A strategy for revolution associated with Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and formalized by Che and the radical French writer Régis Debray.
According to this theory it is not necessary to wait until conditions are right to launch either an insurrection or else a people’s war (depending on the nature of the country). Instead, at least in oppressed Third World countries, a dedicated band of revolutionaries can launch very small-scale, roving semi-guerrilla warfare at any time, which will supposedly serve as a focus (Spanish: foco) and inspiration for the rapid growth of more general guerrilla warfare and/or at some relatively early time a general uprising capable of seizing political power. The theory is that these paramilitary roving bands can themselves create the necessary conditions for revolution through their vanguard actions and moral example.
Unlike genuine people’s war, the foco theory is based on the assumption that a band of heroes can create a revolution, and that the mere existence of the foco makes it a vanguard without any necessity to merge deeply with the masses, forge close ties with them, participate seriously in their own struggles, and actually lead the masses in their own struggles. Foco theory, or focoism, is therefore a strongly elitist theory of revolution.
The origin of the foco theory lies in an idealist generalization of the experiences of Che and Fidel Castro in the Cuban Revolution. However, given the stategy followed by Castro, the success of that revolution was pretty much a lucky accident. This was at the time when there was already mass disgruntlement on the verge of boiling over against the Batista dictatorship. In other words, while the foco theory says it is not necessary for conditions to be particularly ripe for revolution, in Cuba itself they actually were. This circumstance also led to tremendous demoralization and ineffectiveness in Batista’s army, which almost totally fell apart after Castro’s small guerrilla force of a few hundred men took over a similarly small Cuban Army garrison of 250 men near the city of Santa Clara in December 1958 (the Battle of Yaguajay).