Essay, 10 pages (2500 words)

Tactics and targets of revolutionary terrorism politics essay

Revolutionary terrorism is a phenomenon that has affected much of the world since the beginning of the 20th century. This essay will argue that revolutionary terrorism has its roots in revolutionary socialist theory. It is this framework that provides the justifications and rationales for revolutionary terrorist activity. I will begin with an outline of the key concepts of revolutionary thought, as described in the writings of Marx and Engels. Furthermore it will be shown that other key figures, including Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung and Marighella have influenced the evolution of revolutionary terrorism in the 20th Century. Secondly, I will outline the tactics employed by revolutionary terrorist groups and the groups and individuals that constitute their targets. They argue that the use of terrorist tactics with the aim of replacing exploitive capitalist governments with an equitable socialist society is in keeping with the fundamental aims of revolutionary socialism. In order to illustrate the influence of the theory discussed, I will examine the cases of the Italian Red Brigade and the Japanese Red Army. These groups underwent a campaing of terror to facilitate this change. By opting to use terrorism they sought to undermine the legitimacy of their respective governments and agitate for a popular uprising.

In order to understand the justficications that revolutionary terrorists have had for the use of terrorist activity, it is necessary to look at a series of events that took place in the 20th century. The writings of Marx and Engels are key. Marxist thought holds that the great inequalities that exist in the world in terms of the uneven distribution of wealth, power and land are due to the oppression of the working classes by the wealthy bourgeoise. Marx contends that a fundamental change of government must occur to achieve social, economic and political equality. His vision of an equitable socialist society will take place only after the advent of revolution, the overthrow of the bourgeoise by the proletariat. Central to Marxist thought is a call to arms of the masses. It is this call to arms that is central in revolutionary terrorists rationales for the use of political violence. Although Marx was personally opposed to terrorist violence as a means of achieving his socialist vison, further developments of the 20th century can be seen as instrumental in the evolution of revolutionary terrorist rationale. 1917 saw the Russian revolution and the succesful creation of a communist government. The progression of the socialist cause in other countries around the world however stagnated. This was partly due to the repression of leftist movements in liberal states around the world. Soviet Leader of the time Vladimir Lenin criticised socialist leadership for their passivity and their lack of militancy in bringing about revolution. Lenin’s solution to the problem came in the form of the concept of the Vanguard. He proposed the creation of an elite militant group to create the circumstances in which a popular uprising could occur. Mao Tse-Tung’s use of guerilla warfare in his fight against the Chinese nationalists was inspired greatly by Leninist thought. The Chinese Red Army acted as the vanguard of the socialist cause and succesfully radicalised the population, which was key to their eventual victory and ascent to power. By the 1960s The lack of success once again in bringing about the revolution led to leftist thinkers turning to even more violent and militant means to achieve their political aims. The contribution of Brazilian marxist and writer at this point in time was undeniable. In his most famous work the Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla of 1969, he provides advice on how to overthrow an authoritarian regime to bring about revolution. Among the key messages of his writings is that of armed propoganda. He argues that the use of violence and terrorism is an important tool for those seeking to achieve socialism. In his book he describes terrorism as “ a weapon the revolutionary can never relinquish”. The use of terrorist tactics in conflicts in South America became a source of inspiration for leftist groups in Europe and other parts of the world. During the 1960s and 1970s the vast majority of developed countries experienced attacks from revolutionary terrorists. Thus, the inherent inequality that exists in a capitalist society can be seen as the primary justification that revolutionary terrorists have for the use of terrorist acts to achieve their goal of a socialist society.

Among the most well known and most fatal revolutionary terrorist groups was that of the Italian Red Brigade. Founded in 1970 by far left-wing students, the Red Brigades considered the Italian government of the 1960s and 1970s to be a contemporary version of the Fascist Italy of the 1940s. The members were particularly critical of the political and economic institutions of the Italian state. In their 1975 manifesto they state their goal as “ a concentrated strike against the heart of the state, becasuse the state is an imperialist collection of multinational corporations”. The Red Brigades aimed to replicate the socialism of Lenin’s Soviet Union. They justified their violent acts arguing that they operated within a coherent intellectual tradition and considered themselves the vanguard of the Italian proletariat. The militant leftist group of the Japanese Red Army were established in 1969 and advocated imminent socialist revolution. They differed from their Italian counterparts in their engaging in terrorist activity primarily on foreign soil. This was due mainly to the fact that the autocratic Japanese regime was very effective in stamping out leftist dissidence. The stated aims of the JRA were to overthrow the Japanese government and monarch and start a world revoloution. Often cooperating with other international leftists groups, the JRA were a well organised and methodical terrorist group.


The tactics utilised by revolutionary terrorist groups are in keeping with the fundamental aims of revolutionary socialist theory. Among the tactics adopted by such groups include; armed robbery to gain resources and weapons for their cause, kidnappings, assasinations, indiscriminate attacks of civilians in public places, hijacking and the taking of hostages. Revolutionary terroists have two key aims that they wish to achieve through their use of terrorist tactics. The first of these is to undermine the legitimacy of the existing regime. By undertaking a series of terrorist acts against both civilian and official targets, revolutionary terrorist groups hope to upset the societal framework on which civilans depend and trust. A successful campaign of terrorist acts will call into question the competence of the government which fails to complete its fundamental responsibility of protecting its people. It is hoped that the resulting decrease of legitimacy in the eyes of the people will bring about popular discontent and a desire for political change. In this situation the dissidents would have the opportunity to inherit power and implement political, social and economic changes. The second main aim of dissidents is to provoke governments to be repressive. This approach is rooted in the concepts developed by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci contendeds that capitalist states engage in deliberate deception of their working classes in order to preserve the status quo. His concept of ‘ hegemonic false consciousness’ holds that states deliberately hide their repressive and authoritarian nature and distract the population to prevent it from taking part in revolutionary activity. In the process of attempting to deal with the threat of terrorist activity and counter the destabalising effects on society, a government will tend to decrease the rights of the population. In doing so the true nature of the state would be revealed and would be opposed by the people. This strategy of ‘ agitational terror’ was utilised to great effect by the Italian Red Brigades.

The Red Brigades also performed a number of bank robberies, which served both to fund their cause.

Undertook kidnappings of key political and business leaders.

Another method they employed to attack the system was that of kneecapping, which involved shooting both knees of a target in order to cripple them. In the 1977 trial of captured Red Brigade members disrupted proceedings by assasinating a judge and members of

Given the Japanese Red Army’s inability to operate within Japan, the group

Hopes of terrorists is that they will provoke the government to be repressive. In its attempts to deal with the threat of terrorists, government will become more repressive, they will restrict the rights of the population. this repression will make the masses see the ‘ true colours’ of the regime, this will then spark a popular revolt, or at least undermine popular support for the regime. This provocation of

hope to destabilise the state, because if the government is unable to deal with the threat of terrorists and support its people, the support for the government will dissappear. The competence of the government is called into question, and thus its legitimacy. Popular discontent could then bring about change, and in this situation the dissidents would have the opportunity to gain power and then implement changes.

The intended effect of terrorist strategies…

include armed robbery: to gain weapons and resources for the cause. kidnapping, assasinations, indiscriminate attacks in public places. kidnapping for the purpose of coercive bargaining. hijacking of aeroplanes, taking hostages.

revolutionary terrorists advertise their cause.

Carlos Marighella: concept of coercive bargaining. kidnapping of businessmen or prominent figures, demand the settlement of labour disputes or distribution of goods to the poor, or demanding release of political prisoners.

Assassinaton: by snipers, letter bombs, car bombs etc.

undertake campaigns of assassinations. sometimes also coordinate this with industrial action..

Indiscriminate attacks in public places: Firing randomly of machine guns into crowds of Israeli civilians in 1972 at Lydda Airport by Japanese group sponsored by Palestinian radical exiles.


Distinction between audience and the targets of the attacks themselves.

The value of terrorism to revolutionary groups lies in its pyschological effectiveness. The intention is to generate a psychological response among the people, which varies from fear to sympathy or admiration of the cause. It is the hope that these emotional responses will influence political behaviour and further the chances of success for the revolution. The main audience is therefore the civilian population.

targets are selected often as they are symbols, or represent something.

“ Terrorism affects the social structure as well as the individual; it upsets the framework of precepts and images which members of society depend on and trust. Since no one longer knows what sort of behaviour to expect from other members of society, the system is disoriented”. hopes to destabilise the ruling power as its people dont have faith in its ability to protect them, thus diminishing their legitimacy in the eyes of the people.

(Thornton, revolutionary terrorism expert)

Revolutionary terrorists are not pshychopaths, they are dedicated individuals operating within a coherent intellectual tradition.

They do not have the capability to meet established military forces head on in battle, use terrorist tactics

The red brigades

-Drew on Marxist/Leninist writings.

What are the elements/features of socialist thought which have provided terrorists with justifications for terrorist action?

What are the ethical justifications for terrorism within revolutionary socialist thought?

terrorism as a means/vehicle to overcoming exploitive, repressive capitalist societies.

The appeal of marxism in the past is clear. Class inequality, vision of the creation of a communist utopia. Seeking a more equitable distribution of power and wealth.

concept of ‘ armed propoganda’ by Carlos Marighella. The terrorists were to bring about the circumstances in which the popular uprising would occur… catalysts for change

‘ agitational terror’. premeditated political strategy.

Brainstorming/ notes.

In order to understand the justifications of revolutionary terrorism it is necessary to investigate the Marxist ideas in which revolutionary violence is based. Social and political change.

Marxist concept of class inequality needs to be rectified. Marxist vision of a communist state/ society, in which there is social, economic and political equality. (economic inequality, inequitable access of resources)

Struggle between classes

Struggle driven by ownership of means of production

End point of history/ goal is communism

The generator of this social change is class struggle (tyranny of bourgeoise). The bourgeoise (the owners of means of production) and the proletariat (workers). Marx predicts the eventual clash of these classes, with the prediction that the proletariat will be the victors.

An appealing/ utopian political vision, something worth fighting for.

The communist manifesto (conveys basic ideas of communism, simply written to appeal to proletariat).

…. So who is going to bring about this change? Who is going to be the vehicle for change?

Communists openly declare their aims: “ The communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their aims can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Proletarians of all countries, unite! (Marx and Engels 1848).

Key message is that in order to make this transition happen, proletariat needs to fight.

Lenin: wrote pamphlet ‘ What is to be done’, as overthrow of bourgeoise had not yet been achieved as predicted by Marx. Came up with concept of the Vanguard. Aimed to accelerate revolution. Blamed the lack of change on the ‘ passivity of the leadership’, that socialist leaders had been to compromising in their dealings with liberal states. He criticised the passivity of the masses. Solution: the vanguard. “ the creation of a committed and militant group, who would forge ahead, even if the conditions aren’t yet perfect for revolution, accelerating ‘ history’ to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat and an eventual communist society”. (from lecture slides).

Because of the success of the Russian revolution of 1917, liberal democracies were able to prevent this happening again in their own countries. Different tactic had to be adopted in order for communism to be realised. Must be a more militant approach, an army needs to be built to liberate the proletariat. (good example of maoist china. Utilised guerrilla warfare to bring about revolution. Mao’s book “ on guerrilla warfare”. For mao, guerrilla warfare is means of radicalising the population. Won hearts and minds of people.

A move from a political vanguard to a guerrilla vanguard. Eventually to terrorist vanguard.

Concept of the vanguard was central to the thinking of revolutionary terrorists of the 1960s and 1970s.

Problem of the 1960s was that revolution seemed to stall again… explanation for this was ‘ false consciousness’. The reason that the proletariat had not yet risen up to bring about the revolution. Antonio Gramsci, Italian Marxist. False consciousness argument is that through media, advertising, books, novels etc.. the bourgeoisie class convince the oppressed proletariat that their life is not so bad. They distract the people from realising that their real place is in revolution. Introduces concept of ‘ hegemonic false consciousness’, makes people desire what is not really in their interests.

The way to educate the masses, to neutralise the ‘ hegemonic discourses’ which seduced and distracted the people, is to shock them. Arguments of Carlos Marighellas: (wrote “ The minimanual of the urban guerrilla”). That terrorism is an important tool for revolutionaries. Armed propaganda, using violence to gain attention to the cause. A way of cutting through ‘ false consciousness’. Provokes the liberal state to be repressive and thus expose its true face as a fascist dictator.

Terrorism is used as a means of mobilising the masses to act. Armed propaganda. Role is to fight, to keep up the cause, to remind people that communism is still a realisable dream. Keeping alive the revolutionary dream. (marighellas argument).

Examples: Japanese Red Army, pro Palestinian

Red Army Faction.

Italian Red Brigades: Antonio Negri.

Definition revolutionary terrorism: “ Revolutionary terrorism is a part of insurgent strategy in the context of internal warfare or revolution: the attempt to seize political power from the established regime of a state, if successful causing fundamental political and social change.

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