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People's war, also called protracted people's war, is a military-political strategy first developed by the Chinese Communist revolutionary and political leader Mao Zedong (1893–1976). The basic concept behind People's War is to maintain the support of the population and draw the enemy deep into the countryside (stretching their supply lines) where the population will bleed them dry through a mix of mobile and guerrilla warfare. It was used by the Communists against Imperial Japanese Army in World War II and the Chinese Soviet Republic in the Chinese Civil War.
The term is used by Maoists for their strategy of long-term armed revolutionary struggle. After the Sino-Vietnamese War in 1979, Deng Xiaoping abandoned People's War for "People's War under Modern Conditions," which moved away from reliance on troops over technology. With the adoption of "socialism with Chinese characteristics", economic reforms fueled military and technological investment. Troop numbers were also reduced and professionalisation encouraged.
The strategy of people's war was used heavily by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War. However protracted war should not be confused with the "foco" theory employed by Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
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In its original formulation by Mao Zedong, people's war exploits the few advantages that a small revolutionary movement has—broad-based popular support can be one of them—against a state's power with a large, professional, well-equipped and well-funded army. People's war strategically avoids decisive battles, since a tiny force of a few dozen soldiers would easily be routed in an all-out confrontation with the state. Instead, it favours a three-stage strategy of protracted warfare, with carefully chosen battles that can realistically be won.
In stage one, revolutionary force conducting people's war starts in a remote area with mountainous or otherwise difficult terrain in which its enemy is weak. It attempts to establish a local stronghold known as a revolutionary base area. As it grows in power, it enters stage two, establishes other revolutionary base areas and spreads its influence through the surrounding countryside, where it may become the governing power and gain popular support through such programmes as land reform. Eventually in stage three, the movement has enough strength to encircle and capture small cities, then larger ones, until finally it seizes power in the entire country.
Within the Chinese Red Army, the concept of people's war was the basis of strategy against the Japanese, and against a hypothetical Russian invasion of China. The concept of people's war became less important with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increasing possibility of conflict with the United States over Taiwan. In the 1980s and 1990s the concept of people's war was changed to include more high-technology weaponry.
Outside China, the people's war doctrine has been successful in Cuba, Nepal, and Nicaragua, but generally unsuccessful elsewhere in which the government has the will and the means to break up the movement before it can establish base areas.
Outside China, people's war has been basis of wars started in Peru on May 2, 1982, and in the Nepalese Civil War begun on February 9, 1999. A group of Peruvian Maoists known as the Shining Path at times controlled significant parts of the country during the internal conflict in Peru, but they were dealt a blow by the arrest of their leader Abimael Guzmán in 1992. While they claim to consider this event only a "bend in the road", most independent sources have claimed them to be in decline since that time.
By all accounts, at the height of the conflict in Peru, both the Shining Path and the Peruvian government used terror tactics against the civilian population, especially in the countryside. Government tactics included sponsorship of death squads; Shining Path tactics included violent attacks on trade unionists and others they saw as rivals for the leadership of those opposing the government. This has made it very difficult to get any objective measure of support among the peasantry for either the government or the Maoist insurgents, since such tactics on both sides are liable to intimidate people, but unlikely to win hearts and minds.
In Nepal, the Maoists succeeded in controlling most of the country and formed 100,000 troops into 3 divisions in what they called the "beginning of the strategic offensive". The Nepalese rebels also resorted to conscription, a practice that Mao himself opposed. By aligning with the democracy movement, with the subsequent restoration of democracy, and a peace agreement with the government, the Maoist insurgency met sufficient success to allow the formation of a coalition government in 2008.
In India, the Naxalite Maoist insurgency controls several rural districts in the eastern and southern regions, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. In the Philippines the Communist Party of the Philippines is waging an enduring people's war through its armed wing, the New People's Army, the Turkish TKP/ML and its armed wing TiKKO (Turkish Workers and Peasants Liberation Army) has been waging a People's War in Turkey since 1972.
During the 1980s in Ireland, IRA leader Jim Lynagh devised a Maoist urban guerilla military strategy adapted to Irish conditions aimed at escalating the war against British forces. The plan envisaged the destruction of police and army bases in parts of Northern Ireland in order to create liberated areas under IRA control. In 1984 he started cooperating with Pádraig McKearney who shared his views. The strategy began materializing with the destruction of two Royal Ulster Constabulary barracks in Ballygawley in December 1985 (resulting in the death of two RUC officers), and in The Birches in August 1986. Lynagh and his IRA unit were killed in another attack at Loughgall Police station in an SAS ambush.
List of People's Wars
Conflicts in the following list are labelled the People's War by the Maoists
In some other countries, maoists tried or still are trying to start and develop the People's War:
- Purba Banglar Sarbahara Party participated in Bangladesh Liberation War and still is involved in Internal conflict in Bangladesh
- Between 1967–1974 militants of the Communist Party of Brazil led guerilla in Araguaia river basin against the military dictatorship
- In 1982 in Iran the Union of Iranian Communists launched an armed campaign in Amol County
- Maoist organizations in Afghanistan – SAMA and ALO – participated in Soviet–Afghan War
- Armed organization DFLP declared that Palestinian national goals could be achieved only through revolution of the masses and People's War
- In 1973 Spanish Maoist group GRAPO started an armed campaign against the Francoist regime which continued until 1996, over twenty years after Franco's death
- Bhutan Communist Party and its armed wing Bhutan Tiger Force are trying to start People's War in Bhutan
- On Protracted War
- Soviet partisans
- Viet Cong and PAVN strategy, organization and structure
- Colombian conflict (1964–present)
- Paraguayan People's Army insurgency
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- VK Shashikumar. Red Terror: India under siege from within, CNN-IBN, March 16, 2006.