Is guerilla warfare a reflection of the will of the people or does guerilla warfare produce ‘the people’? Give empirical examples to illustrate your claims.


This is a research paper to be written in Harvard style. I am uploading the core readings as well as the marking criteria plus a list of further resources which can be used to support the argument. I submitted an outline for the essay to the professor and he says that I should follow the following structure in the paper:
-key questions to be answered;
-key argument of the hypothesis;
-specific examples to be used (either Chinese communist or the Cuban revolution) 


Title: Is guerilla warfare a reflection of the will of the people or does guerilla warfare produce ‘the people’?


Guerilla warfare is a type of war in which partisan fighters move in small bands as they constantly harass an invading army through surprise raids, deception, and ambushes. This type of warfare was first formally recognized in the Peninsula War, which was fought between 1807 and 1814. Guerilla warfare is considered appropriate when a nation is inferior in terms of military equipment in comparison to the aggressor nation.

Guerilla warfare is normally resorted to in circumstances where an enemy, normally an invading nation, has maintained an oppressive hold on the masses. The tactical organization of forces in this war is heavily dependent on the goodwill of the people living in the locality (Guevara 1961, p. 7). A key advantage for both the guerilla forces and the local people is that they understand the climate, terrain, and the social setting in a better way. This reduces the number of obstacles they have to face in the course of the war despite the inferiority of their military equipment and ammunition.

The main argument of hypothesis in this paper is that guerilla warfare is a reflection of the will of the people. In this regard, the main question to be answered is the different ways in which this type of warfare reflects the will of the people. To illustrate this claim, examples are drawn from the Chinese Communist Revolution. The questions to be answered dwell on the way guerilla war is organized and the relationship between guerilla warfare, political goals, and the will of the people. An assessment is also made on how history has shown guerilla warfare to be a reflection of the will of the people. Finally, the research paper provides the example of Chinese guerilla resistance against the Japanese imperialists as a reflection of the will of the Chinese people.


How guerilla war is organized

At the beginning, bands of resistance that arise from among the masses tend to suffer from the problem of lack of proper organization. However, these bands tend to have characteristics that make it easy for proper organization to occur. The leaders who spring up from these disorganized units come from both political and military ranks.

An analysis of how guerilla band are formed gives a clear indication that this type of warfare is a reflection of the will of the people. There are different ways in which guerilla bands may form, the most common one being the masses of the people. Other than the masses, the resistance may crop up from among regular army units. These units may have been either temporarily or permanently detailed for this purpose. In other instances, regular army units embark on activities of recruiting from the masses or from the local militia. Other sources of recruits include former deserters and bandit groups.

A striking feature of all these recruitment processes is that the masses of the people are involved. Among these people, there are structures of leadership that facilitate the process of guerilla band formation. Involvement of community leaders is critical in ensuring that there is cooperation at all levels. These leaders may include local professionals, politicians, religious leaders, and military experts. All these leaders are required to have patriotic qualities so that they can share in the aspirations of the people.

The participation of the people is also seen in the case of guerilla units formed through coalescence of smaller units derived from the regular forces. In this case, many groups may be temporarily detached from divisions, armies, and brigades and assigned guerilla duties. For these duties to be carried out successfully there has to be an underlying objective that resonates across the social context of the ongoing war. It is for this reason that the individuals to whom the duties are assigned have to understand the terrain, climate, and social life, of the locality within which they have to operate. An excellent example of this scenario is the activities of the Eighth Route Army, which was involved in fighting the Japanese incursion into North China.

The high level of adaptability required of guerilla fighters makes it a difficult undertaking for regular units. This adaptability is a prerequisite if hostilities are to be sustained on a grand scale over long periods. For the guerilla fighters, the only way to weather these hardships is through guaranteed material and social support from the local people. Other than this support, the guerilla fighters have to value the mission so much that they are able to maintain discipline. This disciplinary mode of operation manifests itself in the context of the need to fight a common enemy.

The masses also participate in the work of ensuring that the enemy supply lines are severed. Once regular units withdraw from an area, the enemy force tends to get the illusion that resistance subsided and that time to make further advance has come. However, guerilla units remain behind to ensure that the supply lines remain closed through hit-and-run operations and surprise attacks. In this regard, the support of the local people is called for in terms of material, social, and logistical support. This type of support normally indicates an unwavering support and loyalty from the masses. In essence, the guerilla units appear to be the people’s representatives in the war. This kind of support was evident in the guerilla tactics employed during the Chinese resistance war. Long after the withdrawal of the country’s regular forces, in Shanghai-Woosung district, guerilla bands continued undertaking independent operations.

In Mao Tse-Tung’s conception of the organization of guerrilla bands, an underlying assumption is that the people share in the goals being pursued (Tse-Tung, Mao, & Griffith 2000, p. 8). This assumption appears to give Tse-Tung confidence in his conceptualization of military areas and the appointment of political commissioners and military commanders.

The same thing may be said regarding the elements of a typical guerilla army. A key element of this warfare is that the people involved have to be of strong, positive character. They have to be brave and optimistic to survive the difficulties that come their way. Mao Tse-tung argues that the guerilla fighters have to act in one accord with the people whom they seek to emancipate (Tse-Tung, Mao, & Griffith 2000, p. 29).

The qualities that Tse-Tung emphasizes on among guerillas are those that one would expect from the best representatives of a people (Tse-Tung, Mao, & Griffith 2000, p. 32). Some of the qualities emphasized on include the ability to mix easily with all people, natural endowment with leadership qualities, ability to be completely loyal, and the ability to facilitate cordial relations with local civilians. Other key attributes include familiarity with the locality and the ability to offer education and training to others.

According to Mao, a fundamental principle upon which a guerilla group ought to operate is voluntary service. Mao argues that it is a big mistake to attempt to impress people into joining guerilla service. All that is required is his willingness to fight for his people. In such a case, his social position should not be put into consideration. This clearly indicates the extent to which Mao considers guerilla war to be a reflection of the people’s will.

In ideal situations when a society picks out representatives on such an important mission such as that of repelling invading foreign imperialists, care is always taken to ensure that the right people are chosen (Guevara 1961, p. 7). The same case applies to guerilla war fighters. Mao elaborates the strict code of conduct that was expected of guerilla fighters during the Chinese war against the Japanese. Vicious people and vagabonds were excluded. The same fate befell people with the opium habit. The need to maintain cleanliness, purity, and discipline in line with the highest levels of social morality is never put into question.

Upon qualifying and joining a guerilla group, there is always need for the soldiers to be sensitized about the risks of being taken advantage of and used by enemy troops. This may apply to certain soldiers, particularly those who lack in conscience and patriotism. Such soldiers may be used by the enemy for betrayal purposes. In Mao’s view, this is the main reason why education and training on patriotism and conscience is a requirement in guerilla war. In case traitors are detected within the ranks of the guerilla force, the right thing to do is to expel them before they can betray the people.

Importantly, Mao argues that the task of eliminating traitors with the guerilla army should begin with elimination of these people from among the people (Moss 1971, p. 56). This assertion goes a long way in attesting to the strong link that Mao believes exists between guerilla warfare and the will of the people. This is definitely the reason why Mao considers it appropriate for Chinese soldiers who have in the past served bandits and puppet governments and have since been converted to be allowed to join the guerilla army, both as individuals and as groups. Like in any society, some of the people may be keen to join the guerilla war in order to undertake interests that are not quite similar to those of the people. For Mao, such people should be identified and dismissed from the military service.


A historical perspective: Guerilla warfare as a reflection of the will of the people

Guerilla warfare has been an integral of military encounters since the earliest historical days where people from all social classes rose up against oppressors. This strategy, when executed under the right conditions, tends to have many chances of success (Laqueur 2009, p. 138). A crucial issue, for purposes of this paper, is that of showing that from these earliest historical times, guerilla warfare has been a reflection of the will of the people. This attribute can be identified despite the fact that the guerilla wars fought in the course of human history have their unique characteristics, processes, and conclusions.

One of the most commonly cited example was that of French invasion of Russia under Napoleon in September 1812 (Beckett 2001, p. 152). This army, consisting of several hundred thousand men, invaded Russia, an ill-prepared country whose fledgling military was virtually helpless in the face of the large, well-trained French army. The Russians easily gave up Moscow, after which the only other option was to form guerilla divisions, each consisting of 500 individuals (Rothenberg 1978, 93).

In the Russian incursion, it was clear that the people were in dire need of liberation. In this case, it is true to say that the guerilla divisions that carried on with the war were a reflection of the will of the Russian people (Arreguin 2001, p. 121). The groups were vast, considering that a large section of the membership was drawn from peasants. These vast groups were able to continually harass the French army, even with its leadership of Napoleon, the most famous soldier of his time in Europe. As the French Army started withdrawing, the guerillas constantly harassed them, eventually leading to their surrender.

Although the regular army played a remarkable in the annihilation of the French force, the partisan groups that formed into guerilla units greatly contributed to the defeat of the enemy of the people (Schmit 2004, p. 29). The cooperation between the guerillas and the people was so critical that victory was achieved even without proper formal organizational structures and sufficient supply of military equipment.

Still in Russia, the example of opposition to Russian Soviets between 1918 and 1920 is worth pointing out. At this time, the Russian Soviets were encountering so much intervention and opposition from foreign imperialists that they had to come together into guerilla units and advance towards all occupied territories (Gray 1999, p. 83). This move led to an outbreak of an all-out war. This war was a reflection of the aspirations that people had of attaining liberty and living free of any intruders.

Some of the regions where the guerillas made remarkable progress included Alashan and Siberia, where they operated in the rear of the imperialist army, in a typical guerilla fashion (Mack 1975, p. 187). The participation of local inhabitants manifested itself mainly through the numerous Red Russian guerillas. The ever-moving guerillas proved to be a real challenge to the retreating White Army. This army had already suffered counter-attacks from regular Red forces and was therefore withdrawing its troops from the battlefront. The key issue here is the ability with which the guerilla was able to keep maneuvering across vast regions. This is an indication of the support that it had from local inhabitants. This is unlike the invading army, which faced resistance from all fronts, leading to losses despite being in possession of superior military equipment (Fearon & Laitin 2003, p. 314).

A fate similar to that of the French army befell the Italian army in Abyssinia. Between 1935 and 1936, Abyssinia was overrun by Italy. Some of the reasons for the defeat included dissenting political groups, a weak government party, and lack of a proper mobile warfare policy. Despite these weaknesses, made worse by the lack of modern military equipment, the large-scale guerilla operations that the Abyssinians formed were able to sustain resistance to the Italians for a whole seven months. Whenever the guerillas struck, they would deal heavy blows to the Italians. In the end, these blows led to the eventual defeat of the Italian army consisting of more than 400,000 troops. This clearly indicates the wonderful resistance when a guerilla supported by local people can impose on an invading army. It is indeed rare for an invading army to end up being the eventual winner in a locality full of guerillas whose mission reflects the will of the local inhabitants.

The relationship between guerilla warfare, political goals, and the will of the people

Guerilla warfare cannot succeed without a political goal. Moreover, the political objectives of the warfare have to coincide with the will of the people. This is the best way of guaranteeing their sympathy and cooperation. This characteristic makes guerilla warfare to be revolutionary in nature. This characteristic may be contrasted in counter-revolutionary hostilities, where the need for guerilla warfare does not arise.

As Mao Tse-tung argues, guerilla troops should always have in mind a clear conception of the political goal of the armed struggle and the political structures being used to attain that goal (Katzenbach & Hanrahan 1955, p. 326). This is where the organization and discipline of the guerilla forces come into play. As part of a revolution, guerilla warfare must have elements of discipline and proper organization. In the case of China’s war with Japan, the country’s political and military had to be indoctrinated with anti-Japanese sentiments. It is trough them that this anti-Japanism permeated into all the ranks of the guerilla army. Ideally, the fighters needed to be anti-Japanese not just because they were in the army, but because it was an ever-present conviction. This ever-present conviction was imperative in this long-duration war, characterized by intermittent attempts by enemy troops to woo the fighters who showed signs of not being strong-willed. This strong conviction arose from the knowledge that the people of China were in support of a free and happy country free of imperialists. In other words, the patriotism education was aimed at reminding the guerilla troops that they were fights on behalf of the Chinese people.

Similarly, in any revolution, it is imperative that the political goal is communicated and clearly understood by the people inhabiting all guerilla zones. This leads to the awakening of national consciousness (Asprey 1994, p. 95). Since the inhabitants play a critical role in the realization of this political goal, it is important that it is clearly communicated to them. This communication also helps cement the relationship that exists between the soldiers and the people.

In the case of the Sino-Japanese war that culminated in the Chinese revolution, officers of the guerilla bands had a critical duty of ensuring that all political objectives were adhered to (Joes 1996, p. 29). It was also their duty to ensure that the aspiration of the Chinese people to free of Japanese imperialists was turned into a reality. In this regard, Mao was keen to stress that it was naïve of some military officers to say that they are not interested in politics; that they are only interested in the acquisition of arms. Mao’s message for such officers was that military action is a method of attaining a political goal. Mao further reiterated that while military goals were different in character from political affairs, the two were virtually inseparable.

Mao Tse-tung expressed hope that the world was going through the last era of civil strife. He contextualized guerilla warfare in the perspective whereby people across the world were understood to be preparing for a war that would bring justice to all oppressed groups. In this understanding, there is a strong link between this military strategy and the aspirations of the people. Mao argued that no matter how long this era lasted, it would be followed by a long peaceful epoch. In essence, this was an expression of an understanding of the people’s desire for peace and justice at all means, including war.

However, at first glance, it may be difficult to grasp the political activities of guerilla as applied to the guerilla troops, to the people, and to the enemy force. A case in point is the tendency for discipline to be established within the revolutionary army on a limited democratic basis. One may argue that by leaving room for only limited democratic participation, the military may be locking up opportunities for the people to express themselves through their most preferred representatives. However, this is not true. It is military practice around the world for subordinates to be expected to portray an air of discipline to their superiors. Progress along the ranks of the military is achieved not by popular opinion but by diligence, discipline, and achievement on the battlefront.

Moreover, in any military setting, unity of purpose is assumed to take precedence over democratic values. Democratic values are put into consideration to the extent that this unity of purpose is maintained. For Mao, the most important thing in this regard is for discipline to be self-imposed (Schram 1963, p. 266). This way, the soldier is left to himself to understand why he is fighting. Here, Mao’s conception of guerilla war, in a way, appears point to the achievement of the goal of complete representation of the people’s will.

It is also imperative to focus on the liberties that are accorded to soldiers and officers. Mao argues that all individuals in the guerilla war have the right to discuss the political context of the war. They are free to discuss the war and why there is a need to liberate the people. In the context of such discussions, it appears important, according to Mao, for both soldiers and their officers to live under the same conditions. Ordinarily, one would expect the foot soldiers to live under conditions that highly resemble those of local inhabitants. Bringing higher-ranking officers to this level is much like nurturing a closer relationship with both these foot soldiers and the local inhabitants. This close relationship goes a long way in creating a greater understanding of the people’s will. Once this will is respected by the soldiers, they can always find it easy to get material, social, and logistical assistance from local communities.

There is also a lot of truth in Mao’s assertion that although the theory of equality cannot be applied in all military activities, there must be equality in understanding and accepting the dangers and hardships that come with war. This understanding and appreciation is critical in the attainment of both vertical and horizontal unification across different guerilla units. When such unity is maintained over a long time, it may be true to say that the guerilla strategy has truly reflects the will of the people.

In the context of the Chinese revolution, Mao Tse-tung came up with three core rules guiding the spirit of unity between guerilla soldiers and local inhabitants. First, all guerilla actions had to be subject to command; secondly, troops were strictly prohibited from stealing from the people; thirdly, the troops had to refrain from being selfish or unjust at all times.

Other than these rules, other guiding instructions required soldiers to be courteous, to return whatever they borrow, to be honest in all their transactions, to replace what they destroy, to maintain decency, and to avoid arbitrary searches on arrested individuals without authority. Such instructions have an air of semblance with a properly operating social setting. In such a context, it is easy for local inhabitants to embrace the fighters in their mission. Indeed, by adhering to this code, The Red Army was able to win the support of local people in areas where it operated. Later on, the success of this code led to its adoption by the Eighth Route Army as well as other guerilla units.

It is by standing by the will and aspirations of the people that a weaker guerilla unit is able to survive for a long time in the rear of a stronger invading army, as was the case in China War with Japanese imperialists. The guerilla units were intricately intertwined with local inhabitants, such that getting of the units would be akin to wiping out the whole population. As Mao puts it, the local people are to the guerilla fighters what water is to fish. Therefore, the decision by some undisciplined guerilla fighters to make people their enemies may be likened to a fish that falls out of favor with water!

In the Chinese guerilla model as stipulated by Mao, propagandizing the enemy troops was a key strategy that would bring the guerilla units closer to the people in terms of shared mission, aspirations, and conscience (Valentino 2004, p. 386). The propagandizing effect was achieved by being considerate to the needs of captured soldiers, and giving proper care to the enemy soldiers who fell into the hands of the guerilla units. For Mao, failure to adhere to these values would lead to strengthening of the enemy’s values and positive perception in the eyes of the Chinese public. Adherence to these values, on the other hand, would instill an air of nobility in the Chinese army while effectively propagandizing the enemy army.


The example of Chinese guerilla resistance against the Japanese imperialists

The Chinese war strategists discovered that the Japanese military power was not adequate for the vast Chinese territory. As Mao notes, in such a scenario, the primary roles of guerillas had to be threefold. The first one entailed attacking exterior lines in the enemy’s rear; the second one was to establish new bases; and the third one was to extend the areas that functioned as war zones.

The decision to increase the war zones must have been to increase the vulnerability of the Japanese army to attacks by local people. The oneness existing among the local population would come in handy, particularly considering that the goals of the people would be reflected in perennial guerilla activities. This puts the people at the heart of the military process, a core component of which was the guerilla. In this way, one can clearly see the connection between guerilla activity and the underlying aspirations of local people in the face of an invading imperialist force.

In the case of the Chinese resistance to the Japanese troops, it was clear that the guerilla strategy entailed living as much as possible like the local inhabitants of various battle fronts. This feature of guerilla strategy has tended to replicate itself in many historical examples. The guerillas normally try as much as possible to lead a lifestyle that portrays them as a representation of the tribulations that the local population is going through in the course of war. The guerillas do not have any privileges that can in any way elevate them above the average local inhabitant. Apart from concealing their movement, this association is crucial in creating an image that is acceptable to the people on behalf of whom the war is being fought. Moreover, this association helps in heightening the feeling of alienation that the local people tend to have against the invading troops.

Most importantly, sacrifices that the guerillas make in their lifestyles are always necessary for both self-preservation and the destruction of the enemy (Ewald 1991, 119). However, these sacrifices are not only meant for the survival of the guerillas; they are also meant for the survival of the entire local population. As Mao notes, this was an integral part of the Chinese guerilla war strategy against the imperialist Japanese army. Mao argues that by adopting lifestyles similar to those of local inhabitants, the guerillas are effectively shooting at their enemy from a properly covered position.

In a revolutionary war, such as that of China under Mao Tse-tung, guerilla units start from scratch and then grow in numbers, organizational strength, discipline, and military success. Incidentally, the factors that have to do with this transformation indicate the extent to which these guerillas are a reflection of the will of the local population. For instance, the guerillas have to retain initiative and careful planning of attacks. These plans are drawn out from the comfort of positions that are concealed by local people. If the people were against the idea of guerilla war, they would betray the planners to the invading army. However, this rarely happens, except in rare cases in which suspected providers of logistical assistance are intimidated, harassed and tortured into giving vital information regarding enemy activity.

According to Mao, mobile operations constitute another feature of a guerilla unit that will end up growing in organizational and tactical strength (Clutterbuck 1980, p. 171). All that such a guerilla unit needs is the correct command. In retrospect, Mao notes that in the Chinese context, the Japanese enemy was strong in quality of equipment and troops while the Chinese were strong in numerical terms and weak in qualitative terms. In this regard, the numerical strength of the population was viewed as a reflection of a high potential for the success of guerilla warfare strategy. To this extent, it was clear that no line was drawn between the will of the people and the activities of guerilla units.

The inseparability of the aspirations of the people and the activities of guerilla units was clearly manifested in the tactical policies and operations of the Chinese army as described by Mao Tse-tung (Zedong 2010. p. 213). These policies emphasized mainly the elements of defensive operations, tactical speed, protracted nature of guerilla war, and focus on attacks directed at interior lines. Owing to the unanimous support of the people, the speed and confidence with which the guerillas were required to launch their surprise attacks was described by Mao as entailing ‘supernatural rapidity’.

Mao saw Japanese cruelty on the inhabitants of the areas they occupied as a strategic strength for the guerilla units. This was because in such areas, the guerillas were assured of unanimous cooperation and support from these local people. This strength was reinforced by the Japanese underestimation of the Chinese army. The Japanese cruelty to the local people was seen as a catalyst for strengthening the relationship between guerillas and the local people. In the context of such cruelty, the local people, more than ever before would value the presence and operations of the guerillas, prompting them to provide assistance in all ways possible.


In conclusion, it is clear that guerilla warfare reflects the will of the people rather than producing ‘the people’. The organization of guerilla units is heavily dependent on grassroots support as well as material and social assistance of the local inhabitants. It is not surprising, therefore, that the guerillas tend to lead their lives in much the same way as the local people. When executing their operations, they heavily rely on their deep understanding of the locality and aspirations of the people to wage a protracted war.

Being part of the society that is being invaded by a superior imperialist force, the guerillas tend to be readily accepted into the social fabric, and their conscience and drive for liberty reflects that of the local people. It is not surprising therefore that Mao considered it mandatory for guerilla fighters as well as their officers during the Chinese revolution to lead their lifestyles in a similar way with the local inhabitants. This greatly helped the guerillas maintain their crucial status as representatives of the people’s quest for liberty. Moreover, in the Chinese guerilla war, just like in other guerilla strategies in the course of history, there was a strong relationship between the military undertakings, political goals, and the will of the people.


Arreguin, T, 2001, ‘How the Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict’, International Security, Vol.26, No.1 pp. 93-128.

Asprey, R, 1994, War in the shadows: The guerrilla in history, Morrow Publishers, New York.

Beckett, I, 2001, Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies: Guerrillas and Their Opponents since 1750, Routledge, London.

Clutterbuck, R, 1980, Guerrillas and terrorists, Ohio University Press, Chicago.

Ewald, J, 1991, Treatise on Partisan Warfare (Translation, introduction, and annotation by Robert A. Selig and David Curtis Skaggs), Greenwood Press, New York.

Fearon, J, & Laitin, D, 2003, ‘Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War’, American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 1, pp. 182-273.

Gray, C, 1999, Small Wars and Other Savage Violence’ in Modern Strategy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1999.

Guevara, E, 1961, Guerrilla Warfare, Penguin Books, New York.

Joes, A, 1996, Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical, Biographical, and Bibliographical Sourcebook, Greenwood, London.

Katzenbach, E, & Hanrahan, G, 1955, ‘The Revolutionary Strategy of Mao Tse-Tung’, Political Science Quarterly, Vol.70, No.3, pp. 321-340.

Laqueur, W, 2009, Guerrilla Warfare: A Historical & Critical Study, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick.

Mack, A, 1975, ‘Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict’, World Politics, Vol. 27, No. 3, pp. 175-200.

Moss, R, 1971, ‘Urban guerrilla warfare’, The Adelphi Papers, Vol. 11, No. 79, pp. 41-69.

Rothenberg, G, 1978, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon, Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Schmit T, 2004, The Theory of the Partisan: A Commentary/Remark on the Concept of the Political, Free Press, New York.

Schram, S, 1963, ‘Chinese and Leninist Components in the Personality of Mao Tse-Tung’, Asian Survey, Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 259-273.

Tse-Tung, M, Mao, Z, & Griffith, S, 2000, On Guerrilla Warfare, University of Illinois Press, Chicago.

Valentino, B, 2004, ‘“Draining the Sea”: Mass Killing and Guerrilla Warfare’, International Organization, Vol. 58, No. 11, pp. 375-407.

Zedong, M, 2010. The Red Book of Guerrilla Warfare, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

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