Research Group 626 Introduction

Following Lenin, all of us keep repeating time and again Marx’s words that insurrection is an art. But this idea is transformed into a hollow phrase, to the extent that Marx’s formula is not supplemented with a study of the fundamental elements of the art of civil war, on the basis of the vast accumulated experience of recent years. Trotsky, 19241

626 Intro

The following texts, further materials from the Deutschland-Russland-Komintern archival collection concerning the military policy of the KPD in 1924-32, an internal PCI assessment of armed struggle in Italy in 1919-22 and a brief report from the KPD military journal Vom Burgerkrieg on the rarely discussed Krakow uprising of November 6th, 1923 have not been selected arbitrarily. We intend with their publication to encourage debate on the concrete complexities of politico-military strategy for proletarian class organizations seeking to master the dynamics of crisis periods. The capacity to exercise such mastery is never spontaneously emergent during the crisis period itself. Rather it reflects the “conditioning” internalized by the organization through prior processes of politico-ideological and military-technical preparation and practice.

The unitary thread which unites the assessments offered in the above texts is the insistence that even when a preexisting proletarian class organization exerts effective hegemony over a broad area of civil society in the absence of sufficient prior conditioning it will be incapable of mastering the crisis. The result? Strategic defeat for the workers movement. It was precisely this absence which formed the subjective aspect of the repetitive defeat of revolutionary attempts outside the USSR in the decade following the October Revolution. The process of party construction must be conceptualized and implemented from the beginning as the process of assemblage of a machine for the seizure of state power. The opposite orientation which assures us that if and when the crisis comes we will find ready to hand the emergent properties for mastery of the situation within the situation itself is suicidal irresponsibility.

The texts below touch on issues of more directly contemporary relevance than those dealt with in the classics of politico-military theory produced during the national democratic revolutions of the 20th century (Mao, Giap, Cabral etc). These texts dealt immediately with the question of revolutionary processes in which the center of gravity was peasant war against semi-feudalism and colonialism. The transformation of the global class structure between then and now has created a situation within which the possibility of revolution is found with increasing exclusivity in an urban struggle by the wage dependent against the bourgeois and its allies. As, such the dilemmas faced by the communists of Western Europe in the Twenties are closer to those which will be encountered by their successors even in the “underdeveloped world” then those which formed the horizon of past national democratic struggles in Asia and Africa2. At the same time new challenges will be posed by the profound transformation in the internal composition of the class produced by the convergence of “deindustrialization” and “deagrarianisation” in the framework of the post 1980 imperialist offensive3.

The past decade from the “Arab Spring” through to the 2019 “year of protests” has seen a number of political crises induced by diffuse popular struggles in urban spaces4. These crises have seen a varying degree of involvement by working class organizations. One aspect consistently lacking in conformity with the general characteristics of the historical period has been the presence of proletarian political organizations capable of transforming the crisis into a struggle for state power. It is the construction of such organization, its embedding throughout the social tissue, which defines the actually existing class vanguard. Not any scholastic mythology of “revolutionary continuity”. With the texts below we hope to provoke thought which instead of mindlessly repeating misunderstood schema, seeks to grasp the strategic requirements of the present with the requisite sensitivity.


  2. For an example of the extensive military literature which takes this into consideration see David Kilcullen, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, Oxford, 2015. For a sociological overview see Mark Beissinger, The Revolutionary City: Urbanization and the Global Transformation of Rebellion, Princeton, 2022. 

  3. For discussions of this convergence and its results see Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso, 2007, Aaron Benanav, A Global History of Unemployment: Surplus Populations in the World Economy, 1949-2010,University of California, Los Angeles, 2015 and The Long Slow Death of Global Development, David Oks and Henry Williams, American Affairs Journal, Winter 2022. 

  4. In the absence of a pole of proletarian leadership the result of these movements is clear: the escalation of the crisis in a reactionary direction. The hope placed in the “streets” as a deus ex machina by all stripes of opportunist is an alibi which evades the complex questions posed by the requirement of reconstruction of the class on multiple interdependent levels.