A WORLD TO WIN    #16   (1991)


[Note: The author of this article, Li Tso-p'eng, was later deeply involved in the attempted coup and murder of Mao which was led by Lin Biao (Lin Piao) in 1971. While this does not show that this article is itself necessarily erroneous, it is doubtful that it would have been published in AWTW of this had been known to its editors. —BannedThought.net editor.]


Strategy: One Against Ten — Tactics: Ten Against One

— An Exposition of Comrade Mao Tsetung's Thinking on the Strategy and Tactics of the People's War

By Li Tso-peng

The following article originally appeared in Hongqi (Red Flag) nos. 23-24, 1964. An English language translation was published after some changes by the author in 1966 by Foreign Languages Press, Peking, from which these excerpts were made — AWTW.

...The Chinese revolution took armed struggle as its main form of struggle; by destroying the counter-revolutionary armed forces one after another and smashing the reactionary state machinery in one area after another, it finally captured state power throughout the country and ended the reactionary rule of imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism. The historical experience of the Chinese revolution in winning this great victory provides striking proof of the wisdom, greatness and correctness of Comrade Mao Tsetung's thinking....

I. The Method of Concentrating a Superior Force to Destroy the Enemy Forces One by One Is the Embodiment in Military Struggles of the Great Strategic and Tactical Thinking of Comrade Mao Tsetung

...Comrade Mao Tsetung has pointed out again and again that although imperialism and all reactionaries are seemingly powerful, they represent the reactionary, decaying and declining classes. The law of historical development determines their inevitable doom. The revolutionary people must, therefore, see the essence of their nature, look at them from a long-term point of view and regard them for what they are — paper tigers; they must despise them strategically, dare to struggle against them and dare to seize victory. On this they should build their strategic thinking. At the same time, Comrade Mao Tsetung has also pointed out repeatedly that just as there is not a single thing in the world without a dual nature, so imperialism and all reactionaries have a dual nature. Before they are finally destroyed, they may still be powerful for a certain period, may still enjoy a temporary military advantage, and will continue to devour people. From this point of view, they are living tigers made of iron. Tactically, therefore, with regard to each specific struggle, the revolutionary people must take the enemy seriously, be prudent, carefully study and perfect the art of struggle. On this they should build their tactical thinking. Only by combining a fearless revolutionary spirit with an art of struggle which is flexible and inventive will they be able to seize victory in every specific encounter and finally defeat the enemy....

The method of concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one is a concentrated expression in a military struggle of the concept of tactically taking the enemy seriously, it is a concrete expression of the concept of tactically "pitting ten against one" and "using the many to defeat the few"....

The method of concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one also embodies the idea of despising the enemy strategically. For only by strategically despising the enemy and displaying a revolutionary and militant spirit of "pitting one against ten" can we remain cool-headed in face of a powerful enemy and not be overawed by his truculence or confused by a complex situation; only in this way will we dare to concentrate our forces and deal the enemy blows. On the other hand, victories won in a succession of campaigns and battles — by the use of this method — will further educate the people and their army and enable them to see clearly through their own experience that the enemy can be defeated and that it is entirely correct to despise him strategically. This will inevitably increase the confidence of the people and their army in their struggle against the enemy and encourage them to fight and win still greater victories....

II. Concentrating a Superior Force to Destroy the Enemy Forces One by One is the Most Effective Method of Fighting to Change the Situation in which the Enemy is Strong while We are Weak

At the outset and even over a fairly long period of time, the people's revolutionary armed forces are always relatively weak and small in numbers and subject to continuous attacks and "encirclement and suppression" by their powerful enemies. This is usually the objective situation in regard to the balance of forces. In the eyes of Marxist-Leninists, such a situation can be changed. War is a contest of strength. The objective basis for initiative or passivity is to be found in the superiority or inferiority of the forces of war but neither in itself constitutes initiative or passivity. In the course of war we must know how to change the balance of forces and make it possible for the small and weak revolutionary forces to seize the initiative and shake off passivity in the face of the enemy's superiority so that instead of being pinned down by the enemy we will be able to gain the upper hand and defeat him. The decisive factor here is the subjective effort. That is to say, we must use the correct method of fighting, win more victories, commit less errors, and continuously eliminate the enemy forces and enlarge our own forces through protracted, hard and complex struggle and thus turn our strategic inferiority and passivity into superiority and initiative. Comrade Mao Tsetung has pointed out:

"...it is possible to escape from our position of relative strategic inferiority and passivity, and the method is to create local superiority and initiative in many places, so depriving the enemy of local superiority and initiative and plunging him into inferiority and passivity. These local successes will add up to strategic superiority and initiative for us and strategic inferiority and passivity for the enemy. Such a change depends upon correct subjective direction."1

This correct direction refers, first and foremost, to implementing the method of fighting characterised by concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one.

This method of fighting was widely employed at various periods in China's revolutionary war. It played a most important role in changing the situation in relation to advance and retreat, the offensive and defensive, and fighting on interior and exterior lines as well as in enabling our army to change from being weak to being strong and from inferiority to superiority. It has undergone all manner of tests in the prolonged practice of revolutionary war and has been proved correct.

During the Second Revolutionary Civil War period, Comrade Mao Tsetung applied the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism to make a penetrating analysis of the situation in which the enemy was strong while the Red Army was weak. He pointed out that China's revolutionary war had both favourable and unfavourable conditions, that is, the Red Army could grow and defeat the enemy, but that it could not do this quickly. Such was the fundamental law governing China's revolutionary war. In the light of this law, Comrade Mao Tsetung put forward a whole series of principles and methods of operation, such as "divide our forces to arouse the masses, concentrate our forces to deal with the enemy", "the enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue", "extend stable base areas, employ the policy of advancing in waves; when pursued by a powerful enemy, employ the policy of circling around", "lure the enemy in deep", and "concentrate superior forces, pick the enemy's weak spots, and fight when you are sure of wiping out part, or the greater part, of the enemy in mobile warfare so as to crush the enemy forces one by one". Thus he solved the most difficult problem of how the weak and small Red Army could defeat a powerful enemy....

III. The War of Annihilation is the Fundamental Idea of Concentrating a Superior Force to Destroy the Enemy ForcesOne by One

...No matter whether the balance of forces is in our favour or the enemy's, operations must be carried out by concentrating our forces. It is only by concentrating a superior force — especially when the enemy is strong and we are weak — that we can muster sufficient strength to fight a battle of annihilation and gain a quick decision. When offensive operations are carried out in this way, we can quickly break through the enemy's defence, smash his reinforcements and counter-assaults, mass enough troops to outflank, encircle, and cut up his forces, fight one engagement after another, and swiftly exploit the victory. And when defensive operations are carried out, we can weaken and inflict great losses on the attacking enemy, win time for our side, and even shift from the defensive to the offensive. If we do not concentrate a superior force, we cannot achieve the aim of annihilating the enemy, nor can we fight quick engagements and gain a quick decision. Moreover, a situation of stalemate may arise in campaigns and battles; they may become battles in which there is more loss than gain, and the danger of being crushed piecemeal by the enemy may even arise....

Comrade Mao Tsetung pointed out:

"In the first and second stages of the war, which are marked by the enemy's strength and our weakness, the enemy's objective is to have us concentrate our main forces for a decisive engagement. Our objective is exactly the opposite. We want to choose conditions favourable to us, concentrate superior forces and fight decisive campaigns or battles only when sure of victory ... we want to avoid decisive engagements under unfavourable conditions when we are not sure of victory...."2

This means that whenever we use the method — because of the enemy's strength and our weakness — of destroying the enemy forces one by one we must necessarily begin with "tidbits" by gathering together small victories into a big one. Then we must eat the enemy up with big mouthfuls. This method of gradually destroying the enemy forces requires many decisive engagements with the enemy in campaigns and battles. This is the objective process by which the enemy is wiped out despite his strength and our weakness. As the situation in which the enemy was strong and we were weak had not basically changed during the initial stage of the Third Revolutionary Civil War, we had to proceed from destroying in one battle an enemy battalion, or a regiment, or a brigade. Following the change in the balance of forces, we were gradually able to wipe out an enemy division or a corps until we could finally destroy one to several powerful enemy armies at one time and fight battles of annihilation on a much bigger scale.

By concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one, we can also deal dialectically with the relation between annihilation of the enemy's effective strength and the holding or seizing of cities. That is to say, the outcome of a war does not depend on the seizure or loss of a city or place but on the decrease or increase of effective strength of the belligerents. Comrade Mao Tsetung has said: "The principle of concentrating our forces to wipe out the enemy forces one by one is aimed chiefly at annihilating the enemy's effective strength, not at holding or seizing a place."3 To concentrate our troops to annihilate powerful attacking enemy forces, we must adopt the policy of luring them in deep and abandon some cities and districts of our own accord in a planned way, so as to let them in. It is only after letting the enemy in that the people can take part in the war in various ways and that the power of a people's war can be fully exerted. It is only after letting the enemy in that he can be compelled to divide up his forces, take on heavy burdens and commit mistakes. In other words, we must let the enemy become elated, stretch out all his ten fingers and become hopelessly bogged down. Thus, we can concentrate superior forces to destroy the enemy forces one by one, to eat them up mouthful by mouthful. Only by wiping out the enemy's effective strength can cities and localities be finally held or seized. We are firmly against dividing up our forces to defend all positions and putting up resistance at every place for fear that our territory might be lost and our "pots and pans" smashed, since this can neither wipe out the enemy forces nor hold cities or localities. In order to concentrate its troops for flexible operations and lure the enemy forces in deep so as to annihilate them one by one on the move, our army — in the first year of the Third Revolutionary Civil War — abandoned on its own initiative 105 major cities such as Yenan, Changchiakou, Chengteh, Shenyang and Antung (now Tantung). This placed burdens on the enemy and greatly reduced his striking force. Meanwhile, our army evaded the enemy's main offensive force, shifted its troops to the enemy's flanks and rear to seek favourable chances for battles and thus annihilated his forces in large numbers while they were on the move. As a result, not only were the lost cities recovered, but new cities were liberated.

Of course, not making the holding of cities and places our chief aim does not in any way mean arbitrarily abandoning them and letting the enemy occupy large parts and cities of the base areas easily without fighting. Comrade Mao Tsetung has said: "... we must hold or seize territory wherever the balance of forces makes it possible to do so or wherever such territory is significant for our campaigns or battles...."4 Our army firmly adhered to Comrade Mao Tsetung's directive. Thus, at the stage of strategic defence, our army, while annihilating the enemy's effective strength, resolutely held those cities and places which had to be held as positions for launching strategic counter-offensives and offensives. At the stage of strategic offence, our army closely linked the annihilation of the enemy's effective strength with the seizing of cities and places, thus simultaneously attaining the goal of destroying the enemy and fulfilling the task of holding or seizing cities and places.

The basic principle of our army's operations is to fight a war of annihilation, but this does not imply total negation of the war of attrition. When the enemy is strong and we are weak, we advocate a war of attrition strategically but battles of annihilation in campaigns and engagements, and achieve strategic attrition through the latter. As Comrade Mao Tsetung has said: "...campaigns of annihilation are the means of attaining the objective of strategic attrition."5 Therefore, wherever circumstances are favourable, we must concentrate a superior force, employ encircling and outflanking tactics and fight battles of annihilation. Under special circumstances, we may also adopt the method of dealing blows of annihilation at the enemy so as to wipe out one part of his forces while routing another. The battle of annihilation takes the primary place in campaigns and engagements. There is also the battle of attrition which is supplementary to the battle of annihilation though this is not a "contest in attrition". For instance, when the main force of our army is used to annihilate certain enemy forces, it is sometimes necessary to fight a battle of attrition in other directions in order to intercept and pin down the enemy forces....

V. This Method of Fighting Can only Be Used Effectively by a People's Army

In spite of the fact that military experts in all times and in all countries have been familiar with these ideas of the "concentrated employment of troops" and "smashing the enemy forces one by one" and that a great deal of military literature has repeatedly discussed and stressed them, no one hitherto has ever viewed them as parts of an integral whole and used them dialectically. It was none other than Comrade Mao Tsetung who comprehensively put forward the strategic and tactical principle of "concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one" and dialectically applied it with great success to the practice of China's revolutionary war. This is because the war we waged was a people's war, our army was a people's army and its military operations were guided by dialectical materialism. Comrade Mao Tsetung has pointed out: "The richest source of power to wage war lies in the masses of the people." He has also added; "The army must become one with the people so that they see it as their own army. Such an army will be invincible...."6 This is the fundamental condition for the victory of the people's revolutionary war.

Comrade Mao Tsetung has provided a masterly summary of the strategy and tactics of a people's war: You fight in your way and we fight in ours; we fight when we can win and move away when we cannot. In other words, you rely on modern weapons and we rely on highly conscious revolutionary people; you give full play to your superiority and we give full play to ours; you have your way of fighting and we have ours. When you want to fight us, we do not let you and you cannot even find us. But when we want to fight you, we make sure that you cannot get away and we hit you squarely on the chin and wipe you out. When we are able to wipe you out, we do so with a vengeance; when we cannot, we see to it that you do not wipe us out. It is opportunism if one will not fight when one can win. It is adventurism if one insists on fighting when one cannot win. Fighting is the pivot of all our strategy and tactics. It is because of the necessity of fighting that we admit the necessity of moving away. The sole purpose of moving away is to fight and bring about the final and complete destruction of the enemy. Such strategy and tactics can be successfully applied only in a people's war, by the people's army, guided by dialectical materialism.

The war waged by us was a people's war in which the principle of combining main with local forces, regular army with local armed units and people's militia, and armed with unarmed masses was put into practice. The local armed units, militia and the masses of the people took part in the war on an extensive scale; they actively supported the front and consolidated the rear, and in direct co-ordination with the operations of the main forces, destroyed communications and transport in the enemy's rear, contained and dispersed the enemy troops and harassed and threatened their rear. This made it possible for the main forces of our army to concentrate their troops to a high degree and carry out operations with great flexibility. Meanwhile, participation of the militia and masses in such activities as standing sentry, conducting reconnaissance, preventing the leakage of news and acting as guides also created favourable conditions for our army to concentrate its troops in time and in secret so as to surprise, encircle and annihilate the enemy. Take, for instance, the Pinghsingkuan Campaign fought at the beginning of the War of Resistance Against Japan. Our troops were assembled for as long as one week at places 15 to 30 kilometres away from the route of the enemy's advance, but the enemy completely failed to discover them because of the active cooperation of the masses who hid the news and thus thwarted the enemy's special agents and traitors. With the help of the masses, our army was promptly informed of the state of the enemy and disposed its forces correctly, thus taking him by surprise and putting him out of action with lightning speed.

On the contrary, the enemy fought in isolation without the support and cooperation of the people because the war waged by them was of an anti-popular nature. Wherever the enemy occupied one of our places, they were opposed by the people and had to send in troops for defence. All this inevitably affected the concentration of their troops. Even if they succeeded in concentrating their troops in a certain area, they were always in a passive position and found it hard to carry out their plans because they failed to win the people's support, could not find out what the conditions were or locate the objectives of their attacks. At the same time their own actions were always exposed.

Our army was founded on Comrade Mao Tsetung's theory of army building; it is a new-type army wholeheartedly serving the interests of the people under the absolute leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Its nature determines its ability to give the fullest play to the power of the method of concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one. Strategy and tactics are carried out by men. The qualities of an army play an important role in deciding whether the correct strategy and tactics can be carried through so as to produce the greatest effect in practice. Our army has the steadfast leadership of the Communist Party and most loyally carries out the Party's Marxist-Leninist line and policies. It has a high degree of conscious discipline and is heroically inspired to destroy all enemies and conquer all difficulties. Internally there is full unity between cadres and fighters, between those in higher and those in lower positions of responsibility, between the different departments and between the various fraternal army units. With the establishment of firm revolutionary political work, the masses of our commanders and fighters are highly class conscious and clearly aware that they are fighting for the interests of the people. Thus, when using this method of fighting, they display a vigorous fighting will and courageous spirit. When concentrating, they move quickly and have no fear of fatigue or difficulties; while on the offensive, they advance courageously and persistently and dare to outflank and cut up the enemy and fight single-handedly; on the defensive, they can resist the successive attacks of a powerful enemy, stand firm on their positions and fight doggedly. Army units are able to cooperate on their own initiative and coordinate their activities closely with each other. They are not afraid of sacrificing themselves for the interests of the whole. In addition, commanders and fighters can give full play to their own judgement in working out various methods of defeating the enemy. All this fully ensures that this method of fighting can be used to the best advantage and have great effect in defeating the enemy and winning victory.

The enemy's army is an anti-popular force. The great majority of the soldiers are coerced or cheated into joining. Their fundamental interests are diametrically opposed to those of the reactionary ruling classes. Deep contradictions exist between officers and men and between superiors and subordinates. Although the reactionary ruling classes do their utmost to carry out deceptive propaganda and reactionary education among the soldiers, the troops have a low morale and lack a vigorous fighting will. Such troops are afraid of fighting at close quarters, night engagements and casualties. Moreover, mutual distrust and strife among different corps and factions of the army stop them from coordinating activities on their own initiative. The enemy forces subjectively attempt to deal with us by employing the method of concentrating superior forces. But, in practice, they often fail to realise their aim — especially when conditions are difficult or critical — because of the inherent weaknesses in their forces.

We study, analyse and direct war by using the principles of dialectical materialism. We can correctly employ the method of concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one and get the greatest results from this, precisely because of the fact that we are able to assess the subjective and objective situation correctly, analyse comprehensively the balance of forces as between the enemy and ourselves, make good use of the contradictions within the enemy ranks and then proceed from reality. It is also because we can correctly handle the various relations confronting us in the course of using this method of fighting, such as those between the whole and the part, concentration and dispersal, main and secondary directions, annihilating the enemy and holding cities and places, advance and retreat, offence and defence. Consequently, even when engaging a powerful enemy, we are invincible and able to attain the objective of both wiping out the enemy and preserving and strengthening ourselves.

Our enemies are idealists and their method of thinking is metaphysical. They are unable to analyse the objective situation correctly and comprehensively and proceed from reality. They always overestimate their own strength and underestimate the revolutionary forces; they judge the situation subjectively and thus make light of their opponents and advance recklessly. They always look at problems from a one-sided point of view and cannot correctly handle the various relations encountered in military activities. For instance, in order to cope with our method of concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one, the Kuomintang reactionaries put forward — at one time during the Third Revolutionary Civil War — the so-called "tactics of massing troops and advancing abreast" — "the employment of troops must be conventional rather than tricky, the stationing of troops must be concentrated rather than dispersed and the manoeuvreing of troops must be slow rather than swift". These tactics were used when their troops were asked to carry heavy weapons. At another time they formulated the so-called "tactics of making use of loop-holes" when they switched to the idea that their troops should carry light weapons and rations and use mountain paths instead of highways. They used now this and now that tactic without a definite principle. In short their strategic intentions and specific actions were always in contradiction because of the anti-popular nature of the war they waged. At the beginning of the Third Revolutionary Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek laid down a principle of "concentrated and flexible employment of troops". But, on the other hand, he wanted to occupy a great many places including the Liberated Areas on the borders of Honan and Hupeh, north Kiangsu, Chengteh, Shenyang and Antung (now Tantung). With his objectives so scattered and his forces limited, he put a burden on his back whenever he occupied a city because he had to send troops to defend it. The more places he occupied, the heavier his burden and the fewer the troops for further flexible employment. That is why the principle he formulated could only remain empty words. Even if he temporarily succeeded in concentrating a relatively superior force in one particular area and making some gains, lots of loop-holes were exposed in other areas. Such contradictions were insurmountable for our enemy.

In a word, the method of concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one is based on the waging of a people's war by a people's army and on dialectical materialism; it can be employed effectively only by a people's army. No antipopular army can fruitfully use or cope with this method. As Comrade Mao Tsetung has said:

"The Chiang Kai-shek bandit gang and the U.S. imperialist military personnel in China are very well acquainted with these military methods of ours. Seeking ways to counter them, Chiang Kai-shek has often assembled his generals and field officers for training and distributed our military literature and the documents captured in the war for them to study. The U.S. military personnel have recommended to Chiang Kai-shek one kind of strategy and tactics after another for destroying the People's Liberation Army; they have trained Chiang Kai-shek's troops and supplied them with military equipment. But none of these efforts can save the Chiang Kai-shek bandit gang from defeat."7

* * *

Concentrating a superior force to destroy the enemy forces one by one is the materialisation in military affairs of Comrade Mao Tsetung's strategic and tactical thinking of strategically "pitting one against ten" and tactically "pitting ten against one". Comrade Mao Tsetung has also made a great contribution to Marxist-Leninist military science by applying the Marxist-Leninist stand, views and methods to the concrete practice of China's revolutionary war. It is the crystallisation of the experience gained by the Chinese people in their prolonged armed struggle against their enemies, both internal and external. This principle is not only one for operations in campaigns and battles, but also one of guidance in strategy. It fits in with a war fought both under the condition in which the enemy is strong and we are weak and vice versa. It is a principle of offence, but as a guiding concept of operations, it holds good in defence too. Apart from the glorious role it played in the Chinese people's revolutionary wars and its great historic significance in those wars, this principle is of enormous practical significance in strengthening our national defence and making preparations to smash imperialist aggression now. As a method of thinking and work, concentrating forces to fight a war of annihilation applies not only to military struggles, but also to political and economic struggles. It is of significance in guiding all activities of our socialist construction.

Although this method of fighting took shape and developed in the practice of the Chinese revolutionary wars, it has a general significance for all revolutionary wars. This is because all revolutionary wars, including those in China, have the common characteristics of a big and strong enemy and a weak and small revolutionary force which can achieve victory only through arduous and hard struggles. Of course, this method of fighting, like the use of other methods for directing war, must be developed according to the progress of history and war. It must be flexibly used according to different adversaries and places. Only in this way can it fulfil its role — the role of defeating the enemy and wining victory. n


1. Mao Tsetung, "On Protracted War", Selected Military Writings (SMW), Eng. ed., Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1963, p. 234.

2. Ibid., p. 254-55.

3. Mao Tsetung, "Concentrate a Superior Force to Destroy the Enemy Forces One by One", SMW, pp. 315-316.

4. Ibid., p. 316.

5. Mao Tsetung, "On Protracted War", SMW, p. 249.

6. Mao Tsetung, "On Protracted War", SMW, p. 260.

7. Mao Tsetung, "The Present Situation and Our Tasks (excerpts)", SMW, p. 348.