Small Wars Journal

Mapping the Pursuit of a ‘Combination of All Forms of Struggle’: How Colombia’s Peace Agreement Complements the FARC’s Political Strategy

Sun, 02/19/2017 - 6:36pm

Mapping the Pursuit of a ‘Combination of All Forms of Struggle’: How Colombia’s Peace Agreement Complements the FARC’s Political Strategy

Alexandra Phelan


At the guerrillas’ Tenth Conference in 2016, the FARC concluded that ‘we do not see the end of the conflict inherent in the capitalist social order, but the continuation of the social and class struggle…the transition to a legal political organisation will continue the struggle for structural transformation towards a new social order…’[i].  This paper briefly examines how Colombia’s peace agreement complements the FARC’s political strategy by supporting the insurgency’s rationale of ‘la combinación de todas las formas de lucha’, or ‘the combination of all forms of struggle’.  By utilising primary FARC material, this article maps the development of the FARC’s ideological framework in order to demonstrate the political consistency of the movement.  It demonstrates the ways in which the peace agreement fulfils parts of the insurgency’s traditional political agenda, and how the guerrillas’ strategies for decades have placed importance in establishing a political party in fulfilling ‘the revolutionary struggle for national liberation’[ii].

The Early Communist Connection

In understanding the ideological framework of the FARC’s political agenda, it is important to recognise the group’s earlier ties to the Colombian Communist Party (Partido Comunista Colombiano, the PCC).  As an insurgent movement, the FARC is a political-military organisation that has its roots in a violent period of Colombian history known as La Violencia, or ‘The Violence’ beginning in 1948.  Traditionally, the Colombian state has faced challenges in exerting authority over Colombia’s entire territory, influenced by the nature of the country’s topography. Furthermore, leading up the outbreak of La Violencia, whilst Colombia held regular elections these were primarily tailored towards representing the country’s political elites affiliated with these two major parties.  As a result, due to the state’s inability to effectively exercise this rule of law throughout the countryside, and the preferentialism of the agrarian elite over the colonos (tenant farmers) and peasantry, this resulted in a significant segment of the rural population being directly excluded from the political system[iii]. Whilst La Violencia was initially fought along party lines between the Liberal and Conservative political parties, it later began to manifest in class lines between the large landowners and the campesinos, the peasants resisting the agrarian status quo.  Although the PCC was formally ratified in the 1930s, as early as the 1920s the party supported rural militancy and members organised seizures of land, strikes, protests, and established several enclaves and self-defense groups in areas of southern Colombia[iv].  Whilst the Communist Party was small at the time, it was able to involve itself almost immediately in these struggles over the rights of tenant farmers, public land claims and struggles over Indian communal lands[v], and secured its roots within the rural population. 

Later on May 27th 1964, the Colombian government launched ‘Operation Marquetalia’ against the growing communist threat in southeast Colombia, targeting the areas of El Pato, El Duda and Guayabero, known by the FARC as ‘Marquetalia’.  This marked a significant turning point within the Colombian conflict, as the impact of the campaign contributed to mobilisation towards the guerrillas.  Furthermore, there were forty-eight armed peasant guerrillas in a targeted village headed by notable PCC member Pedro Antonio Marín, otherwise known as Manuel Marulanda Vélez.  He began working with the PCC in the late 1940s, became a member in 1952 at the age of twenty-four, and was elected to the Central Committee of the PCC in 1960.  In a few short years Marulanda stood out as an outstanding guerrilla and was organiser of the PCC in the Colombian Central Cordillera[vi].  He would later go on to be the founding Commander-in-Chief of the FARC, highly influential in formulating the group’s military strategy through to his death in 2008.  This group of peasants also included another key PCC member, Jacobo Arenas, who would go on to become the ideological leader of the FARC.  Despite the massive military bombardment launched against them, all forty-eight guerrillas managed to survive.  Although many within the group see the commencement date of Operation Marquetalia being the founding date of the insurgency, the FARC was formally established at the guerrillas’ Second Conference in 1966[vii]. The FARC is headed by the Commander-in-Chief (at present, Rodrigo Londoño Echeverri, nom de guerre Timoleón ‘Timochenko’ Jiménez), supported by a collegiate body known as the Central High Command Secretariat who are tasked with decision and policy-making. Whilst the FARC operates in command-and-control structure, this paper will focus purely on the political sphere of the organisation. 

The FARC’s Political Agenda

On July 20th 1964 during Operation Marquetalia, the FARC developed their first political agenda entitled the Agrarian Programme of the Guerrillas of the FARC.  This policy was later broadened at the FARC’s Eighth Conference in 1993, and sets out an eight-point agenda called ‘the Revolutionary Agrarian Policy’.  The insurgency outlined that they ‘fight for the establishment of a democratic political regime that guarantees peace with social justice, respect for human rights and economic development with wellbeing for all who live in Colombia.  We fight for an agrarian policy that provides the peasants with land from the large holdings’[viii].  Among some of the Agenda items, the FARC state that they will ‘raise the standard of material and cultural life of the whole peasantry, free it from unemployment, hunger, illiteracy, and the endemic illnesses that limit its ability to work, to eliminate the fetters of the large landholding system, and to promote the development of agrarian and industrial production’.  Also, ‘tenant farmers, occupants, renters, sharecroppers, lessees and farmhands on the large holdings and national lands shall receive property titles for the lands they exploit’, and ‘adequate health services for complete attention to the problems of public health in the countryside shall be organised’[ix]

Because of the FARC’s early relationship to the PCC, one of the decisions that the insurgency has made over time was to ideologically abandon a strict interpretation of Marxism-Leninism.  This is because Gilberto Vieira, the founder of the PCC and General Secretary of the Party from 1947-1991, was one of the first Latin American Communists to enhance the figure of Simón Bolívar vis-à-vis Marx, considering Marx’s reflections as a ‘a science and not a dogma’[x].  As a result, the FARC has adopted influence from ‘Bolivarianism’, a set of largely nationalist doctrines inspired by Bolívar, a Latin American independence leader[xi].  Bolivarianism includes a series of proposals that generally encompass left-wing ideas, but ‘sideline traditional ultimate goals such as the establishment of a classical socialist model’[xii]. Whilst heavily influenced by traditional Marxist ideals, within Colombia Bolivarianism is associated with the ideas of nationalism, independence, anti-imperialism and the legitimacy of armed struggle[xiii].  The FARC states that ‘we are Marxist-Leninist and Bolivarian, also communists, not ‘pro-soviet’ or ‘pro-Castro’, although we do feel identified with the principles of both revolutions, in particular with the Cuban Revolution, which continues illuminating the world with proud [sic] and dignity’[xiv]

For the FARC, Operation Marquetalia mentioned above is often used throughout the group’s literature to justify the guerrillas’ fight against the Colombian state.  The group’s founding ideological leader, Jacobo Arenas, wrote in his work Diary of the Resistance of Marquetalia (Diario de la Resistencia de Marquetalia), that-

it became clear that an armed revolutionary core, armed with guns and with ideas, is capable of resisting and take advantage of the struggle against a powerful enemy.  It is clear, then, that a revolutionary guerrilla is indestructible when guided by an assertive political line and puts into practice all the richness of the tactics of the guerrilla struggle…it is also clear the importance of armed struggle within the general conception of the people’s combination of all forms of struggle, to achieve the key objective of taking power[xv]

This stated ‘combination of all forms of struggle’ has traditionally framed both the FARC’s political and military strategy.  At the guerrillas’ Eighth Conference, it was concluded that the FARC is ‘a political-military movement that carries out its ideological, political, organisation, propagandistic and armed-guerrilla actions, according to the tactical combination of all forms of mass struggle for the power for the people’[xvi].  As part of the group’s political education, the FARC provides constant ideological training to its members, which can be demonstrated most clearly in their ideological booklet, Ideological Handbook FARC-EP (Cartilla ideológica FARC-EP).  Ordered at the FARC’s Sixth Conference in 1978[xvii], the handbook was designed to contribute to ‘the elevation of the ideological and political level of all combatants of the FARC’[xviii], providing lessons on basic notions of anthropology, rudiments of the Marxist philosophy, and notions of political economy. 

In order to achieve the insurgency’s overall goal, the FARC’s political and military strategy shifted within the early 1980s.  Although the FARC originated from the ‘self-defense’ movements mobilised by the PCC, after the insurgency’s official establishment the FARC and the PCC operated autonomously.  Whilst the FARC and the PCC officially split at the guerrillas’ Eighth Conference in 1993, the FARC’s founding leader Marulanda acknowledged the importance of the PCC, stating ‘we go forward guided by the orientation of the only party that has always been with us: the (Colombian) Communist Party.  And we will always continue to be so guided’[xix].  With this guidance, the FARC leadership decided to engage directly with the Colombian political system. 

Political Endeavours pre-2016 Peace Agreement

Before the 2016 Peace Agreement, the insurgency had previously developed two political organisations in an attempt to enter the country’s political scene.  The first, the Patriotic Union (Unión Patriótica, the UP) was an overt political organisation that engaged in elections, and the second, the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party, (Partido Comunista Clandestino Colombiano, the PCCC) operated covertly and developed from the FARC’s Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia (Movimiento Bolivariano por la Nueva Colombia).

The UP was officially launched in the broader context of former President Belisario Betancur’s peace negotiations in 1985, and was used as a mechanism to propel the FARC’s political message out to the broader Colombian population.  In a plenary on October 6th 1983, the FARC concluded that in line with the political tactic of the combination of all forms of struggle, not only do elections allow the masses to participate, but are also able to be used as a platform to confront ideas.  Consequently, the FARC accepted that election campaigns are critical as a form of mass struggle[xx].  The UP ran as a political party in 1986, mobilising on a platform of providing on an alternative voice to the opposition.  Surpassing many expectations, the UP performed well in the election, gaining 350 local council seats, 23 deputy positions in departmental assemblies, 9 seats in the House, 6 seats in the Senate and 4.6% of the presidential vote[xxi].  Two FARC members Braulio Herrera and Iván Márquez, who would later go on to be chief negotiator for the FARC in the most recent peace negotiations, were elected nationally.  However after the electoral success, the UP became a target of intense violence, and a mission was set out to destroy the party by not only targeting its politicians, but also its supporters.  In October 1987, the party’s presidential candidate in the 1986 election Jaime Pardo Leal, was assassinated.  From 1986 to 1990, between four and six thousand members of the UP were killed, including Bernardo Jaramillo who replaced Pardo Leal as the next presidential candidate for the 1990 elections[xxii].  Eventually due to the violence and its impact on loss of support, the UP lost its legal status in 2002 before eventually being reinstated in 2013.

However, the FARC continued to maintain a covert organisation throughout the 1990s.  After Arenas’ death in 1997, the FARC’s Central High Command announced that they were going to build a political movement based on a new, political agenda called Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia[xxiii].  As part of this agenda, in 2000 the FARC’s leader at the time, Alfonso Cano, launched a new political party called the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party (PCCC).  The PCCC operates in secret, and was led by Cano up until his death in 2011.  At the FARC’s Ninth Conference in 2007, the guerrillas concluded that they ‘will persist in organising and strengthening the Clandestine Communist Party as an indispensable instrument in the struggle for power and for the construction of a new homeland’[xxiv].  Inspired by the ‘the revolutionary thinking of Simón Bolívar, of pre-imperialism, Latin American equality, and the welfare of the people’[xxv], the FARC sees this organisation as the continuation of ‘our people against exploitation and oppression, for national liberation and for broad anti-imperialist, Latin American and world front’[xxvi].  Consequently, the PCCC is governed by the overall FARC programme, by the insurgency’s strategic plan, by all resolutions of FARC management, the conclusions of the guerrilla Conferences and the present statute[xxvii]

A New Form of Struggle: The 2016 Peace Agreement

At the guerrillas’ Tenth Conference, the FARC stated that historically they have always searched for a political solution to their struggle[xxviii].  For them, the accords served as the continuation of their struggle through political action [xxix].  The 2016 Peace Agreement with the Colombian government supports aspects of the insurgency’s political strategy in pursuit of the combination of all forms of struggle.  Firstly, it deals specifically with issues pertaining to the insurgency’s agrarian agenda and grievances.  In the round of peace negotiations with the Santos administration, the FARC ‘changed and modernised’ the original Agrarian Programme of the Guerrillas of the FARC to ‘the current rural context of Colombia, marked by extractivism, inequality, big landownership and Free Trade Agreements’[xxx].  Moreover, the group explicitly stated that it perceives the agenda items to be consistent with ‘generating the conditions’ designed to overcome the major causes for the persistence of conflict, and their impact on Colombian society[xxxi].

The final peace accord contains the agreement Rural Integral Reform (Reforma Rural Integral, RRI), that aims to contribute to a transformation of the countryside, attempting to close the gap between the countryside and the city, and enhance the well-being of the rural population.  This includes agreement in working towards the eradication of poverty, promoting equality and ensure that the rural population enjoys full rights of citizenship[xxxii].  The agreement also includes the establishment of a land fund, the creation of development programmes with territorial focus, and national plans for comprehensive rural reform.  In line with the FARC’s traditional political agenda, the insurgency states that ‘the agreements we have reached will be the starting point for radical transformations of Colombia’s rural and agrarian reality with equity and democracy.  They are focussed on the people, the small producers, land access and distribution, the struggle against poverty, encouragement of agricultural and livestock production, and the reactivation of the rural economy’[xxxiii].

Moreover, the Peace Agreement contains an agreement on political participation, and ‘opening democracy to build peace’.  The FARC and the government reached agreements on the rights and guarantees for the general exercise of political opposition, and specifically in terms of new movements that could arise after the signing and implementation of the Final Agreement, including their access to media.  Also, it included agreements on democratic mechanisms, and measures that promote greater participation in national, regional, and local politics of all sectors.  This included a commitment to greater participation for the most vulnerable populations, in equal conditions and with specific security guarantees[xxxiv].  Considering lessons learned from the previous destruction of the UP, the agreement also includes a provision pertaining to protection for new members of the political movement that will arise from the transition of the FARC to legal, political activity.  Finally, the political party that arises from the FARC after it demobilises will receive 10 automatic congressional seats (5 in the House of Representatives, 5 in the Senate) between 2018-2026 [xxxv].

By mapping the historical development of the FARC’s political agenda, this paper has briefly addressed how the 2016 Peace Agreement supports facets of the FARC’s political strategy and rationale of ‘the combination of all forms of struggle’.  The agreement addresses key FARC grievances, ideologically influenced by Marxism-Leninism and Bolivarianism, particularly in terms of agrarian reform, poverty and inequality.  Moreover, in line with the FARC’s emphasis on the importance of a political party in pursuing the combination of all forms of struggle, the Peace Agreement not only allows for mechanisms to transition into legal political activities, but also the guarantee of seats within Colombia’s political apparatus.  Whilst it is currently unclear as to how the Colombian population will receive the FARC’s political legitimacy in the upcoming 2018 elections, it is evident that the implementation of the peace agreement provisions will be integral to the FARC’s political agenda of pursuing the movement’s new ‘struggle’- democratic politics.  

End Notes

[i] FARC-EP (2016), Décima Conferencia Nacional Guerrillera,, accessed 19/02/2016

[ii] FARC-EP (1993), Estatuto de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia- Ejército del Pueblo,, accessed 15/01/2017

[iii] See Richani, N (2013), Systems of violence: the political economy of war and peace in Colombia, State University of New York Press and LeGrand, C. C. (2003) ‘The Colombian Crisis in Historical Perspective’ in Canadian Journal of Latin America and Carribean Studies 28(55-56), pp. 165-209

[iv] Brittain, J. J. (2010), Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: the Origins and Direction of the FARC-EP, Pluto Press, p.2

[v] LeGrand, C. C. (2003) ‘The Colombian Crisis in Historical Perspective’ in Canadian Journal of Latin America and Carribean Studies 28 (55-56), p.175

[vi] Brittain, J. J. (2010), Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: the Origins and Direction of the FARC-EP, Pluto Press, p.15

[vii] FARC-EP (unknown), ¿Qué es la Conferencia Nacional de Guerrilleros?,, accessed 15/01/2017

[viii] FARC-EP (1964), Programa Agrario de los Guerrilleros de las FARC-EP, p.2

[ix] FARC-EP (1964), Programa Agrario de los Guerrilleros de las FARC-EP, p.3

[x] Harnecker, M. (1988), Colombia: Combinación de Todas Las Formas de Lucha, Biblioteca Popular

[xi] Ugarriza, J. E. and M. J. Craig (2012) ‘The Relevance of Ideology to Contemporary Armed Conflicts: A Quantitative Analysis of Former Combatants in Colombia’ In Journal of Conflict Resolution 57(3), p.454

[xii] Ortiz, R. D. (2002) ‘Insurgent Strategies in the Post-Cold War: The Case of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia’ in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 25(2), p.130

[xiii] Ugarriza, J. E. and M. J. Craig (2012) ‘The Relevance of Ideology to Contemporary Armed Conflicts: A Quantitative Analysis of Former Combatants in Colombia’ In Journal of Conflict Resolution 57(3), p.455

[xiv] Peace Delegation of the FARC-EP (2013), What about the FARC?,, accessed 15/02/2017

[xv] Arenas, J. (1967), Diario de la Resistencia de Marquetalia, FARC-EP, p.72

[xvi] FARC-EP (1993), Estatuto de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia- Ejército del Pueblo, article 1.,, accessed 15/01/2017

[xvii] FARC-EP (1980), Cartilla ideológica, FARC-EP, p.1

[xviii] ibid

[xix] Vélez, M. M. (2003), ‘The Origins of the FARC-EP: The Birth of Armed Resistance’ in War in Colombia: Made in the USA, New York, International Action Center

[xx] FARC-EP (1983), Pleno Ampliado Octubre 6- 20 de 1983,, accessed 16/01/17

[xxi] Colombia Reports (2014) ‘Union Patriotica (Patriotic Union)’,, accessed 16/01/2017

[xxii] ibid.

[xxiii] Estado Mayor Central de las FARC-EP (1997), Movimiento Bolivariano por la Nueva Colombia, FARC-EP

[xxiv] FARC-EP (2007), ‘Declaración Política: Por La Nueva Colombia, La Patria Grande Y El Socialismo!’, FARC-EP  

[xxv] FARC-EP (Unknown), Estatutos del Partido Comunista Clandestino Colombiano (PCCC3), FARC-EP, art.1

[xxvi] ibid.

[xxvii] FARC-EP (Unknown), Estatutos del Partido Comunista Clandestino Colombiano (PCCC3), FARC-EP, art.2

[xxviii] FARC-EP (2016), Décima Conferencia Nacional Guerrillera,, accessed 19/02/2016

[xxix] ibid.

[xxx] FARC-EP, ‘FARC’s viewpoint on the Comprehensive Agrarian Policy’,, accessed 16/01/2017

[xxxi] FARC-EP (2016), Décima Conferencia Nacional Guerrillera,, accessed 19/02/2016

[xxxii] See (2016) Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera (24/11/2016),, accessed 16/01/2017, pp.10-34

[xxxiii] FARC-EP, ‘Joint Communiqué #16 on Comprehensive Rural Reform’,, accessed 16/01/2017

[xxxiv] See (2016) Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera (24/11/2016),, accessed 16/01/2017 pp.35-56 and FARC-EP, ‘Joint Communiqué #26 on Political Participation’,, accessed 16/01/2017

[xxxv] See (2016) Acuerdo Final para la Terminación del Conflicto y la Construcción de una Paz Estable y Duradera (24/11/2016),, accessed 16/01/2017 pp.70-71


About the Author(s)

Dr. Alexandra Phelan is Deputy Director of Monash Gender, Peace and Security Centre (Monash GPS), and a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at Monash University. Her research interests include insurgent governance and legitimation activities, insurgent women, political violence and organised crime with particular focus on Latin America. Alex completed her PhD in 2019 at Monash University.  Her dissertation examined why the Colombian government alternated between counterinsurgency and negotiation with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Based on an extensive examination of negotiation documents and primary FARC material, fieldwork and interviews with former and active FARC, ELN, M-19 and AUC members, she critically examined the role that insurgent legitimation activities had on influencing Colombian government response between 1982-2016. Before she was appointed a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Monash GPS. Alex's research at GPS focuses on gendered approaches to understanding terrorism and violent extremism. She currently serves on the editorial board for the journal, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism. She can be found on Twitter at @Alex_Phelan.