Partisan Movement

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Partisan Movement


a type of struggle waged in enemy-occupied territory by the popular masses for the freedom and independence of their homeland or for social transformations. In the struggle the armed nucleus of the working people relies on support from the local population. Units of regular troops operating in the enemy rear may participate in a partisan movement.

A partisan movement may take many forms: armed struggle, sabotage, subversive operations, undermining of the authority of the agencies of power, and propaganda and agitation intended to unmask the enemy’s reactionary goals and mobilize the people for a struggle against the enemy. Foreign or domestic oppressors may be the target of a partisan movement. Civil wars of the oppressed masses against the ruling classes often take the form of partisan movements. However, the methods of the partisan struggle are sometimes used by reactionary forces, which succeed in temporarily winning over the politically backward part of the population. (This happened in the Vendée and Brittany during the French Revolution and in the anti-Soviet revolts during the Civil War in Russia.)

The tasks of the partisan movement depend on the specific historical conditions associated with the struggle of the popular masses for national liberation or social transformations. Usually, they involve inflicting maximum losses on the enemy and creating the preconditions for victory. The major forms of the armed partisan struggle are sudden, rapid attacks (ambushes and raids), as well as various methods of causing losses and material damage to the enemy without engaging in combat.

Partisan operations are known to have taken place in early antiquity (for example, the struggle of the peoples of Middle Asia against the armies of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C., and the struggle of various peoples against the expansion of ancient Rome). Many peoples, including the Russians, have engaged in partisan operations. In the 13th through 15th centuries the Russian people struggled against the Mongol-Tatars, and in the early 17th century, against the Polish and Swedish intervention. During the peasant wars of the 16th through 18th centuries partisan struggles were waged by the insurgents in Russia, Germany, Austria, and Hungary. The American people carried on a partisan struggle in the War of Independence in North America (1775–83), and the Spanish people engaged in a partisan struggle against Napoleonic rule in the early 19th century. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) the French people took part in a partisan movement.

During the Patriotic War of 1812 the partisan movement played a significant role in routing Napoleon’s army. The Great October Socialist Revolution imparted a new class content to the partisan movement. During the Civil War in Russia, the partisan movement (1918–22) grew to vast proportions. The mass partisan movement rose to an even higher level in the Great Patriotic War (1941–45), owing to organization, centralized leadership, and closely coordinated action with the Soviet armed forces.

During World War II (1939–45) resistance movements developed in countries occupied by fascist Germany and its allies. In a number of countries the resistance took the form of a partisan movement, and in some countries it assumed the scale of a national liberation war (for example, in Yugoslavia, Poland, France, Greece, Italy, China, Indochina, Burma, and the Philippines). After World War II, partisan movements took shape in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, during the struggle of the peoples of these countries for national independence and against colonialism and imperialism. The partisan movement assumed a particularly broad scope in the 1940’s and 1950’s during the struggles against the rule of the colonialists and the reactionary regime in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, the Philippines, Algeria, Malaya, and Cuba. In the 1960’s and 1970’s the partisan movement grew to vast proportions in South Vietnam, where it was directed against American aggression (1964–73). Large-scale partisan movements also developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s in Laos, Cambodia, South Arabia, and the Portuguese colonies in Africa (Angola, Guinea, and Mozambique).


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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