AUTOPSY ON PEOPLE'S WAR by Chalmers Johnson


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Prof. Johnson's tight-knit essay on the Chinese revolutionary doctrine of the ""People's War"" traces its rise and fall as a function of China's domestic politics, the Cultural Revolution and the Sino-Soviet rivalry for Third World hegemony. Originally developed by Mao and Lin Piao during the war against Japan and Chiang Kai-shek, the ideology in its pristine form posited the encirclement of the cities by the countryside and an armed peasantry, and a clear division between ""the people"" and ""the state"" as the makers of war. Johnson argues that Chinese domestic exigencies led to the ""export"" of this doctrine to Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, parts of Africa, and of course to Vietnam during the incendiary 1960's. He also contends that this ""export"" was on the whole unsuccessful even in Vietnam which, by 1972, was in any case no longer a true guerrilla struggle. In fact Johnson goes one step further: he suggests that the truly pernicious aspect of the ""people's war"" doctrine was the counter-insurgency it provoked -- had the U.S. chosen to ""derevolutionize"" Vietnam, i.e. to regard it as a civil war rather than a revolution -- the myth of the invincible guerrillas would have never acquired such force. And myth it is, says Johnson, citing Marcuse to prove that a guerrilla force can always be defeated (militarily not politically) by a technological society. Johnson's analysis concludes, to his own satisfaction, that China's days of fomenting revolutions abroad are largely in the past -- the new rapprochement with the U.S. and her entry into the U.N. calls for a downgrading of both rhetoric and military aid to Third World insurgents -- viz. Bangla Desh. Johnson's thesis, though somewhat turgid, is impressive as a reading of how foreign pokey develops from domestic necessity -- whatever one might think of his notion of ""people's war"" as something which exists chiefly in the eyes of the beholder.

Pub Date: Dec. 31st, 1973
Publisher: Univ. of California Press