August 31, 2000: Fable and Reality ­ the 'Shining Path'

Excerpts from the book: Stefan Engel, Peru ­ die Lunte am Pulverfass Lateinamerika (Peru ­ A Fuse to the Powder-Keg Latin America) Düsseldorf 1989

During a trip to Latin America this summer, Stefan Engel and Monika Gärtner-Engel, members of the MLPD Central Committee, also visited Peru. In Peru, the Marxist-Leninists are confronted with the task of rebuilding a Marxist-Leninist party. The Marxist-Leninist and working-class movement in Peru has suffered from a serious defeat. Under the influence of petty-bourgeois parliamentarism, the PC del Peru (patria roja ­ Communist Party of Peru/Red Fatherland), which, in the nineteen-eighties, was strongly represented particularly in the United Left (IU), changed into a revisionist party. The guerilla movement Sendero luminoso (Shining Path) which also raised the claim of being a Marxist-Leninist party, suffered from a crushing defeat. The movement has disappeared almost completely from societal life. Its leaders, among them the internationally known former professor of philosophy, Guzmán, were arrested. The MLPD declares its solidarity with the struggle for the release of political prisoners. At the same time, it is necessary to look more closely into the reasons of the defeat of Sendero luminoso. As soon as in 1988, Stefan Engel made a trip to Peru, and in 1989, the book Peru ­ die Lunte am Pulverfass Lateinamerika (Peru ­ A Fuse to the Powder-Keg Latin America) was published. The chapter on the development of the "Shining Path" throws light upon the backgrounds of this movement and the ideological-political causes of its subsequent failure. The book also discusses what to think about the "Shining Path's" adherence to Mao Zedong Thought. Therefore, we publish excerpts from the book in Rote Fahne. These excerpts are also translated into English and Spanish and are available in the international section of the MLPD homepage, under We are about to prepare an article on the development of the PC del Peru (patria roja) for one of the next issues.

No one who studies the current situation in Peru can avoid coming across the guerrilla movement Sendero Luminoso ("Shining Path"). You are confronted with it if you want to or not because of the incessant news coverage in the bourgeois press. However, you hear and see less of this movement in connection with the mass struggles of the peasants in the highlands, of the farm workers in the sugar cooperatives, of the metal workers and miners in La Oroya or the struggles of university students and teachers. I am even convinced that its influence will decrease in the same degree that the revolutionary fighting spirit takes hold of the broad masses of the Peruvian people.


The Poverty of Phraseology


It is not easy to deal in an objective way with the ideological-political line and the corresponding practice of the "Peruvian Communist Party for the Shining Path of José Mariátegui." One reason is that the bourgeois press, of course, is inclined to lump everything together - the terror of the guerrillas and the state terror of the military - in a mixture of truths, half-truths and lies with the tendency to justify the latter with the former. The other reason is that the scanty publications of this party bristle with rhetoric and general platitudes. There is repeated mention of the "omnipotence of Marxism-Leninism" and of Lenin's demand for "a concrete analysis of concrete conditions." But you look almost in vain for something that is concretely analyzed in these publications.

Its verbal adherence to Mao Zedong Thought, its condemnation of the restoration of capitalism in the People's Republic of China through Deng Xiao Ping, and its categorical rejection of the attacks on Mao Zedong Thought by the Party of Labor of Albania and Enver Hoxha have caused the "Shining Path" to be classified as Marxist-Leninist also within the international Marxist-Leninist and working-class movement.

Let us now turn to examine the contents of what is hailed as " Marxist-Leninist-Maoist."


The Strategy of Liberated Areas


The "Shining Path" develops the following thesis in its publication, "Develop the Growing Protest of the People": "The democratic, antifeudal and anti-imperialist revolution requires that the armed struggle is unfolded from the countryside into the city via the building of revolutionary bases as nuclei of the new state; simultaneously, this is a process of gradually destroying the old reactionary state and the bureaucracy of the big landowners." (9/1979)

Mao Zedong particularly emphasizes in his work, "Why Is It That Red Political Power Can Exist in China?":

"The long-term survival inside a country of one or more small areas under Red political power completely encircled by a White regime is a phenomenon that has never occurred anywhere else in the world. There are special reasons for this unusual phenomenon. It can exist and develop only under certain conditions." (Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Vol. I, p. 64)

Does Peru fulfill the conditions that, according to Mao Zedong, are necessary in order to be able to apply the strategy of liberated areas? Mao Zedong continues on this question:

"It is a feature of semi-colonial China that, since the first year of the Republic (1912), the various cliques of old and new war lords have waged incessant wars against one another, supported by imperialism from abroad and by the comprador and landlord classes at home. Such a phenomenon is to be found in none of the imperialist countries nor for that matter in any colony under direct imperialist rule, but only in a country like China which is under indirect imperialist rule. Two things account for its occurrence, namely, a localized agricultural economy (not a unified capitalist economy) and the imperialist policy of marking off spheres of influence in order to divide and exploit. The prolonged splits and wars within the White regime provide a condition for the emergence and persistence of one or more small Red areas under the leadership of the Communist Party amidst the encirclement of the White regime." (Ibid., p. 65; emphasis by the Author)

Even though Peru is neocolonially dependent on imperialism, semi-feudal obstacles still exist in the countryside, and its industry is still underdeveloped, the conditions are completely different from those that Mao Zedong described in respect to China. Compared to China, the class contradictions between the domestic capitalists and the imperialists on the one hand and the working class on the other are much more developed. The exercise of political power in Peru takes place through a unified state apparatus that directly confronts the revolutionary movement. In China, the different imperialists waged war against each other on Chinese soil, indirectly providing room for maneuver to the revolutionary movement. In addition to that, the Chinese state apparatus was extremely underdeveloped and hardly able to exist on its own. The Red Army was easily able to deal with such an adversary.

Neither does Peru fulfill the second essential condition, by no means since 1980:

"Second, the regions where China's Red political power has first emerged and is able to last for a long time have not been those unaffected by the democratic revolution, ... but regions ... where the masses of workers, peasants and soldiers rose in great numbers in the course of the bourgeois-democratic revolution of 1926 and 1927. In many parts of these provinces trade unions and peasant associations were formed on a wide scale, and many economic and political struggles were waged by the working class and the peasantry against the landlord class and the bourgeoisie." (Ibid.)

Although there were bitter struggles of the working class, peasants and teachers at the end of the military dictatorship of Morales Bermudéz, they had no revolutionary character yet. In 1980, the military dictatorship was not overthrown by a revolution; a bourgeois democracy replaced it because a revolutionary development was actually to be prevented. The guerrillas of Sendero Luminoso began their guerrilla warfare in 1980 when there was no revolutionary mass movement, neither on a national nor a regional scale. We now come to the third feature that Mao Zedong points out:

"Third, whether it is possible for the people's political power in small areas to last depends on whether the nation-wide revolutionary situation continues to develop. If it does, then the small Red areas will undoubtedly last for a long time, and will, moreover, inevitably become one of the many forces for winning nation-wide political power. If the nation-wide revolutionary situation does not continue to develop but stagnates for a fairly long time, then it will be impossible for the small Red areas to last long." (Ibid., p. 66)

Sendero justifies its sectarian strategy with the completely non-Marxist theory that there is a permanently revolutionary situation in a developing country like Peru. This does not have much in common with a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. Exactly because Peru is a capitalist country - even though relatively underdeveloped and dependent on imperialism - it is true what Lenin explains to be a fundamental condition for a successful revolution:

"Revolution is impossible without a nation-wide crisis (affecting both the exploited and the exploiters). It follows that, for a revolution to take place, it is essential, first, that a majority of the workers (or at least a majority of the class-conscious, thinking, and politically active workers) should fully realise that revolution is necessary, and that they should be prepared to die for it; second, that the ruling classes should be going through a governmental crisis, which draws even the most backward masses into politics..., weakens the government, and makes it possible for the revolutionaries to rapidly overthrow it." (Lenin, Selected Works in three volumes, Vol. 3, p. 343)

The strategy of Sendero is non-Marxist in theory, in practice it failed long ago. The state of emergency declared in Ayacucho and the tremendous state terror of the military caused Sendero to lose its original base in this Andes region long ago. Although Sendero's commandos are spread over large areas of the country and their number is now estimated at 3,000 to 7,000 armed supporters altogether, they have not, however, been able to grow firm roots among the broad masses of the people.


"Armed Propaganda" Instead of Patient Persuasion Work


Sendero sees it as its main task to involve the masses increasingly in the people's war by "armed propaganda." In an interview with the newspaper El Diario of July 24, 1988, Guzmán, called "President Gonzalo," puts it this way: "We hope that we advance with more theory and revolutionary practice, with more armed actions, with more people's war, with more power to the very hearts of the class and the people and really win them over... ." Lenin deals with the fundamental aspects of this problem in his essay Guerrilla Warfare:

"In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognizes the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not "concoct" them, but only generalizes, organizes, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crisis become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defense and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle....

In the second place, Marxism demands an absolutely historical examination of the question of the forms of struggle. To treat this question apart from the concrete historical situation betrays a failure to understand the rudiments of dialectical materialism.... To attempt to answer yes or no to the question whether any particular means of struggle should be used, without making a detailed examination of the concrete situation of the given moment at the given stage of its development, means completely to abandon the Marxist position.

These are the two principal theoretical propositions by which we must be guided." (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 11, pp. 213-223)

From the outset, Guzmán restricts the forms of struggle to armed action, isolated from the level of consciousness of the masses, isolated from the mass struggles which the workers, peasants, teachers and students are actually waging in a given situation. The immense schematism with which this genius of a party leader "Gonzalo" regards the struggles of the workers is revealed in another part of the interview: When the workers bring production to a standstill, it would be the task of the party "to advance the strike like a school of war, like a school of communism. It must develop their strikes further as a basic form of struggle in the economic sphere, but one which must be inseparably connected under the present conditions with the conquest of power. It therefore follows that we connect the struggle for the demands with the people's war, with the struggle for the conquest of power... ."

A worker from Peru described to us what hair-raising scenes Gonzalo's basic idea produces:

"On Saturday, March 27, the Senderistas introduced themselves at a meeting of the workers of the arms plant. The workers allowed them to speak. At the end of their statement, the Senderistas promised to always carry dynamite with them in support of the workers when a demonstration takes place. However, the workers unanimously rejected that." (Statement of Jacinto Irala of April 4, 1988)

Such "connection of the strike with the people's war" can only deter the workers from revolutionary struggle at the best. Instead of patient work among the workers, raising their political consciousness by starting from their experience in struggle, Sendero objectively carries division into their ranks by putting off the more backward of the workers. In addition, they unnecessarily provoke the state apparatus and thus risk the lives and health of the fighting workers. This provocative policy goes so far that Guzmán even declares in the above-mentioned interview in El Diario: "One must provoke a coup d'état." Compelling the masses of the people, with the help of the unleashed state terror of a murdering soldiery, to wage a people's war - what does all this have to do with the Marxist-Leninist strategy and tactics of the democratic and anti-imperialist revolution? Again and again, Lenin took issue with petty-bourgeois revolutionism:

"To be successful, insurrection must rely not upon conspiracy and not upon a party, but upon the advanced class. That is the first point. Insurrection must rely upon a revolutionary upsurge of the people. That is the second point. Insurrection must rely upon that turning-point in the history of the growing revolution when the activity of the advanced ranks of the people is at it height, and when the vacillations in the ranks of the enemy and in the ranks of the weak, half-hearted and irresolute friends of the revolution are strongest. That is the third point. And these three conditions for raising the question of insurrection distinguish Marxism from Blanquism." ("Marxism and Insurrection," Lenin, Selected Works in three volumes, Vol. 2, p. 331)


Democratic Revolution or Petty-Bourgeois Putschism


More than 12,000 people were killed since 1980 in Peru according to Peruvian institutions and the international organization in support of political prisoners, Amnesty International. These were not only victims of the state terror by the military, of the right-wing death squadrons "Rodrigo Franco," or casualties of the armed skirmishes between the Senderistas and the military. Some were also victims of the punitive actions by the Senderistas against workers and peasants who did not wish to submit to the Senderistas' directives. It is definitely credible when the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung writes in an article of December 23, 1988:

"The 'Shining Path' threatened to kill the people of the Ayacucho district of the Andes in case they went to work or opened the schools during an "armed strike" which the guerrilla leaders had given orders to carry out."

Moreover it is an indisputable fact that, time and again, mayors of small villages or other officials are publicly executed by the Senderistas as traitors. Often they do not even bother to differentiate between members of bourgeois parties and those of the United Left. "Parliamentary deputies of Left parties" - according to the Senderistas - "are monsters who help build the fascist state" (from the magazine Blätter des iz3w, No. 108, March 1983). This policy of the Senderistas is not supported in any way by Mao Zedong either. On the contrary, he fought in a determined way against such manifestations:

"The Party organization in the Red Army has already waged struggles against putschism, but not yet to a sufficient extent. Therefore, remnants of this ideology still exist in the Red Army. Their manifestations are: (1) blind action regardless of subjective and objective conditions; (2) inadequate and irresolute application of the Party's policies for the cities; (3) slack military discipline, especially in moments of defeat; (4) acts of house-burning by some units; and (5) the practices of shooting deserters and of inflicting corporal punishment, both of which smack of putschism. In its social origins, putschism is a combination of lumpen-proletarian and petty-bourgeois ideology." (Selected Works of Mao Tsetung, Vol. I, pp. 114-115.)


Rejection of Parliamentary Elections--a Revolutionary Policy?


When he was asked about his position in regard to elections, Guzmán answered in the above-mentioned interview:

"The most important thing in regard to elections is to boycott them or, if possible, to prevent them. Why do we hold such a position? What will the people gain? Nothing! Nothing can be gained by these new elections; I believe that this a plain fact in the history of this country.... We have proved already how the percentage of the votes for the IU (United Left) prevented the majority from taking a stand against the elections.... The tendency in Peru today is to expect nothing, neither from a new government nor from the elections, to reject the elections. What is the problem? It is that revisionism and opportunism today continue to participate in the elections."

Guzmán gets illogical here. Either the broad masses have come to reject elections already, in that case the revisionists and opportunists could participate in elections as much as they want, they would suffer a defeat. Or the question of elections is not settled yet in the eyes of the broad masses; this will show in the votes for the revisionists and opportunists. I will take recourse to Lenin for the last time to demonstrate how little Sendero Luminoso has understood Marxism-Leninism. Lenin points out in his article "Left-Wing" Communism - An Infantile Disorder

"that participation in parliamentary elections and in the struggle on the parliamentary rostrum is obligatory on the party of the revolutionary proletariat specifically for the purpose of educating the backward strata of its own class, and for the purpose of awakening and enlightening the undeveloped, downtrodden and ignorant rural masses. Whilst you lack the strength to do away with bourgeois parliaments and every other type of reactionary institution, you must work within them because it is there that you will still find workers who are duped by the priests and stultified by the conditions of rural life; otherwise you risk turning into nothing but windbags." (Lenin, Selected Works in three volumes, Vol. 3, p. 322)

In Peru, petty-bourgeois revolutionism has undoubtedly become an important social manifestation which essentially feeds on the lack of a perspective on the side of disillusioned youth and petty-bourgeois intellectuals. In a way, it reflects the weaknesses of the Marxist-Leninist vanguard in leading the revolutionary movement correctly appropriate to the revolutionary fermentation taking place among the masses. Lenin also points this out in the article mentioned earlier:

"Guerrilla warfare is an inevitable form of struggle at a time when the mass movement has actually reached the point of an uprising and when fairly large intervals occur between the "big engagements" in the Civil War.

It is not guerrilla actions which disorganize the movement, but the weakness of a party which is incapable of taking such actions under its control. That is why the anathemas which we Russians usually hurl against guerrilla actions go hand in hand with secret, casual, unorganized guerrilla actions which really do disorganize the party. Being incapable of understanding what historical conditions give rise to this struggle, we are incapable of neutralizing its deleterious aspects. Yet the struggle is going on. It is engendered by powerful economic and political causes. It is not in our power to eliminate these causes or to eliminate this struggle. Our complaints against guerrilla warfare are complaints against our party weakness in the matter of an uprising." (Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 11, pp. 213-223)


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