Book Reviews

Marxism, Strategy and the Art of War

Estrategia socialista y arte militar – Ediciones IPS

A Review of Estrategia Socialista y Arte Militar [Socialist Strategy and the Art of War] by Emilio Albamonte and Matías Maiello 

Panagiotis Sotiris

Hellenic Open University, Greece

Emilio Albamonte and Matías Maiello, (2017) Estrategia Socialista y Arte Militar, Buenos Aires: Ediciones IPS.


Within Marxism, there has been a long tradition of discussing strategy in terms that are close to the discussion of the ‘art of war’.Beginning with Engels’s extensive writing on the subject. See the texts at <>. This can be attributed both to the fact that revolutions can be considered as forms of war, but also to the fact that, since Clausewitz,Clausewitz 2008. war has been discussed in relation to politics. That is why Emilio Albamonte and Matías Maiello’s book Estrategia socialist y arte militar is an important contribution that revisits these debates.

The starting point of the book is that Lenin and other Marxists had read Clausewitz and the classics of military thought, and had a vivid interest in military matters.On Lenin’s reading of Clausewitz, see Lenin 1977. According to the writers, ‘Lenin’s innovation, found in his 1915 notebooks, was in understanding the relationships between war and politics for revolutionary strategy through a critical appropriation of Clausewitz. This made him the first political interpreter of On War’ (p. 15).For all passages, the forthcoming English translation of the book has been used. At the same time, the writers criticise Foucault and Agamben for tending to see politics as a continuation of war‘At this point, we can invert Clausewitz’s proposition and say that politics is the continuation of war by other means’ (Foucault 2003, p. 15). and not vice-versa, a position they consider a negation of strategy. This discussion is linked to contemporary strategic questions, and, in particular, the question of an effective strategy for revolution today. For the writers, the problem is that a large part of the Left does not think in terms of strategy and of attempting to coordinate the forces available for combat to their fullest capacity. 

Presentation of the Book

The book begins with a very interesting and informative chapter on the German debate and polemic surrounding ‘strategy of attrition’ versus ‘strategy of overthrow’.Kautsky 1983, pp. 54–73. The authors situate it in the context of the strategic contradictions of the SPD. They present Kautsky’s positions, stressing how he failed to understand that it was not about two strategies but, rather, two poles of the ‘art of strategy’, and, to do so, they return to Clausewitz and the more dialectical approach they believe they can find there, at the same time criticising Lars Lih’s readings of these debates. Consequently, they offer a convincing criticism of Kautsky’s positions.

Then the authors move on to a reading of Rosa Luxemburg’s interventions in those debates. They use references to Clausewitz to stress the dynamics of the situation and the importance of Rosa Luxemburg’s interventions, although they also stress the limitations of her thinking on insurrection. Their discussion of the debate is careful and well-documented, and the open questions, such as that of strategic reserves and alliances, are stressed. 

With regard to Lenin, the authors situate his intervention in the context of the debates both in international Social Democracy and specifically in the debates in Russia. They offer a very interesting reading of Lenin in Clausewitzian terms such as ‘military virtue’. They stress that Lenin had a more complex conception of the relation between ‘peace’ (a non-revolutionary situation) and ‘war’ (a revolutionary situation). Again, we find here a criticism of the reading of Lenin by Lars T. Lih. They also find in Lenin the qualities attributed by Clausewitz to what the latter defined as military genius. Of particular interest is their critique of Lars T. Lih’s polemic against the ‘rearmament thesis’ in regard to Lenin after 1914.See, for example, Lih 2015. To do so, they stress the importance of Lenin’s reading of Clausewitz. According to the writers: 


Lenin would use Clausewitz’s formula to define that strategic framework and draw conclusions regarding the attitude of revolutionaries towards war. Two of his definitions would be essential. First of all, if war is the continuation of politics by other means, the position of revolutionaries cannot be determined by which state is fighting on the offensive and which on the defensive. One must determine which policies the different states are continuing by means of the war. Secondly, the continuation of revolutionary politics in the context of war necessarily involves the continuity of class struggle also ‘by other means’, that is, by the development of civil war. (p. 134.)

On the basis of this assessment, they insist on the pertinence of the ‘rearmament thesis’ in regard to Lenin’s theoretical and strategic research and reflection after 1914.

Chapter 2 is dedicated to Trotsky’s strategic thinking. They begin with Trotsky’s suggestions regarding the art of the insurrection and the notion of civil war and its ‘three “chapters” or “stages”: the preparation of the insurrection, the insurrection itself and the consolidation of victory’ (pp. 155–6). They insist that one of the main theoretical contributions by Trotsky lay in his elucidation of the relation between the soviets as organs of self-organisation and the revolutionary party as part of the strategy for insurrection. They think that ‘[t]his combination of the revolutionary party and mass self-organization, and the previously mentioned relationship between self-organized bodies and the armed force of the revolution, constitute an enormous innovation in Marxist strategic military thought, which gives it its distinctive character’ (p. 147). They also stress the importance of Trotsky and the Bolsheviks’ tactics against the bourgeois army in 1917 when they used not only direct military confrontation, but also a specific policy to divide the bourgeois army, winning over part of it for the revolution, and neutralising the remainder. They also stress the importance of the workers’ militia as opposed to the tradition of the citizens’ militia.

For the authors, Trotsky was a very important thinker in regard to questions of military strategy, especially in respect of the question of an insurrectional strategy and battle, stressing that ‘the tactical execution of urban insurrection – similar to that described by Clausewitz for battles in the mountains – is diametrically opposed to a direct confrontation between two armies formed for a battle in the open field in which each movement throughout the battle can be directed in a centralised manner’ (p. 162).

However, this approach brings the authors to the open question regarding the differences between the East and the West. They insist that Trotsky did not over-generalise the Russian situation but ‘inferred the need for a more sophisticated combination between defence and attack, between the offensive elements of the defence and vice versa, between “position” and “manoeuvre”, in order to take advantage of the greater complexity of Western sociopolitical structures’ (p. 170).

The third chapter of the book deals with the question of how to move from defence onto the offensive. In particular, they want to criticise the widespread perception that Trotsky’s positions were not applicable in the context of the ‘West’ and that the strategic answers are to be found in Gramsci. They return to Trotsky’s observations relating to the German Revolution, the united front and the tactic of the ‘workers’ government’. They are very critical of those Marxists, such as Christine Buci-Glucksmann,Buci-Glucksmann 1980. who have criticised Trotsky for his alleged underestimation of the role of political superstructures. In contrast, regarding Trotsky, the authors insist that

Basing himself on the relationships between defence and attack, position and manoeuvre, and the impulse of the masses and conscious preparation, he fought against all forms of fatalism. He rejected the view that the Russian experience of military preparation and the development of soviets was the only possible model. In relation to the soviets, in ‘The Timetable for Revolution’ he points out that the conditions for insurrection can be mature even though the bodies of self-organisation are not sufficiently developed, and that in this case the steps for the formation of soviets should be included as part of the pre-insurrectional ‘timetable’. The same applies for the arming of the masses, which should be part of the preparations, as well as the primary goal of the insurrection itself. (p. 194.)

Consequently, they embark on a critical comparative reading of Trotsky’s and Gramsci’s positions. They are critical of how Gramsci in the 1920s read the conjuncture in the West:

For Gramsci, who had not made such an in-depth study of the balance-sheet of the German events, the conclusion was of a more ‘general’ character, that is, that the existence of more solid superstructures in the ‘West’ made the ‘actions of the masses slower and more cautious’. This conclusion would later become the basis for his later thoughts developed in the Prison Notebooks. (p. 200.)

Their main point of criticism towards Gramsci is that he mistook the formula of the United Front for a generally-applicable strategic notion and an end in itself. In contrast they point to how, 

For Trotsky, the defensive united front was not an end in itself, but the condition needed in order to go on the offensive for the seizure of power. At a particular moment in the relation of forces, the defensive united front should move over onto the offensive; that is to say, go beyond the limits of the bourgeois regime with the aim of destroying it. (p. 205.)

Moreover, they point to Trotsky’s originality, in the sense that he was a strategist who, while rejecting all passivity and fatalism, always sought tactically to place the revolutionary forces on the defensive, thus offering a more dialectical conception of ‘position’ and ‘manoeuvre’. However, at the same time, the authors draw attention to the points of convergence between Trotsky and Gramsci: 

On this point – the importance of the defensive united front – Trotsky and Gramsci had many points of agreement. Both of them believed that the highest developments of ‘civil society’ – in Gramscian terms – in the West presented a series of ‘trenches’ that the proletariat could use in its struggle, especially given the advance of fascism. In contrast, Stalin and the leadership of the Communist International, basing themselves on the albeit correct view that the bourgeois state always maintains the same class character despite the various political regimes it can adopt, refused to acknowledge any difference between bourgeois democracy and fascism. (p. 212.)

On the basis of this reading, the authors insist that Trotsky was the most ‘Clausewitzian’ of all Marxists in the sense of the ways he could combine ‘position’ and ‘manoeuvre’, ‘defence’ and ‘offensive’, ‘strategy’ and ‘tactics’. Moreover, they use this discussion to debate the positions taken by various Trotskyist groups in particular conjunctures.

Chapter 4 deals with the notion of defence, as defined by Clausewitz. They insist that ‘the actions of the Bolsheviks during the 1917 revolution were a veritable school in fighting on the defensive (as a minority), multiplying “well-directed blows” and the offensive means of defence.’ (p. 237.) They revisit Gramsci’s Lyons Theses and stress its affinities with Trotsky’s thinking in the same period, especially with regard to the question of democracy. They insist that ‘the innovation introduced by Trotsky is the articulation of these themes as radical-democratic slogans as part of a transitional programme in the struggle (under bourgeois democracy) for a workers’ government (dictatorship of the proletariat)’ (p. 241). 

However, they also stress the limits of Gramsci’s thinking such as it pertains to the question of the ‘Constituent Assembly’.See ‘Athos Lisa’s Report’ in Anderson 2017. Their main objective is to stress how bourgeois democracy and soviet democracy are antagonistic political forms. At the same time, they are critical of Peter Thomas’s theorisation of the hegemonic apparatuses, which they consider to be ‘evolutionary’. Moreover, they point to the different ways in which Trotsky and Gramsci approached the General Strike of 1926 and its aftermath as an illustration of Trotsky’s superior thinking on the need for a break with bureaucracy. However, at the same time, they insist that ‘what is certain is that for Gramsci, as the Prison Notebooks show (for example in his analysis of the “third moment” in relations of military forces, and also in the report of Athos Lisa concerning his preoccupation with the military aspects of insurrection during his imprisonment), there was no possibility of, such as Thomas – in their opinion – suggests, “neutralising” the apparatus of the bourgeois state without a revolution’ (p. 266). To substantiate these points, they offer a very close reading of Trotsky’s texts of the 1920s and 1930s. They defend Trotsky’s characterisation of the situation in France in 1936 as revolutionary, in contrast to that of Mandel.

With regard to the notion of hegemony, they engage in a critical dialogue with Peter Thomas,Thomas 2009. whom they criticise for de-linking the conquest of hegemony from that of revolution. They note that this is the problem with contemporary versions of Trotskyism and political positions such as the ones adopted by the Anticapitalistas current in the Spanish State. For the authors, the problem is that ‘Gramsci’s legacy, unlike Trotsky’s, has been used in ways which seek to separate it from the revolutionary environment of the Third International and use it as a foundation for reformist strategies’ (p. 289). They are also critical of Peter Thomas’s reading of the NEP In Thomas 2009. as the background for the emergence of a certain conceptualisation of the notion of hegemony.

In Chapter 5, they return to Lenin’s reading of Clausewitz. They insist that Lenin used Clausewitz to define the nature of war in general and imperialist war in particular. They oppose Lenin’s approach to that of Foucault, whom they accuse of erasing the difference between ‘war’ and ‘peace’. In contrast, they find in Lenin someone thinking through the dialectical relation between the political and the military aspects. This chapter offers a very detailed reading of Lenin’s and Trotsky’s writings on war and in particular imperialist war, counterposing these writings to Aron’s reading of Clausewitz. They also deal with the move from ‘absolute’ to ‘total’ war in the run-up to WWII, and the new dimensions that the ‘popular exteriority’ highlighted by Lenin in his reading of Clausewitz acquired. 

They also attempt to offer an analysis of the class and political dynamics incorporated in WWII, suggesting that ‘in World War II there was a convergence of an inter-imperialist war, a “just war” of defence of the USSR, and a series of wars of national liberation in the colonies and semi-colonies. Lastly, and especially towards the end of the World War, these state conflicts were combined with civil wars that, as Lenin maintained, are the revolution itself in times of war’ (p. 335). They also point to the importance of the civil wars of the 1940s and how their dynamics were undermined by the politics of the Stalinist bureaucracies. 

Chapter 6 deals with the protracted people’s war strategy developed by MaoSee Mao 1964. and Giáp,Giáp 1970. and the concept of guerrilla warfare as suggested by Che Guevara.Guevara 1968. They offer a detailed reading of Mao’s texts in comparison to Clausewitz, at the same time stressing that ‘for Mao, the revolution to be undertaken in China was “directed not against capitalism, but against imperialism and feudalism”’ (p. 369), and point towards the importance Mao attributed to the strategic alliance with the national bourgeoisie. Consequently, they suggest that, for Mao, the very notion of protraction had to do with placing limits on the revolutionary dynamic in order to maintain the alliance with the bourgeoisie: ‘Mao thus ultimately abandons Lenin’s appropriation of Clausewitz’s formula, to return to a version that is more similar to the original. The relationship between politics and war loses the complexity it had in Lenin or Trotsky.’ (p. 375.) They argue that

[w]hile Mao’s conception of the anti-Japanese united front had not had the desired effects from a military point of view, it would be in the political sphere where it would have its greatest strategic implications. The main consequence would be the virtual ‘freezing’ of the revolution, as a result of Mao and the CPC’s refusal to appeal to the masses of workers and peasants who were under Japanese occupation through a revolutionary programme, as well as to those who suffered under the weight of the Kuomintang regime in the unoccupied areas. (p. 378.)

With regard to Giáp and the Vietnamese experience, they are very critical of the tactics of the Vietnamese Communist Party after WWII, in particular in connection with the French reoccupation: 

In short, the conditions for a protracted people’s war were not an ‘objective’ outcome in Indochina either, but largely a subjective one, a direct result of the Communist Party’s politics. Thanks to its actions, the Vietnamese people’s war of liberation began in conditions in which the elements of dual power were disintegrating, the workers’ vanguard had been defeated, the peasants were prohibited from taking over the land, the French had reoccupied Indochina and, finally, the CPI itself was persecuted by the bourgeois government. (p. 386.)

In sum, they are very critical of the notion of a ‘protracted people’s war’, suggesting that it led to strategic failures and that it can account for the subsequent development of the both the Chinese and the Vietnamese revolutions. They think that the problem had to do with the peasant-based character or the leaderships of the respective Communist Parties.

It was in this particular form that a peasant-based leadership adopted the program of the proletariat, both in China and in Indochina, giving rise to processes that, based on their social character, were proletarian revolutions. Thus, after successive renunciations of the strategy of protracted people’s war, first with the appropriation of the agrarian reform programme that led to the military defeat of the Kuomintang – and the French army in Indochina – and then with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, the result was the emergence of a new type of state, a workers’ state according to certain aspects of its social character (nationalised property, planning of the economy and monopoly of foreign trade) but that was totally deformed and mutilated from its very emergence, in the image and likeness of the Communist Party that took power. (p. 393.)

Their main point of criticism is that a strategy of protracted war incorporates limitations upon the revolutionary dynamic, in particular because it entails a certain alliance with the national bourgeoisie and a certain protection of the ‘national’ capitalist sector of the economy. Moreover, it facilitates the emergence of a bureaucratic form of governance. It can also facilitate the emergence of a certain nationalism, something they consider obvious in both the Chinese and the Vietnamese cases. 

In the case of Che Guevara, they argue that he represented a critique of Stalinist evolutionism that nevertheless did not manage to incorporate the richness of Lenin’s approach to the dialectical relation between the political and the military aspect.

Although Che criticises the evolutionism of Stalinism’s reformist strategy, he addresses it almost exclusively from the perspective of the critique of pacifism. With this approach, he distances himself from Lenin (and from Clausewitz), for whom there are unbreakable ties between the military and the political aspects, and tends to develop – in his speeches and in his writings – a somewhat mechanistic opposition: reformism-pacifism versus revolution-armed struggle. (p. 402.)

This is combined with a critical reading of Che’s texts on the Cuban Revolution and the same problem of the alliance with bourgeois elements which imposes limitations upon the revolutionary dynamic. These limitations were accentuated by the way Che Guevara underestimated the importance of soviet-type organisations, which led to a certain strategic eclecticism.

In a similar manner, they are critical of those currents that attempted to transfer guerrilla tactics to an urban environment: ‘the transfer of the guerrilla from the countryside to the city in no way involved a return to a strategy linked to the experience of the proletariat and its self-organisation, to an insurrectionary strategy with a revolutionary programme. On the contrary, it led to a new leap in the growing abstraction of military strategy (from political strategy, political objectives and the conditions of their development) and the deepening of militarism’ (p. 417). They label this approach ‘methodism’ and they offer interesting critical insights especially in regard to Latin American movements, insisting that ‘one of the main conclusions that can be drawn from the experience of these groups for revolutionary strategy today is a warning against the consequences of methodism and militarism’ (p. 423).

Chapter 7 is entitled ‘Grand Strategy and Permanent Revolution’. The chapter begins with a return to the emergence of the very notion of permanent revolution, beginning with Marx’s own texts, followed by its use in the struggle against Stalinism. They attempt an elaboration of the main dividing lines, beginning with the opposition of a conception of war based on the nation-state and one based on class struggle.

To defeat this policy, neither Stalinism in the USSR nor any of the leaderships that had spearheaded the post-war revolutions – such as Maoism or Hochiminism – represented an alternative, since as bureaucratic castes they were also based on the domination of a minority over the large majorities of workers and peasants. Their ‘foreign policy’ could only be a continuation in the same terms. (p. 432.)

To that they oppose the possibility of a Marxist ‘grand strategy’ centred upon internationalism and the perspective of communism.

While a revolutionary strategy is one that links separate battles (tactical) with the political objective of the proletariat’s seizure of power, the ‘grand strategy’ of permanent revolution is one that generally links the start of the revolution on a national scale with the development of the international revolution and its worldwide culmination, as well as the seizure of power with transformations in the economy, science and customs, with the aim of achieving a society of ‘free and associated producers’: communism. (p. 435.)

To that end, they engage in a critical dialogue with Clausewitz, Trotsky’s conceptualisation of uneven and combined development, and his observations with regard to revolutionary strategy and tactics in the 1920s and 1930s. In particular, they point to the importance of Trotsky’s theorisation of the permanent revolution and its generalisation to include colonial and semi-colonial countries, even though the centre of gravity is located in the imperialist countries. This enables a comprehensive perspective which can account for the possibility that the revolutionary sequence might begin in the periphery. However, 

[f]rom this combination of elements, it can be inferred that the proletarian revolution can begin at the capitalist periphery, but only if it acquires an expansive dynamic that succeeds in overthrowing the bourgeoisie in the ‘centre of gravity’ – as the Bolsheviks and the Third International attempted to do – can it aspire to achieve a lasting victory. The inequality between the economic and political factors can only be resolved by redefining a new totality. (p. 447.)

They are critical of how this line was taken up by the various tendencies of the Fourth International: ‘the lack of a correct definition led to the adaptation, alternately, to different “Third World” groups, to Social Democracy, Stalinism and Castroism, among others’ (p. 450). Moreover, they point towards the strategic limitations of these conceptions and the inability to present a viable strategic alternative. They point to how certain conceptions of a ‘workers’ and peasants’ government’ led to an underestimation of the importance of an anticapitalist perspective, especially in the case of the US SWP.

Chapter 8 returns to the Cold War period and the ‘grand strategies’ articulated at that time, namely of containment and ‘peaceful coexistence’. They insist that ‘while the very existence of the USSR and the whole of the workers’ states, in spite of their bureaucratic character, placed the proletariat in a politically offensive position with respect to imperialism “despite all the temporary ebbs and flows”, from the point of view of the “grand strategy” the permanent suspension of the offensive at the political level (and in the class struggle where the situation created possibilities) clearly favoured the capitalist forces.’ (p. 504.) They also engage in a critical dialogue with Isaac Deutscher’s reading. This enables them to offer an historical overview, in their perspective, of this period. 

Chapter 9 returns to the strategy of permanent revolution. They stress the importance of the expansion of the state and of the tendency to incorporate the organisations of the subaltern classes and the enhanced processes of bureaucratisation. They also discuss the question of whether workers’ organisations were part of the state. They suggest that ‘the “expansion” of the state does not eliminate the possibility of the existence of non-statised unions (as if all of them, as in Althusser’s work, were simply “apparatuses” of the state); unions can be recovered from the hands of the bureaucracy. What disappears is the possibility for them to remain “neutral” (neither statised nor revolutionary) in time, precisely because the state and the bourgeoisie act within them’ (p. 535). In this sense, they oppose the suggestion that the state is the condensation of a ‘relation of forces’, as theorised by Poulantzas,Poulantzas 2000. insisting that it can lead to a reformist abandonment of an insurrectionary strategy.

In the authors’ opinion, the capitalist restoration and the unprecedented expansion of relations of capitalist exploitation were accompanied by extended fragmentation of the working class. They stress the importance of the bureaucratisation of working-class organisations but also of the organisational forms of the ‘new social movements’. 

The form taken on by the ‘integral state’ under the ‘bourgeois Restoration’ has entailed the development or strengthening of the bureaucracies of each of these movements, resulting in their progressive statisation. This has taken place, either through the links with the state of the so-called NGOs (true ‘mendicant orders of the empire’, as Toni Negri referred to them), or directly through specific ‘departments’ of the state (ministries, secretariats, agencies), which carry out the tasks of cooptation and regimentation within the ‘movements’. (p. 545.)

The authors insist that the global crisis that started in 2008 marks a turning point, where capitalist crisis meets the long process of decline of US hegemony and the parallel emergence of both new far-right formations but also neo-reformist parties such as SYRIZA and Podemos. This is how they formulate their critique of neo-reformist positions:

Today, ‘neo-reformism’ is the political expression of attempts to channel the manoeuvrability of the subaltern classes that is best suited to the forms of the sociopolitical structure of the ‘integral state’ as they are today (in the framework of the elements of ‘organic crises’ present in many states as a result of the capitalist crisis). It is complementary to the material fragmentation of the working class and its separation from its allies.

It is a petty-bourgeois reformism, which does not overlap with the core of the union bureaucracy since, unlike classical reformism, it is not based on the central battalions of the working class but has its main influence among young university students (‘over-educated’ for capitalist standards and underemployed), as well as young precarious workers and, in some cases, state workers. (p. 550.)

Against neo-reformism, the authors suggest the need for a renewed version of the united front.

The logical conclusion of the united front is thus the tactic of a ‘workers’ government’ in an anti-capitalist and revolutionary sense, demanding of reformist or ‘centrist’ leaderships that they arm the proletariat for its defence against the bourgeois counterrevolutionary forces, establish generalised workers’ control of production and shift the burden of the crisis to the capitalists. (p. 557.)

They try to integrate such a conception into a theory of permanent revolution and they link it to the discussion of the forms of disintegration of contemporary forms of hegemony, a conception that also avoids the pitfalls of any thinking of a collapse of hegemony or of a hegemonic vacuum. In this context

The permanent revolution, as we have pointed out throughout the book, is what we call a ‘theory-programme’. As a theory, it proposes a series of tendential laws of the driving forces and mechanics of revolution in the imperialist era, both as regards the relationship between democratic and socialist objectives, between national and international revolution, as well as with respect to the socialist revolution as such. However, it does not simply describe those tendencies but contains, itself, a specific type of programmatic formulation. (p. 564.)

Critical Assessment 

This is a book of impressive scope attempting to discuss questions of both military and political strategy and to revisit some of the most important strategic debates of the working-class movement, in order to support a revolutionary strategic approach that is based upon Lenin, Trotsky and a certain dialogue with Gramsci. Among the many merits of the book, I would like to stress the following.

Firstly, it is very important to have books that return to major strategic debates in the history of Marxism and the working-class movement. In a period marked by either electoral pragmatism (or even opportunism) or sectarian dogmatism, actually revisiting the debates and the arguments articulated in their context is more than welcome.

Secondly, the very choice to revisit Marxist theories of war, beginning with Lenin’s reading of Clausewitz, represents not only an important addition to the literature but also a useful reminder of an aspect of the Marxist tradition that tends to be overlooked. 

Thirdly, it is important that it is a book that attempts to revisit strategic notions and see their potential pertinence to the contemporary conjuncture and its challenges, from the united front to permanent revolution, presenting the richness of the discussion, along with the necessary textual resources. Of particular importance is the attempt at a certain strategic dialogue between the respective positions of Trotsky and Gramsci.

At the same time, there are some critical points that could be made in regard to the book. There is a tendency to present both Lenin and Trotsky in an almost hagiographical way, in the sense of suggesting the correctness of all their positions. It would be much better if also the contradictions, the oscillations and the open questions were stressed, together with how their positions evolved precisely through the open questions they faced. In a similar way, other positions are presented in a kind of polemical manner, as if their erroneous character were taken for granted. And I think that some debates, such as the debates of the 1970s around strategy and the role of the state, required a more attentive reading, despite their contradictions and shortcomings. Moreover, at certain points, debates and tensions within the broader current of the Fourth International or contemporary events are given a kind of importance that seems disproportional. I also think that Clausewitz’s importance seems in certain instances to be over-stressed, and the same goes for the way Clausewitz’s influence upon Lenin is presented. Although this is an important aspect, it is obvious that there are also limits to Clausewitz’s conception, and that the Marxist approach to war is much more complex, precisely because Marxism has a much more complex approach to politics in its articulation with class struggles and specific historically-determined modes of production.

But these critical observations should not lead us to an underestimation of the importance of this book, its scope and the significance of the strategic questions it raises and the way it represents an important contribution to questions both open and urgent. The fact that it will soon be available in an English translation will make this research available to a broader audience.


Anderson, Perry 2017, The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci, Second Edition, London: Verso.

Buci-Glucksmann, Christine 1980, Gramsci and the State, translated by David Fernbach, London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Clausewitz, Carl von 2008, On War, translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Foucault, Michel 2003, ‘Society Must be Defended’: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975–76, edited by Mauro Bertani and Alessandro Fontana, translated by David Macey, New York: Picador.

Giáp, Võ Nguyên 1970, The Military Art of People’s War: Selected Writings of General Vo Nguyen Giap, edited by Russell Stetler, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Guevara, Ernesto ‘Che’ 1968, La guerre de guérilla, Paris: François Maspero.

Kautsky, Karl 1983, Selected Political Writings, edited and translated by Patrick Goode, London: Macmillan.

Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich 1977, ‘Lenin’s Notebook on Clausewitz’, edited, translated and introduced by Donald E. Davis and Walter S.G. Kohn, in Soviet Armed Forces Review Annual, Volume 1, edited by David R. Jones, pp. 188–229, Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press. 

Lih, Lars T. 2015, ‘The Ironic Triumph of “Old Bolshevism”’, available at: <>.

Mao Tse-toung 1964, Écrits militaires de Mao Tse-toung, Peking: Éditions en Langues Etrangères.

Poulantzas, Nicos 2000, State, Power, Socialism, London: Verso.

Thomas, Peter D. 2009, The Gramscian Moment: Hegemony, Philosophy and Marxism, Historical Materialism Book Series, Leiden: Brill.