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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

National Liberation Wars in the Present Epoch

A Soviet view by Y. Dolgopolov

The collapse of the colonial system of oppression is next in importance to the formation of the world Socialist system. Where formerly there were colonies and semi-colonies, there are now new sovereign states; by the beginning of this year forty-four former colonies had obtained their independence.

The colonialists and their apologists try to make out that the national liberation movement develops independently of the world class struggle for Socialism and of support from the Socialist countries, and that freedom is presented to the people of the former colonial countries by the colonialists themselves. The fact is that the achievements of the national liberation movement were possible thanks to the formation of the Socialist camp and its influence on the development of mankind as a whole.

The colonialists have never in the whole course of history voluntarily granted independence to the colonial peoples, and they never will do so; they are compelled to grant it only when the national liberation movement has become so strong that they are unable to deal with it. The main factors ensuring victory over colonialism are the determined fight of the oppressed peoples themselves and the support of the Socialist countries and progressive people throughout the world.

In his report to the 22nd Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, N. S. Khrushchov said: "Today the colonialists, sensing that their rule is coming to an end, are putting on a good face in a losing game. They assert that they are leaving the colonies of their own accord. Who will believe them? Anyone can see that they are taking this step because they know that anyway they will be driven out in disgrace".

Even in our times the colonialists still frequently resort to armed suppression of national liberation movements. Throughout the whole post-war period not a single year has passed without the imperialists waging colonial wars in one part or another of the world. The British, French, Portuguese, Belgian, Dutch and other colonialists rely on getting support for their bloody crimes from U.S. imperialism, the linch-pin of modern colonialism. The colonialists draw up joint plans within their aggressive military .blocs for putting down national liberation movements. They impose unequal military agreements on the Asian, African and Latin American countries and install troops and military bases on their territories, turning them into strong points for war against the Socialist countries and for the suppression of national liberation movements.

The ideologists of colonialism try hard to rationalise and justify the coercive methods used against people in the colonies and dependent countries. They have invented a doctrine of "small", "limited", or "local" wars, which has become part of official military policy in the United States, Britain and other imperialist countries. The British Labour Party figure John Strachey maintains in his book "The End of Empire" that the colonial powers cannot "avoid" suppressing revolts of oppressed peoples, since in the opinion of the colonialists some peoples "could not possibly take over the colony and govern it as a going concern". Prof. W. Drascher, of the German Federal Republic, claims that the colonial powers use force "only in those countries where there is fear of prolonged disruption of the existing social order.


Statements like this are additional proof that brute force was and still remains a main function of colonial policy. For this reason the national liberation movement in many countries will still take the form of armed struggle and will turn into national liberation uprisings and wars. "There will be wars of liberation" Khrushchov has pointed out, "so long as imperialism exists, so long as colonialism exists. These are revolutionary wars. Such wars are not only permissible, they are even inevitable, since the colonialists do not voluntarily grant independence. Thus only through struggle, including armed struggle, can the peoples win freedom and independence".

The imperialists, who frequently use force in order to preserve their colonial domination, also try to distort the real nature of national liberation uprisings and wars. They refuse to recognise that they are lawful and just, say that the armed struggle of oppressed peoples is the result of "external subversion", and call those who take part in the struggle "terrorists", trying to destroy "law and order" in the colonies.

The colonialists do everything they can in order to prevent the people in the colonies and dependent countries from taking up arms. They would like to see the national liberation movement deprived of arms and the peoples' minds instilled with the idea that national freedom can be attained only by means of gradual constitutional reforms and by negotiations and agreements with the Governments of the colonial powers. A symposium called "The Idea of Colonialism", published in the United States straight forwardly asks "how can violent revolutions and colonial guerrilla wars be forestalled now? . . ." Various suggestions are put forward for strengthening the colonial system by means of reform.

At the National Conference on International Economic and Social Development, held in Washington in June 1961, President Kennedy maintained that the main threat to freedom now comes from within, from liberating wars. It is fair to ask what kind of "freedom" is meant in this particular context. Apparently, freedom for the colonial powers to continue their oppression of foreign countries and to make immense fortunes from the sweat and blood of other peoples. Yet it is exactly against this situation that the people in the colonies and dependent countries are rising in revolt.

Contrary to the assertions of the colonialists, armed struggle by oppressed peoples and national liberation revolutions in general are not imported from outside and cannot be conjured up by wishful thinking on someone's part, if the objective and subjective conditions do not exist. National liberation uprisings and wars are a consequence of the rapacious policy of the imperialists' power. If the imperialists had not set themselves the task of preserving the shameful system of colonialism, national liberation uprisings would not have occurred and not one of them would have turned into prolonged wars.

The choice of the methods and forms of the national liberation movement depend not on the wishes of the people, but on the strength of opposition from the colonialists and the degree of violence to which they resort in their attempts to preserve at all costs their colonial regimes. People in the colonies and dependent countries are not interested in using violent means of struggle, since this entails tremendous sacrifices especially for the working people. They are, however, forced to use them as a last resort, in order to oppose the aggressive policy of the militarily and economically strong colonial powers.

The Marxist-Leninist definition of wars, including wars of national liberation, arises from an understanding of them as social phenomena.


"War", wrote Lenin, "is the continuation of a policy. The policy before the war, the policy leading up to and resulting in war must be studied. lf the policy was an imperialist one, that is, defending the interests of finance capital which plunders and oppresses colonies and foreign countries, then the war which is the outcome of this policy is an imperialist war. If the policy was one of national liberation, that is, expressing a mass movement against national oppression, then the war which is the outcome of such a policy is a national liberation war". Lenin stressed that as a general rule war is lawful on the part of an oppressed nation "no matter whether it is defensive or offensive in the military sense".

National liberation wars should on no account be identified, as bourgeois propagandists are wont to do, with local wars which are waged by imperialists in order to seize foreign territories and enslave and rob their peoples. In contrast to wars of this kind, national liberation wars begin as uprisings of colonial and dependent peoples against their oppressors for their right to self-determination and independent national development. This is how the uprisings began in Indonesia, Indochina, Algeria, Cuba and other countries, which later developed into national liberation wars.

Communists resolutely oppose both world wars and local wars.

They consistently fight to avert war and thereby ensure peace and security for all peoples. Nevertheless, they cannot fail to support those wars which are conducted by people for their own liberation "Communists", Khrushchov has said, "wholeheartedly support these just wars and are in the front ranks of peoples struggling for their liberation".

In an attempt to shift the blame from the guilty onto the innocent, the defenders of colonial regimes frequently describe the Soviet Union's support for national liberation wars as "interference" in the internal affairs of other countries and as "a call to arms." In our day these slanderous inventions deceive very few people.

In a speech to the 15th U.N. General Assembly, Khrushchov said: "I am not making a call to arms, since the question of rising up against objectionable regimes in this or that country is decided by the people themselves. I have merely said that if the colonialists do not take the step of granting independence and freedom to the colonial peoples, then nothing remains for the peoples of the colonial countries to do but rise up against this shameful oppression, and all honourable people must extend a helping hand to those who fight for their human dignity against plunder, against the colonialists".


Bourgeois propagandists try to discover imaginary contradictions between the policy of peaceful co-existence pursued by the Socialist countries and their resolute support of the peoples' armed struggle for independence and freedom. Recognition of the justness and lawfulness of national liberation uprisings and wars does not in any way contradict the principle of peaceful co-existence which relates to the field of reciprocal relations between states with different social systems. This principle has been and remains the general foreign policy line of the Soviet Union and the other Socialist countries, but it does not and cannot mean refusal to support the class or national liberation struggle of the people against their oppressors irrespective of the form which this struggle takes.

In a demagogic attempt to extend the principle of peaceful co-existence to relations between antagonistic classes in bourgeois society and between colonialists and oppressed peoples, the apologists of imperialism try to legalise the subordinate position of the colonies and semi-colonies and to place difficulties in the way of the peoples' struggle for their rights and freedom. They would like to deprive this struggle of support from the world Socialist system, but no one can stifle the people's longing for freedom. Every regime which is founded on the oppression and exploitation of other people is unstable and cannot last forever.

The impossibility of suppressing the people's desire for progress and a better life is clearly shown in the light of history. Typical in this respect is the example of the United States itself, which was established as the result of a stubborn war of liberation against English colonial oppression. Many other countries which are now the perpetrators of colonial oppression frequently in the past resorted ,to armed struggle in defence of their own independence.

The colonialists would thus like to deny the peoples in the colonies and dependent countries those same rights for which in its own day the progressive bourgeoisie of Europe and America fought.

The peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America resolutely condemn this point of view. They insist on their right to free and independent development and their right to use any methods and forms of the national liberation struggle to which the colonialists compel them. President of Indonesia, Sukarno, said at the 15th U.N. General Assembly that "the struggle for independence is always justified and always just. Those who resist that irresistible onward march of national independence and self-determination are blind, those who seek to reverse what is irreversible are dangerous to themselves and to the world".

It is, however, necessary to observe that some African and Asian politicians reject armed struggle in principle and maintain that only non-violent, peaceful forms of struggle against colonialism are permissible. This sort of opinion was expressed, for example, at the 1st All-African People's Conference in December 1958 at which a discussion on forms and methods of the independence struggle took place.

Marxists do not doubt the sincerity of those who favour non- violent methods; they know that many of them are frequently subjected to repressions by the colonial authorities. Still they do not and cannot agree with this rejection in principle of armed struggle.

The theory of non-violence does not provide a satisfactory answer to the question of what should be done if peaceful means do not bring the desired results, if the colonialists themselves do not refrain from using force.

To uphold this point of view means objectively to play into the hands of the colonialists who are striving to get the peoples to refrain from a determined fight for their liberation. One need only recall the energetic behind-the-scenes activity of the American propagandists at the 1st All-African People's Conference, where they tried to impose acceptance of peaceful means as the basic method of struggle for the African peoples. Nevertheless the Conference resolutions proclaimed full support for all fighters for freedom - both those who use peaceful methods of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience and those who are compelled to answer force by force.

The 2nd All-African People's Conference in January 1960 again declared that the African peoples prefer to win their independence by peaceful means, but, if the colonialists compel them to they will take up arms.


Actual experience and the practice of the national liberation movement has proved the untenability of the theory of non- violence. Many peoples began their fight for independence by peaceful, non-violent means and yet the colonialists' reply to this was mass repressions, imprisonment, and torture. The people could not sit with folded hands and reconcile themselves to their position of slavery, but were compelled to rise up and fight, arms in hands, so as to assert their right to a free existence.

Armed struggle has played and continues to play an important role in the liberation of colonies and dependent countries from colonial oppression. During the first stage of the general crisis of capitalism before the powerful camp of Socialist countries had been formed and when imperialism was the predominant force in the world, armed struggle was practically the only means of winning national independence. There is the example of China where armed struggle was the principal form of the national struggle against the domination of the country by foreign capitalists and domestic reaction. Mongolia won full independence through armed struggle, and the formerly semi-colonial countries of Afghanistan and Turkey also consolidated their sovereignty.

Armed forms of national liberation struggle were also predominant during the second stage of the general crisis of capitalism. Many peoples in Asia and Africa, who had contributed towards the defeat of Hitler, had to conduct a heroic fight against the colonialists who tried to restore their former regimes by military means.

The national liberation wars conducted by the peoples of China, North Korea and North VietNam, against the foreign invaders merged with civil wars against domestic reaction which served as a main support of colonialism. As a consequence the masses were freed not only from colonial, but also social oppression.

The peoples of Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Morocco, Tunisia etc. were all compelled to resort to armed struggle for independence and social progress. Many peoples have won their independence on the battlefield in bitter fighting with colonialist armies.

Within the last few years in conditions of the unfolding of the third stage of the general crisis of capitalism, people in a whole number of countries are also compelled to resort to armed struggle against the colonialists and domestic reaction. The most typical example of this is the Cuban war of liberation which overthrew the pro-imperialist mercenary regime and created conditions for the further advance of the Cuban revolution, which has become a banner of the liberation struggle for people throughout Latin America.

Quite recently, thanks only to having undertaken an armed attack, India succeeded in putting an end to Portugal's colonial domination over the Indian territories of Goa, Daman and Diu, which had lasted more than 450 years.

The eight-year-old war of the Algerian people against the French colonialists, supported wholeheartedly by the United States and other NATO countries, is a just and sacred war for independence and freedom. A passage from the Algerian Communist Party pamphlet "Our People Will Win" says: "Every single one of our victories, no matter how small, from November 1954 onwards, was directly or indirectly the result of armed struggle". The people of Algeria while in favour of exploiting every possible means for deciding the Algerian question peacefully, at the same time take every measure to strengthen the armed struggle, regarding it as a decisive factor in achieving national independence.

The national liberation movement of the peoples of Angola, Oman and other countries has turned into a just war of liberation. The patriotic forces in a country like Laos are compelled to wage armed struggle against the colonialists and their agents even after the winning of formal independence. Armed struggle is thus an integral and frequently decisive component part of the general mighty national liberation movement shattering the last foundations of colonialism.


National liberation uprisings and wars are conducted by all patriotic forces, united in a single anti-imperialist front. Communists are to be found in the front ranks of the participants in the national liberation movement, including armed struggle against the colonialists. The Communist Parties in many countries were responsible for forming liberation armies, and their members devote all their efforts to serving this just cause. The Algerian Communist Party, for example, while preserving its political and organisational independence, incorporated the armed forces under its control into the National Liberation Army under the leadership of the National Liberation Front. By their selflessness and loyalty to their patriotic duty, Communists everywhere have won the love and admiration of their comrades-in-arms.

Guerrilla warfare is the most typical form of armed struggle in national liberation wars. Ernesto Che Guevara, Cuban Minister for Industry, correctly points out in his book: " ... Guerrilla warfare is the struggle of the masses, the people's struggle; the guerrilla unit as an armed nucleus is the militant vanguard of the people, and its main source of strength is its reliance on the population".


From the point of view of the condition in which the opposing sides find themselves, national liberation wars are unequal wars. The colonial troops are armed to the teeth with up-to-date means of human destruction while the peoples waging a selfless struggle for their liberation have as a rule out-of-date, primitive weapons. The consciousness of the rightness of their cause, however, inspires them with firm resolve and finally allows them to achieve their desired goal.

In his speech to the delegates to the 22nd Congress of the C.P.S.U. Saifoulaye Diallo, Political Secretary of the Democratic Party of Guinea, said that the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America "entered the struggle regardless of the fact that they could oppose- extremely insignificant means of struggle to the machine- guns, guns, napalm and concentration camps of the colonialists. But your example teaches us that nothing can break the will of the people filled with determination to fight".

The solidarity of the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America in their struggle against colonialism has been firmly established in our times and is growing stronger day by day. Their resolute actions make it impossible for the imperialists to wage colonial wars with impunity, as they were able to do in the past, in the period of imperialism's undivided rule. The 2nd All-African Peoples' Conference, for example, not only demanded the withdrawal from Algeria of African soldiers dragooned into the French army, but launched an appeal to organise a volunteer corps to fight in the Algerian war of national liberation. The colonialists can no longer continue to use the human resources of the colonial and dependent countries for the armed suppression of the people's liberation struggle in other countries.

The national liberation movement enjoys the active support of progressive forces in the imperialist countries. The working class and its vanguard - the Communist and Workers' Parties of the metropolitan countries - fight consistently against the shameful exploitation of the colonies and dependent countries and against colonial military adventures undertaken by the imperialists, and strengthen their fraternal alliance with peoples fighting for their independence. The recently published joint declaration of the Communist Parties of the Netherlands and of Indonesia on the possibility of Dutch reactionary forces provoking war with Indonesia over West Irian says:

"If war were to break out it would be a just war of liberation for the Indonesian people and would bring to an end the war for independence begun on August 17, 1945. This just war of liberation would undoubtedly receive even more powerful support from all anti-colonialist and progressive forces throughout the world, including anti-colonial and progressive forces in the Netherlands, than was the case in 1947 and 1948. For the Dutch imperialists this would be a colonial war, a futile action, which would arouse the indignation of mankind, a long and bloody war in which the blood of both Dutch and Indonesians would flow".

Only a small handful of bourgeois monopolists in the imperialist countries are interested in preserving colonialism, and they are doing everything they can to prolong their domination and retain the possibility of living off the backs of the colonies and dependent countries. The discussion at the 16th U.N. General Assembly on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to the Colonial Countries and Peoples showed that the imperialists would like to postpone for as long as possible the liquidation of the shameful system of colonialism. This proves the short- sightedness of their policy and groundlessness of their expectations. It is impossible not to realise today that further resistance by the colonialists can only make the struggle of the peoples against colonialism even more bitter, but cannot prevent its final downfall.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.