Military Coups and Revolutionary Tactics: Introduction

The recent military coup in Zimbabwe which resulted in the overthrow of the Mugabe regime and his replacement by the former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa has been an instructive event in several aspects. [1] In this essay we do not intend to repeat the lessons which we drew in our past articles. At this place we rather want to deal with another aspect as the Zimbabwean coup offers us the opportunity to arrive at some generalizations in the typology of military coups. More concretely, we want to discuss three different types of coups.


For the formal, i.e. mechanistic mode of thinking such a differentiation might seem absurd. A military coup is a military coup is a military coup, full stop. However, for Marxists who are used to think in a dialectical and therefore materialistic way (as it is the only method to think in a truly dialectical way), things are more complex. When we analyze the character of a coup we recognize not only the formal way of a political rupture but also the class content of this process. Lenin used to ask “Kto kovo?” (“Who – Whom?”) [2], when he tried to grasp the class character of a given political process. And this is what we also have to do when we analyze the character of a coup.


Let us move without further ado in medias res. Broadly speaking we can differentiate three different types of military coups which consequently demand different approaches and tactics from revolutionaries.


[1] The RCIT has dealt with the recent coup in Zimbabwe in several documents: RCIT and ELA (Zambia): Zimbabwe: The Fall of Mugabe – Victory for the Masses or for the Military-ZANU-PF Alliance? 22.11.2017,; RCIT: Zimbabwe: Down with the Military Coup! No to the dynastic Mugabe Regime! For Independent Workers’ and Poor Mobilisations! For Action Committees of the Workers, Poor Peasants and Soldiers to Advance the Struggle against All Factions of the Ruling Elite! 15.11.2017,; Michael Pröbsting: The Current Political Crisis in Zimbabwe and the Slogan of the Revolutionary Constituent Assembly, 24 November 2017,; Michael Pröbsting: The Military Coup in Zimbabwe and the Role of Chinese Imperialism, 29 November 2017,

[2] To be precise, I am translating this formula from the Russian and German language version of Lenin’s Collected Works. The English-language version of the Collected Works uses a less precise formulation – which, by the way, is an often occurring, general weakness of the English language translations of the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin: “The whole question is who will take the lead. We must face this issue squarely—who will come out on top?” (V.I.Lenin: The New Economic Policy and the Tasks of the Political Education Departments. Report to the Second All-Russia Congress of Political Education Departments, October 17, 1921, in: Lenin Collected Works Vol.33, p. 66). The English translation of Trotsky’s pamphlet “Towards Capitalism or Towards Socialism?”, where Trotsky repeats Lenin’s formula, uses the correct translation (see The Labour Monthly, November 1925, Vol.7 No.11,