Guerrilla Warfare (book)

For the 1937 book by Mao Zedong, see On Guerrilla Warfare.
Guerrilla Warfare

Guerrilla Warfare, published by Ocean Books (2006)
Author Che Guevara
Language English
Genre History, Military Tactics, Revolutionary Ideology
Publisher New York: Monthly Review Press
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 175
ISBN 0-8032-7075-5

Guerrilla Warfare (Spanish: La Guerra de Guerrillas) is a book by Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara that was written right after the Cuban Revolution and published in 1961. It soon became the guidebook for thousands of guerrilla fighters in various countries around the world.[1]

After his success in the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara gained a global reputation as a rising revolutionary figure, which eventually led him to write Guerilla Warfare. In the manual, Guevara espouses three reasons for revolution: a lack of legitimacy by the incumbent elite to govern the country, the existence of tensions that cannot by redressed by regular channels, and all legal avenues to change the situation are perceived as closed.[2] Although providing enough evidence and support for his ideas and tactics, Guevara on multiple occasions states that, while these tactics were effective for him and his men in Cuba, they will not necessarily be successful in other regions.


Guerrilla Warfare is a manual for the left-wing insurgency that draws on Guevara's experience as a participant in the Cuban revolution. It elaborates the foco theory (foquismo), for which the guerrilla operates as a vanguard even before the development of the "objective" conditions for a popular uprising.

While many draw parallels with Mao Zedong's On Guerrilla Warfare, Guevara claimed he had not read Mao's book. Instead it draws on the lessons of fighting during the Cuban Revolutionary War, which in turn were informed by two books from the Spanish Civil War, Nuevas guerras and Medicina contra invasión, stressing the need for an underpinning political motivation to guerrilla methods, organisation and supply.

Guevara goes on and divides the book into three different Chapters, each entailing their own perspectives on the roles of those who belong to a revolutionary cause. The first chapter labeled “General Principles of Guerrilla Warfare”, goes on and discusses the basics of what it means to be part of a Guerrilla War, the topics range from the essences of Guerrilla Warfare to tactics, strategies, and suburban warfare. Chapter two labeled “The Guerrilla Band” talks about the roles that a Guerrilla fighter must take on while being part of a revolution, things ranging from being a Social Reformer to being a combatant, to even the organization and development of the band before and after the war. Chapter three labeled “Organization of Guerilla Front” which focuses more on the logistics of a Guerrilla War, ranging from supplies to training, it is an all aspects sorts of a chapter which goes into further detail than the previous two chapters.[3] Much of the manual is devoted to matters of a practical nature, such as the type of armaments best suited to guerrilla forces, and the optimum size of a given guerrilla band.

Guevara emphasizes that guerrilla warfare is a favorable method only against totalitarian regimes, (such as the revolutionary war against the Batista dictatorship in Cuba), where political opposition and legal civil struggle is impossible to conduct. South African revolutionaries read the work in the early 1960s; former Minister of Intelligence, Ronnie Kasrils, notes that the Apartheid regime's police questioned his late wife about an order of "Che Guevara's book on guerrilla warfare."[4]

Guevara dedicated the book to his recently deceased comrade Camilo Cienfuegos, "who should have read and corrected it, but whose fate prevented him from carrying out the task."



Guevara states that the "three fundamental lessons" of the Cuban revolutions are:

"1) Popular forces can win a war against the army. 2) It is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them. 3) In underdeveloped America, the countryside is the basic area for armed fighting."[5]

This book can be seen as an example of how to continue the Guerrilla front in a struggling revolution. By providing tactics and strategies to other fighters this book serves as a guidebook for future revolutionaries.

Even though the role of a guerrilla fighter is to fight any life with their life on the line, it is seen as though the fighter is the core strength of the revolution. Without any fighter willing to lay their life on the line for the concept of the revolution, a revolution can not occur. The vanguard of the fighters is seen as the driving force of not only the bands power but also the driving force in the reform of society and the spreading of revolutionary ideologies.[6]

Social Reform

In the book, Guevara talks about how in addition to being a Guerrilla fighter, they must also be social reformists. They must live through example, they must live an ascetic life with impeccable morality with strict self-control, so that they may always stay on the right path.[7] With the vanguard of the Guerrilla front being a central focal point for social reform, through their lives and examples society as a whole will reform to revolutionary ideals.

Guevara also talks about the need to protect civilians, "a peasant must always be helped technically, economically, morally, and culturally, the guerrilla fighter will be a sort of guardian angel" by saving and helping the peasants the process of social reform will increase.[8]


Throughout the book, different combat strategies are discussed each one focusing mostly on combat between organized military groups versus Guerrilla fronts. Strategies ranged from extremely organized strikes against fortified military strongholds, sabotage, and hit and run tactics. Most of these strategies were focused on fighting on uneven grounds since it can be assumed that the Guerrilla front will be undermanned and undersupplied.

Even though tactics and combat are discussed throughout the book, these tactics should be taken as mere examples of effective ways to combat an opposing force. Tactics should be taken and applied to an appropriate situation, but if a fighter finds that the tactic does not serve its intended function they must be able to adapt and find ways to continue. Even though all fighters are expected to lay down their life for the cause of the revolution, it is made clear that human life is the most precious of resources and that if possible a fighter must aim to preserve their life as much as possible.[9]


Foreign Military Involvement

While the book was intended for other revolutionary movements in Latin America, Africa and Asia, it was also studied by counter-revolutionary military schools.[10]

With the success of Che's military campaign in Cuba and the spreading of the communism in Latin America, the rise of US military involvement increased throughout the region following their success. US military even went to the extent of adopting some of Che's tactics in order to better combat guerilla fighters in the jungle.[11] This gave rise to US military training throughout Latin America in order to counteract the spreading of guerrilla movements throughout the region, for example, the legacy and role of the Good Neighbor Policy. Eventually, something that Che himself faced in Bolivia during his Guerrilla Campaign.


Although Che is seen as a left-wing revolutionary at times it can be seen that he is not left-wing enough. One of the concepts that do not fit into the 'Marx' ideas is that of freedom and its meaning for a revolutionary cause. For Marxism freedom was not about "free play" but the rational control of nature and social life by men but for Che freedom and liberation is a process which men must fight for. This process is something that takes dedication, without this dedication freedom was not worth it.[12]


Although the book received an overwhelmingly positive acceptance by Left-wing individuals, the Right-wing did not agree with the publishing of the book. Even though it was accepted by the Left, even they think that Che depicts the process of a Guerrilla war as overly simple and somewhat based on chance. For instance

"The basic and final thesis is that guerrilla warfare can be successful only when the population is in favour of the guerrilleros and is willing to aid and shelter them."
Renzo, Sereno [13]
"Aside from Che's own compelling rhetoric, each of the case histories demonstrates his influence and the application of his analysis in very specific terms."
Wayne, Clegern [14]

See also


  1. Ernesto "Che" Guevara (World Leaders Past & Present), by Douglas Kellner, 1989, Chelsea House Publishers, ISBN 1-55546-835-7, pg 81
  2. “Che Guevara on Guerrilla Warfare: Doctrine, Practice and Evaluation”, by Jose A. Moreno, 1970, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 12, No. 2. Cambridge University Press, pg. 115
  3. “Guerrilla Warfare”, p. 1.
  4. Kasrils, Ronnie. The Unlikely Secret Agent. New York: Monthly Review Press, 2010. ISBN 978-1583672778. p. 9
  5. Guerrilla Warfare, p. 7.
  6. “Che Guevara on Guerrilla Warfare: Doctrine, Practice and Evaluation”, by Jose A. Moreno, 1970, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 12, No. 2. Cambridge University Press, pg. 119
  7. “Che Guevara on Guerrilla Warfare: Doctrine, Practice and Evaluation”, by Jose A. Moreno, 1970, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 12, No. 2. Cambridge University Press, pg. 116
  8. Guerrilla Warfare, p. 39
  9. Guerrilla Warfare, p. 42.
  10. Szulc (1986), p.380
  11. Lewis S. Che Guevara and Guerrilla Warfare: Training for Today's Nonlinear Battlefields. Military Review [serial online]. September 2001;81(5):98. Available from: Military & Government Collection, Ipswich, MA.
  12. The Marxism of Che Guevara: Philosophy, Economics, Revolutionary Warfare. Michael Lowy, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, New York, 1973
  13. Sereno R. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science: GUEVARA, CHE. "Guerrilla Warfare" (Book Review). Published by A.L. Hummel for the American Academy of Political and Social Science; 03/01/1962;340:132.
  14. Clegern WM. The Hispanic American historical review: "Guerrilla Warfare", by Che Guevara (Book Review). Board of Editors of the Hispanic American Review; 05/01/1986;66:392.


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