It is ironic that Che Guevara’s most famous words, “Hasta la victoria siempre,”1 would be contrary to his ideas about guerrilla warfare. While his cause was Communist economic and social equality his methods of achieving this were based in deception and strategic offense, rarely relying on unity except within the ideals. Guerrilla warfare, a revamp of ancient warfare, has become the most modern concept of military tactic in the world and while its methods are taught primarily in a battlefront sense, much like Sun-Tsu’s Art of War, Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare is applicable in a variety of philosophies of conquest, specifically in the hostile political realm. Upon studying his philosophy, I realized that I had already engaged in my own guerrilla warfare in my own life, and had been studying it myself for some time.
Ernesto Guevara de la Serna was born June 14, 1928, in Rosario, Argentina, and went on to lead many socialist revolutions with tactics based in guerrillas warfare in Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and most notably, Cuba. To this day, he is one of the most noted revolutionaries of all time; ghetto gang bangers and college students alike can be seen sporting his profile in black and red on a t-shirt. After his successful campaign in Cuba in January of 1959 he published a brief manual called On Guerrilla Warfare which he later updated when he published Guerrilla Warfare: A Method in May of 1960. Che Guevara was killed leading a revolt in Bolivia October 8, 1967. The execution of Guevara by the Bolivian Army did little to stop Latin American socialist revolutions but did a lot to immortalize Che as a martyr; October 8 is designated “The Day of the Heroic Guerrilla” by his supporters.2
Guerrilla warfare is a fairly simple concept to understand; it’s basically the “hit and run” strategy – the idea that over time a group of less number and supply can defeat a group of greater number and supply mainly utilizing attrition damage counting on victory via fatigue. While Che Guevara’s military experience was in the Central American jungles, he too started out a college student just like myself, and certainly utilized this strategy as I have depending on the environments that we have been placed in. To discuss guerrilla warfare, it is best to explain what it is and how it works, and how it differs from other methods of warfare. This is all perfectly described in a quote by Major Harries-Clichy Peterson, USMC-R, from 1963:
“Civil war is a war between two groups of the same nation. Rebellion is open, organized resistance against previously established authority. Revolution is a successful rebellion. Revolt and insurrection are armed uprisings in which the outcome is quickly decided. Bandit warfare is armed fighting to support life by plunder. Partisan or orthodox guerrilla warfare is armed fighting by light troops, detached or separately established from the regular army, whose operations they support principally by harassing a common enemy, usually without seizing or defending substantial land areas.”3
The greatest difficulty in this age is that we are dealing with independent terrorist groups and not open organized revolutionary armies; the reality is that there are many kinds of terrorism, guerrilla warfare being one of them. Any kind of assault designed to cause fear is terrorism, be it daily timed bombing raids or random suicide bombers. Guerrilla warfare uses sabotage, though Che points out that “indiscriminate terrorism against groups of ordinary people is inefficient and can provoke massive retaliation,” which explains the state of the United States and the Arab Middle East in the last two decades. It is important to not attack the people that you are attempting to eventually save; without the support of at least some of the people, guerrilla warfare is impossible – Che found this to be true in Bolivia, where his goals and attitudes were not accepted by enough of the people there, leading to his death. Guevara continues, saying “…terrorism to repay the cruelty of a key individual in the oppressor hierarchy is justifiable…many feel that once terrorism is used and the oppressor angered, sympathetic communication with the masses with be more difficult. That is true…it all comes down to calculated risk.” This is to say that acts designated to 1) disrupt normal life (industry, economy, infrastructure, supply/trade, power, communication, etc.) and/or 2) cause ordinary people to fear leaving their homes are either last resorts or tactics utilized when the guerrilla force is large enough to not care how much of the population opposes it or not. It is important to attack targets in strategic sabotage and not random killing, though it may appear random to the population, thus further causing fear and terror and disrupting the entire system.4
The population of whatever given system being attacked is vital as guerrillas often have no ability to acquire lines of supply; ordinarily they are citizens of that system that are within the system. Without enough people to supply a revolt or rebellion, revolution is impossible. Industrial revolutions are ineffective in a modern sense; workers’ rebellions are just that – rebellions that go nowhere. The modern age is developing even beyond industry – in the age of microchip surveillance on every street corner, beginning with an urban assault is absurd. Inside an urban area, a group of fighters has nowhere to go, no way of supplying themselves, and is at an immediate disadvantage of being easily surrounded by the authority of whatever system is in place, not to mention all the access to the “normal life” discussed last paragraph. By beginning in the rural regions of a country it is possible to establish both a greater following in the population as well as have a greater effect on smaller numbers of authoritarian resistance as authority dwindles the farther it must go from its main supply (i.e. cities). A guerrilla’s supply comes from the poor population in rural areas that desire revolution and will support it, as well as confiscated materials from regular troops (i.e. bandit warfare).5
This is obviously a useful tactic for combat situations involving armies and troops and bullets, but that’s not what this paper is about. These tactics have a greater applicability than just a battlefield. My experiences in school politics have been based largely in the concepts of guerrilla warfare both in my actions on the Senate floor as well as within the university community itself. My position has always been that of an elected senator, not one appointed by an organization, proving that I have the “local support” necessary to carry out and support my tactics. My most famous act of guerrilla warfare was the publication The Society’s Source, an “underground newspaper” of sorts that ran a variety of stories either ignored or unknown to the campus. As the campus already had a newspaper, The Campus Chronicle, so The Source had its fair share of resistance. However, we had the basic rural support of upperclassmen living off-campus, which included myself, and at the same time maintained ties within the campus in dorms, apartments, and offices (both professors and administration) to ensure our distribution was possible.
Our situation parallels Guevara’s concept of the inability to wage war from within a system; had I lived on campus instead of just up the street, I would have been within their jurisdiction and could have lost a housing situation or been subject to rights violations by administrative officials that did not support The Source (e.g. resident assistants and directors). For us, the regular army was The Campus Chronicle, not a system itself but a tool of a system, a system we were not out to destroy or even change, merely expose. Our goal was not revolution but rather renaissance. We had the upper echelons of political support we needed but the popular support was weak because so many people attacked the publication itself, mainly because it offered ideas they didn’t usually think about and had no author or name, similar to a guerrilla army; we were just like everyone else, presumably, and that scared a lot of people. I would walk around and hear people talking about what we wrote and then slowly get into the conversation to find out what these people thought about the movement without ever letting them know they were talking to one of the keystone figures of that movement; little did they realize that they had become part of that movement, supporting that movement and saying if they could write for it, they would.
“Absolute secrecy is crucial. The human material must be chosen with care.”6 Originally, this must always be the case. Until a presence is established it is important to let the message itself spread and not the contractors of that message, lest the message be somehow contaminated in the minds of the people. After we had established ourselves and felt that it was “safe,” we told a few people that it was us who wrote it, though to this day there are loves of The Source who have no idea who wrote it, and as it should be. The information existed to enlighten and empower, not alter or pervert or corrupt, though some people certainly felt that way about it.
Helping the people grow is a big part of guerrilla warfare, one The Source had as a #1 priority. Things can happen and sacrifices can be made, but if no one knows they happened, they do not matter. “Carry the campaign to the soldiers, the rural population, the workers; tell them the goals of the revolution, explain why they fought, why their comrades died. Educate them; wipe out illiteracy. Forge the new army into a highly skilled force with a solid ideology and great combat power.”7 The Cuban revolution, in the beginning, was twelve guerrillas and Fidel Castro.8
“Supply is the greatest problem of the guerrilla In early stages of fighting, guerrillas must share the product of the land with the local population, for conditions will not permit the establishment of regular supply lines…it will not present too difficult of a problem, since natives everywhere have some basic sustenance products…” The supply for The Source was meek to say the least; it started with a staff of two and ended with about fifty to a hundred volunteers and well over 300 supporters. The ideas always came from the campus, from the people, because they were the focus of it all; while few actually wrote for the publication itself, many offered feedback and virtually all our ideas came from outside sources. The Source was called such for that reason – The Society is just a collection of people, of sources, and together those sources became one source and collectively spread the knowledge, just like a Guevara revolution.
The most famous guerrilla tactic, called the “minuet,” is an easily executed maneuver that is difficult to defend against. The theory is that one surrounds a group of troops marching, say in two columns of 14 men each; the surrounding members include four groups of four men. Obviously, there is no way for a group of 16 to overtake a group of 28, especially if it’s militia against regular troops. The guerrillas take positions at both flanks as well as the front and rear. The right group attacks the right flank of the troops, drawing fire and a few troops their direction, after which they flee but maintain visual contact to give the illusion that they are actually there for a fight. Then the left flank gets hit, which will hopefully take a few more soldiers in that direction towards the guerrillas utilizing the same tactic. Assuming there have been no casualties (highly unlikely), the enemy will be spread thinner; maybe now it’s 8 to 20 – still not good odds. The rear hits and retreats followed by the front. The goal is not necessarily to cause major damage but massive attrition.9 This is to say that when a group of 28 is divided into five different groups, each group is easier to attack in conventional warfare, which may be what happens when the troops are led away from the main hub. A guerrilla has a better chance against a regular soldier if the guerrilla can find a favorable terrain to fight in, especially when that area is undesirable for the enemy. At the same time, what was once that main hub of 28 men has now decreased to about ten men as they have patrols out looking for who attacked them. Ideally, the guerrilla would defeat the squads in four-on-four combat, being able to return and fight the main hub which is less than half what it once was while hopefully suffering minimal casualties yourself. But even if all that fails, the guerrilla has achieved his goal of making the enemy tired, paranoid, and wasteful as they will start shooting at anything that moves.10
The minuet was a crucial concept for The Source’s survival. On top of publishing essays and thoughts we began one of the craziest advertising campaigns I’ve ever seen. After we received some negative feedback not about our ideas but instead our tactics, like not publishing names of authors or not giving our sources of information, we began to hit back with signs. The signs themselves were nothing special – it had the logo on it along with a short message, normally nothing offensive, like “Smile” or “Don’t take things so seriously” “Is it so bad to have new ideas?” and “Can’t we all just get along?” And we thought ahead, we made them out of light gray cardstock that way it was easier on the eyes to read, wouldn’t blend into all the other white signs around, and would be a real pain to tear apart; we figured they could rip down our signs, but most likely they’d end up on the floor, since they were so hard to tear. What did we care? Our advertisement obviously affected someone enough to attack it and it still exists, lying on the floor, a symbol of martyrdom’s survival. We printed out over two hundred signs having twenty different design layouts; this is to say we had ten signs of each sign. They looked similar, but the messages were slightly different, and were kept off the “main areas” of poster posting. By varying the messages on the signs without changing the message itself, the signs quickly became campus collector’s items, as did copy of The Source itself.
We didn’t put our material on crowded bulletin boards, we’d put it in a hallway, way up in the corner so people had to strain to see it. We’d put copies of The Source under computer lab keyboards. Professors received precopy before anyone else. Each attack we made was in a different direction, and served many purposes. First, it made is near impossible to catch; we were too quick for most people. By the time anyone caught on to what we were doing, we were already done and onto the next thing, attacking and then retreating, then attacking again, until the opposition stopped opposing. Once the enemy realized they couldn’t walk ten feet without seeing a sign of ours nor be able to go into a classroom without hearing, “Did you read the new Source?” Even if they wanted to strike back, who would they strike back? A few knew that I was the leader, but there was nothing they could do to me because I was too far detached from their world. The heaviest support of The Source was on campus with them, no longer off campus with me; we had brought the fight to them and made it stick. Any damage they did would be damaging themselves.
Utilizing an enemy’s style is essential; in order to successfully attack and defeat an enemy, one must utilize the enemy’s tactics. In Vietnam, when militarily-trained guerrillas began attacking regular U.S. troops, the troops had to adjust their Marine training to be more like guerrillas – not just hunting: stalking. Che agrees, saying “arms should be the type used by the enemy.”11 The Society saw a hole in the system – a chink in the armor – and that small lesion was unnoticed by the whole and fully attackable by us, but only in the same style. To combat a newspaper one does not start a television program, one starts a publication; bring the fight to the enemy while still remaining in favorable conditions in the battlefield is fundamental.
Guevara recognized that “the propaganda effort should be well-organized and carried out by two staffs: one for the nation as a whole, the other for the guerrilla forces. Both of these should be coordinated by one director.”12 After a short time of The Source being alive, we realized that “the news” wasn’t enough, and that the people wanted more. So we published Volume II, a springboard page with limited availability presumably for poetry, inside jokes, and recent catchphrases/ideas that were being kicked around but didn’t make it into an actual article of The Source. Volume II allowed us to convey more of our message without actually having to spell it all out for our audience; it was customized for our supporters, whereas The Source really existed for our opposition.
It was necessary to constantly monitor what people were talking about and saying around campus, and why. “You can expect the local residents to be a spontaneous source of information.”13 Sometimes I would hear someone ask a random question while walking around campus (a good question that I knew few people actually knew the answer to – like how the food service contracts actually work) and I would answer the question, sometimes in The Source, Volume II, or in a totally alternate publication. Some were pages long, like the food service information, and only existed in the hands of ten select people told to make sure the knowledge was somehow passed on. We found that one of the best ways to make a demand for something was to make a small quantity of it; the worst thing we ever did with The Source was distribute it in racks.
This method is similar to terrorism in that one uses the system that is in place to destroy the system in place; using what we knew about the school, its staff, and its students, we made a plan of attack that was tailored to at them and based solely within them. If someone outside the school read The Source they probably wouldn’t get it; this would have been similar to Che’s exploits in Bolivia, where he tried to give the same message he gave to other countries, but in a totally different country. Had The Source tried to extend itself to GTCC or UNCG it would have never worked, thus getting back to the idea of keeping a distance but also maintaining a presence. Some of our tactics were based in strict retaliation, just as in any warfare. When we discovered that someone had taken our bamboo distribution racks, we bought kitchen-style garbage cans, filled them up with rocks, and then put them in the exact same spots as where the older two were; totally unmovable, we printed on the inside of the lids, “These racks were paid for by professors,” a slap in the face to many. If you strike a guerrilla, it will only make him want to hurt you more; he’s been getting stricken his whole existence – once one has a cause the damage one sustains no longer matters as much.
The idea of morale is crucial in warfare, and it is the guerrilla’s job to exploit that concept at all times. By constantly chipping away at the whole of an enemy it is possible to eventually bring that enemy down. In boxing, people say “Stick and move” alluding to hitting one’s opponent with one or two punches and then moving away so that the opponent must give chase to attack. A missed punch causes greater fatigue than a blocked punch; even if guerrilla troops are few in number and shooting smaller bullets in number and caliber, the regular military will use more firepower and not kill anything, which is extremely discouraging. Losing a few men from a battle is alright if the enemy was killed; getting punched in a boxing ring is alright as long as you’re able to hit the guy back. “Only high morale, strict discipline, and deep faith in ultimate victory will sustain the forces.”14 This is the heart of the guerrilla – wear the enemy down by whatever means necessary because there is just no other way.
Che makes it explicitly clear that all avenues of politics must be exhausted before armed revolt can occur, otherwise the people will not support it.15 We tried getting our ideas in The Campus Chronicle to no avail, so when the opportunity arose to rise up, we did. By scooping the regular news and reporting on things they had no idea about, they could never keep up with us; in fact, it got to the point where their entire second page was all about The Source because we were the news and they had nothing better to talk about (which was why we were writing The Source in the first place).
Che stresses sabotage as “one of the invaluable weapons of guerrilla warfare,”16 and I must admit that there was talk after our Source racks were taken/destroyed whether or not Chronicle racks should suffer for the damage. It was a hard decision, one that Che Guevara probably would have made the opposite of my own; knowing that whoever vandalized our rack was a supporter of The Campus Chronicle, could we in good conscience attack The Chronicle. The rules of guerrilla warfare suggest the affirmative, as does most other conventional rules of warfare. However, as we had no direct proof that The Chronicle had any part of it, we did nothing to them directly; we instead made new racks that were impossible to ignore or injure, let alone destroy.
After not too long The Society grew to the point where The Source could never be stopped by any other newspaper or even by any group of students – it was too big and too loved by too many. The actuality is that things worked out about the same as in most revolutions; the rebels don’t really win, they just end up bringing about reforms. This year the Chronicle is much better and it’s harder to find things to talk about. We have also broken one of Che’s rules – becoming too disconnected from the people, The Society. This year we published a pathetic two issues, though still asked by many “When is the next Source coming out” that have turned into “What ever happened to The Source?” These people never really understood what it was all about. What they read wasn’t The Source; it was The Society’s Source: the people made it what it was. Too quickly it went from a collaboration of ideas to “Joe Fritz’s and Sam Closic’s Rant Page,” which was never what we wanted – we would rather have seen it dead. So we took another look around and saw that we had made a difference and had exposed a Society that anyone could be a part of if they opened their minds. Our goals were accomplished, so there was no more reason for us to fight; this is not to say we couldn’t talk about things that people ask us to talk about, we just don’t care about them or that anymore because our goals were accomplished. Too often this is what happens in revolution, starting by claiming it wants to help all people when in reality it’s just like every other political organization – it just wants to help itself.
Once a band of guerrillas make a large enough impact on a society, they change it, thus accomplishing their goals. Sometimes there is no decimating victory as Che Guevara might like there to be; sometimes the people prefer compromise. There are still those who say they want more of The Source, and it may well return, I don’t know. Our revolution was one of desire, not necessity; we were not being oppressed, we actually saw others were oppressed and didn’t even realize it or, if they did, never did anything about it. We existed to show people they could do something. “People with such notable devotion and firmness must have an idea that sustains them in the adverse conditions that we have described. This ideal is simple, without great pretensions, and in general does not go very far.”17
2 Guevara, Che. Guerrilla Warfare: A Method. Introduction by Mark Becher. The Monthly Review Press, copywriter by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1968), reprinted with permission with introduction by University of Nebraska Press (1998), 1961.vi-x.
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