People's war

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People's war
Simplified Chinese人民战争
Traditional Chinese人民戰爭

People's war, also called protracted people's war, is a Maoist military strategy. First developed by the Chinese communist revolutionary 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 warfare and guerrilla warfare. It was used by the Chinese communists against the Imperial Japanese Army in World War II, and by 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.


In China[edit]

Simplified guerrilla warfare organization
The classic "3-phase" Maoist model as adapted by North Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh and Võ Nguyên Giáp.[1]

In its original formulation by Chairman 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, the revolutionary force conducting people's war starts in a remote area with mountainous or forested 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 Soviet 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.

Historian David Priestland dates the beginning of the policy of people's war to the publication of a "General Outline for Military Work" in May 1928, by Chinese Central Committee. This document established official military strategies to the Chinese Red Army during the Chinese civil war.[2]

In February 2020, the Chinese Communist Party launched an aggressive campaign described by the Party general secretary Xi Jinping as a "people's war" to contain the spread of the coronavirus.[3]

Outside China[edit]

Outside China, the people's war doctrine has been successful in Cuba, Nepal, Vietnam, 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[edit]

Conflicts in the following list are labelled the People's War by the Maoists

Date Conflict State Rebel group Revolutionary base area Deaths Result
1 August 1927 – 7 August 1950 Chinese Civil War  China Communist Party of China Communist-controlled China cca. 8 million Communist victory
1 November 1955 – 30 April 1975 Vietnam War  South Vietnam Viet Cong Memot District (1966–72)
Lộc Ninh (1972–75)
1,326,494–4,249,494 Communist victory
23 May 1959 – 2 December 1975 Laotian Civil War  Laos Lao People's Party Xam Neua 20,000–62,000 killed Communist victory
17 January 1968 – 17 April 1975 Cambodian Civil War  Cambodia Communist Party of Kampuchea Ratanakiri Province 275,000–310,000 killed Communist victory
18 May 1967 – present Naxalite–Maoist insurgency  India Communist Party of India (Maoist) Red corridor cca. 14,000 Ongoing
29 March 1969 – present Communist rebellion in the Philippines  Philippines Communist Party of the Philippines Samar more than 40,000 Ongoing
12 September 1972 – present Maoist insurgency in Turkey  Turkey Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist
  • Liberation Army of the Workers and Peasants of Turkey
Tunceli Province 500+ Maoists killed Ongoing
1978-1990 Nicaraguan Revolution  Nicaragua Sandinistas
  • Sandinista Popular Army
North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region 30,000+ killed Communist victory
17 May 1980 – present Internal conflict in Peru  Peru Communist Party of Peru–Shining Path
  • People's Guerilla Army
Ayacucho Region 70,000+ killed Ongoing
13 February 1996 – 21 November 2006 Nepalese Civil War  Nepal Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) Rapti Zone 17,800 killed overall Comprehensive Peace Accord
1965–1983 Communist insurgency in Thailand  Thailand Communist Party of Thailand
  • People's Liberation Army of Thailand
Nakhon Phanom Province 1,450+ soldiers, police, and officials killed Government victory
2 April 1948 – 21 September 1988 Communist insurgency in Myanmar  Myanmar Communist Party of Burma
  • People's Army of Burma
Shan State 3,000+ killed Government victory
c. December 1962 – 3 November 1990 Communist insurgency in Sarawak  Malaysia North Kalimantan Communist Party
  • North Kalimantan People's Army
Sarawak 400–500 killed Government victory
26 March 1971 – 16 December 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War  Bangladesh Provisional Government of Bangladesh Mujibnagar, Kushtia cca. 3 Million Victory of Armed Forces and Freedom Fighters of Bangladesh

In some other countries, maoists tried or still are trying to start and develop the People's War:

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Võ Nguyên Giáp, Big Victory, Great Task, (Pall Mall Press, London (1968)
  2. ^ Priestland, Davis (2009). The Red Flag: A History of Communism. New York: Grove Press. p. 253.
  3. ^ Xie, Huanchi (February 20, 2020). "Xi stresses winning people's war against novel coronavirus". Xinhua News Agency. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, on Monday stressed resolutely winning the people's war of epidemic prevention and control with firmer confidence, stronger resolve and more decisive measures.


External links[edit]