bolender, John (January 2004). "On Terrorism". Jump Arts Journal – via The Noam Chomsky Website. It's close to a historical universal that the term "terror" is used for their terror against us [the USA] and our clients, not our terror against them. Heads of states can qualify as "terrorists," when they are official enemies.
  28. ^ Losurdo, Domenico (2004). "Towards a Critique of the Category of Totalitarianism" (PDF). Historical Materialism. 12:2 (2): 25–55. doi:10.1163/1569206041551663. In May 1948, Arendt denounced the 'development of totalitarian methods' in Israel, referring to 'terrorism' and the expulsion and deportation of the Arab population. Only three years later, no room was left for criticism directed against the contemporary West.
  29. ^ Tuman pp180
  30. ^ a b Valentino p88
  31. ^ Van Slyke pp752
  32. ^ Bevins, Vincent (2020). The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. PublicAffairs. pp. 62–64. ISBN 978-1541742406.
  33. ^ Robinson, Geoffrey B. (2018). The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965–66. Princeton University Press. pp. 82–83, 118. ISBN 9781400888863.
  34. ^ United States department of State (1 January 1990). "The Japanese red army". Terrorism. 13 (1): 73–78. doi:10.1080/10576109008435816. ISSN 0149-0389.
  35. ^ "1972: Japanese kill 26 at Tel Aviv airport". 29 May 1972. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  36. ^ Suro, Roberto; Times, Special To the New York (15 April 1988). "5 Die in Blast Outside U.S.O. in Naples". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  37. ^ "The IAFOR Journal of Media, Communication & Film". The International Academic Forum (IAFOR). Retrieved 6 January 2022.
  38. ^ "Peru in Familiar Stalemate With Shining Path Rebels". InSight Crime. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  39. ^ "MOFA: Implementation of the Measures including the Freezing of Assets against Terrorists and the Like". Archived from the original on 6 April 2013. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  40. ^ United States Department of State, 30 April 2007. "Terrorist Organizations". Retrieved 11 June 2009.
  41. ^ Council Common Position 2005/936/CFSP. Archived 22 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine. 14 March 2005. Retrieved 13 January 2008.
  42. ^ Government of Canada. "Listed Entities" Archived 19 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 11 June 2009.
  43. ^ Cox pp97
  44. ^ "Duterte declares CPP, NPA as terrorist organizations | Inquirer News". 6 December 2017. Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  45. ^ "Foreign Terrorist Organizations – United States Department of State". 15 May 2019. Archived from the original on 15 May 2019. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  46. ^ "EUR-Lex – 32020R1128 – EN – EUR-Lex". 17 September 2020. Archived from the original on 17 September 2020. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  47. ^ "Lists associated with Resolution 1373 | New Zealand Police". 19 November 2020. Archived from the original on 19 November 2020. Retrieved 30 December 2021.
  48. ^ Windrich page 279
  49. ^ Wood, J. R. T. (24 May 1995). "Rhodesian Insurgency". Oudeschip: Allport Books. Retrieved 30 May 2012.
  50. ^ Thompson, Leroy (October 1991). Dirty Wars: Elite Forces vs the Guerrillas (First ed.). Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 158. ISBN 978-0-7153-9441-0.
  51. ^ Nicolas, Werth (21 March 2008). "Crimes and Mass Violence of the Russian Civil Wars (1918–1921)". SciencePro. Retrieved 28 February 2019.
  52. ^ Geifman pp21
  53. ^ Marcus C. Levitt page 152-153
  54. ^ Richard W. Mansbach page 336
  55. ^ David Schmidtz page 191
  56. ^ a b Schutz, Barry M. (2011). "South Africa's paradox of violence and legitimacy". In Rosenfeld, Jean (ed.). Terrorism, Identity, and Legitimacy: The Four Waves Theory and Political Violence. Taylor & Francis. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-415-57857-8.
  57. ^ Mockaitis pp23
  58. ^ Crenshaw pp503
  59. ^ Pedahzur pp114
  60. ^ Freeman pp192
  61. ^ Winkler pp17
  62. ^ Forest pp82
  63. ^ Vo pp28/29
  64. ^ Lanning pp185
  65. ^ {Anderson, David L. The Columbia Guide to the Vietnam War. 2004, page 98-9}
  66. ^ Brown pp163
  67. ^ Krohn pp126
  68. ^ T. Louise Brown pp163
  69. ^ Lanning pp185-186
  70. ^ Rigal-Cellard pp229
  71. ^ Pedahzur pp116
  72. ^ Pedahzur pp117
  73. ^ Dommen pp503


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External links[edit]