The real origin of modern guerrilla warfare can be found in Mao Zedong and the Chinese Civil War. Beyond creating an actual theory for which you could base how to fight a guerrilla war on, Mao Zedong’s victory in the Chinese Civil War and those that came afterwards signified the fact that guerrilla warfare had now become politicized. No longer was it only about fighting – you had to gain people’s support for your cause. It meant that guerrilla fighters also had to be politically aware and that their leaders adapt to the 20th century. Thus, propaganda became vital and the concept of engaging an international audience in your cause was developed through the use of printed material to the radio and finally to television and the Internet in the modern age.
The Cuban Revolution was an astounding success and a man that saw this was Ernesto “Che” Guevara. The only problem was that he did not have the hindsight that we have today and completely misread the conflict. He created the foco theory based on his experiences in Cuba. The foco theory was based on the fact that it was the guerrillas themselves who would make the conflict possible. By their actions, they’d gain support instead of vice-versa: there was no preparation or political mobilisation of the masses. Thus, the guerrillas would the foco, the focus, of the conflict and lead the popular insurrection. The concept of separate political and military leadership also separated the theory from that of Mao’s which stressed that of a unified leadership. As it came to be, Mao’s theory worked much better in practice than Guevara’s. Every movement that ended up using it failed, even as it was adapted for urban movements. Guevara’s miscalculations and misreadings led to his own death in Bolivia 1967 where he was trying to create a popular insurrection through his own theory, to no avail.