Resurrecting glory of the Peruvian Peoples War on 40th anniversary

Harsh Thakor

On May 17th we commemorated the 40th anniversary of the launching of the peoples War in Peru led by Chairman Gonzalo, known as the ‘Shining Path. In the annals of revolutionary history its progress from 1980-92 will be inscribed in letters of gold. It marked new epoch in the revolutionary movement on the Latin American continent by launching the first Maoist peoples War in that region.

Since the 1949 Chinese revolution no movement came so close to toppling the state or took intensity or creativity in people’s war to such a height. After the fall of the last citadel of Socialism with the Dengist regime triumphant in China. The 'Shining Path' movement resurrected and shimmered its torch of Maoism like no movement worldwide, after it was dead and buried in China after 1978.Revolutionaries must dip their blood in memory of the thousands who laid down their lives and resurrect their spirit to enable new roses to bloom. For over a decade it was a virtual model for ‘people’s war’ in all third world countries. I can’t forget a Comrade in a public meeting in Mumbai summarising its developments on a blackboard accurately, giving vibrations that it would turn the world upside down. The PCP revealed the remarkable mastery of Chairman Mao in turning a spark into a prairie fire when extinguishing the flame of peoples War in 1980, after a prolonged period of preparation. Several reports of the bourgeois media also depicted the deep penetration the party had made into the very heart of the masses and the depth to which they challenged the state power. The first spark that triggered of the people’s war was ignited with the burning of ballot boxes in the town of Chuschi. The Party writes that the most outstanding actions out in the field, was the guerilla actions in Ayrabamba and Aysarca (areas in Ayacucho), and the arson of the Municipal Building in San Martín. (a district in Lima).

From 1960’s itself Chairman Gonzalo   knit the components to build the breeding ground to launch the 2 line struggle within the party to re-constitute armed struggle. With deep subtlety of political execution he chalked out a path to develop political work in the rural areas In the regional party Commitee of Ayacucho he imitated a prolonged struggle against the Central party leadership itself and various deviations in military work. The regional committee led by Gonzalo worked on areas of political, military and logistics His political genius enabled the PCP to penetrate the Peruvian University campuses in Ayacucho and create the breeding ground for the PCP to knit the mass movement. In May 1969 Chairman Gonzalo established the Party’s agrarian programme and in 1972 he establishes the strategical plan for the Regional Committee in Ayacucho. He defeated the right liquidationism in Ayacucho and the left liquidationism of the Bolsheviks that concluded that fascist conditions prevailed which made it impossible to organize struggle.

No leader in the world after 1976 ignited the spark of Maoism with the depth of Chairman Gonzalo. Chairman Gonzalo was the pioneer in elevating   Mao Tse Tung thought to the stature of ‘Maoism.’ He founded the concepts that Maoist path of protracted peoples war was Universal and that the Maoist party was a militarised one. Gonzalo advocated that it was Maoism that was principal and Chairman Mao had discovered the international military line of the proletariat.  In the ‘Fundamental Documents’ the thesis of Chairman Gonzalo is a brilliant analysis of continuity of Maoism with Marxism-Leninism. The PCP document of ‘Military Line” brilliantly summed up stages of Definition, preparation, initiation and development of guerrilla War. The PCP ‘mass line’ document most illustriously elaborated how the party should carry out mass work through building mass organizations to build people’s revolutionary political power. What distinguished the 'Shining Path' movement as it was known was it's differentiation of the party with the guerrilla army unlike the focoist Che Guevarist theory applied in Cuba and Nicaragua. In 1979 the final icing was placed on the cake with the 4th party plenum in 1979 Conference where people’s war was initiated. Chairman Gonzalo had exhibited great mastery of dialectics of massline in waging the 2 line struggle which paved the way for the undertaking of the people’s war.

The Collected works of the Communist Party of Peru (from 1969-87) are a must for all cadres to study in deep depth. They illustrate the remarkable armed developments which proved mastery practice of massline by basing itself in the very heart of the masses and the extent to which shivers were sent down the spine of the ruling classes, hurting its very backbone..The reports reveal the great methodology of the Peruvian Communist Party. The peoples War had traversed four different phases since it began on 17th May1980, each featuring a distinct task by the PCP leadership. By 1982 the first seeds of people’s revolutionary power were sown in the form of peasant committees. The Collected works report summed up the 4 victories achieved as a consequence of its initial 2900 armed actions. These were firstly the tempering of the party leaders, cadres and militants into a unified force to consolidate the armed struggle. Secondly a building of a genuine red guerrilla army executing armed actions of mass character. Thirdly it led to the expansion of armed actions quantitatively and qualitatively. Fourthly it created building up of guerrilla zones to enforce the people’s war.

What was remarkable was the manner the Peoples Guerrilla army encircled the urban areas, virtually besieging the administration. It brilliantly combined self -defence and aggression to confront the enemy at it’s strongest point. It had strong similarities to the War of resistance led by Chairman Mao in China with carrying remarkable tactical counter offensives against the enemy. It demonstrated great ingenuity in the plan to make base areas from 1986 which was completed by 1989.With remarkable manoeuvrability it shimmered the spark of revolutionary resistance like wildfire, encompassing several regions of Peru and with ingenuity selected strategic areas to build revolutionary base areas.. It displayed deep creativity in applying Maoism in blending armed struggle and political agitation in the countryside and the towns. Since the Chinese revolution it carried out armed actions at a depth unequalled in the world by a revolutionary force, to enhance the striking power of the people. Red flags fluttered virtually engulfed the entire nation with the spirit of liberation. Even from the deepest depths of despair the PCP would spectacularly resurrect itself like a phoenix from the Ashes.

The Peoples Guerrilla Army enforced 35000 armed actions during the first 6 years of peoples War, over twice that many actions from December 186 to 1989, and 23,000 actions from 1989 to 1991.By end of 1990 the number of actions exceeded 200,000.It executed some of the most spectacular ambushes and assaults on the armed forces .Notable amongst the action s were those launched during the elections in November 1989, May 1990 and October 1990.

Significant that Peru is principally urban with a greater population in cities, which differentiated its characteristics from China. Thus it had to adopt Maoist strategy in accordance with it's unique characteristics. A bourgeois democratic parliamentary system with fascist characteristics was firmly entrenched and a revisionist left. Unlike the Chinese Communist party the PCP combined urban armed insurrections and deployed a major guerrilla army force to carry out mass work in the Cities. The PCP implemented the strategy of ‘Unified Peoples War’ formulated by Chairman Gonzalo which incorporated combining armed actions in cities to supplement the ‘people’s war’ in the countryside. Touches of genius were revealed in the methods they deployed to penetrate the slum areas of Lima. With meticulous planning mass fronts of women, youth, intellectuals or peasants were also set up., who most systematically built the party link with the masses. With dialectical methodology the party or red army would connect with the mass work or mass movements.

Applying dialectical foresight it meticulously penetrated into the urban regions to develop a united front with the intellectuals like professors, journalists, doctors etc. and made inroads in the slums of the shanty towns. . In a document ‘Lima-90’ it sums up the spectacular progress it made towards expanding in the capital of Lima and building revolutionary political power in the capital itself. One of the best illustrations was the Strike organized by the Revolutionary Peoples Defence Movement in Lima from November 1989 to March 1990 mobilising 3000 families of prisoners of war. It was brutally attacked by the police, with three people killed. Mass clashes took place with the authorities and hated class informers or enemies were executed by the help of the guerrilla army. Other sensational actions took place like blowing car bombs in front of the US consulate, as well as the Soviet and Chinese embassies. In June 1990, 70 red flags fluttered simultaneously one morning at key intersections and other spots of Lima.

In the annals of revolutionary history the PCP political prisoners organized the most sensational protests in jails, threatening the survival of the ruling Alan Garcia regime at its very roots. They took revolutionary glory to metaphysical proportions. Memories of the rebellion in Canto Grande Prison are embedded in the hearts of revolutionaries forever when in a spectacular manner the political prisoners of war staged an uprising June 19th, 1986 in Callao jail a massacre was unleashed by the authorities. .Still no PCP supporter yielded with the red hammer and Sickle symbol painted on the side of the jail wall. Thus the event is described as the “Day of Heroism.” Later in Canto Grande prison the political prisoners of war staged an uprising from May 6-9th in 1992. It culminated on May 14th when they issued a pledge for the victory of the PCP, Maoism and Gonzalo thought.

In the 1988 first party Congress 'Gonzalo thought "was proclaimed as the guiding thought for the first time. The PCP summarized its military and political gains in depth and concluded that the armed struggle was in the state of ‘Strategic Equilibrium.’ In  it’s view base areas were firmly established in the countryside with bastions of support entrenched  in cities. It countered revisionism at its very roots in no uncertain terms condemned Khrushchev's criticism of Stalinist personality Cult .They upheld the role of ‘great leadership’ with reference to writings of even Lenin to justify ‘Gonzalo Thought’ as principal for Peru. It analysed that the world was on a 'Strategic Offensive as proscribed in the period of 50-100 years by Chairman Mao. An analysis was made on the impact of bureaucratic capital which in its view played a much bigger role in Latin America than in other third world regions. It concluded that the strategy of ‘Unified people’s war’ adopted in 1979 which incorporated urban military work with the people’s war in the countryside was the correct practice of Maoism in Peruvian conditions.

Sadly after the early 1990's the people’s war took a negative turn.. A tendency existed to underestimate the enemy and proclaim that the war was in the stage of strategic equilibrium, prematurely. Urban insurrections were prematurely launched in the cities to cap the people’s war waged in rural areas with even the Peoples Guerrilla Army engaged in mass work. Military approach, putschism or romanticism vitiated the armed struggle and the movement depended too heavily now on the cult of Chairman Gonzalo. Important errors were committed in building the united front. In this respect Maoist practice of massline in ‘people’s war’ was violated .Excesses wee also committed on people in later periods. Powerful tendencies of overestimating strategic equilibrium was revealed in a document ‘About a New Power-1990”

Prematurely 'Gonzalo' thought was termed as principal and  externally even ' Maoism' which gave the overemphasis on the military line .The evaluation of Leninist era was replaced with analysis of Imperialism crashing within span of 50-100 years and thus defining a new epoch. The slogan of ‘Peoples War till Communism' was raised which negated the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat and even linked peoples war path in a Socialist State or Cultural Revolution. To an extent Gonzalo’s interpretation of Maoism delinked it from Leninist roots.

'Militarization' of the party was propagated which promoted a tendency of fusing the red army and the party. Chairman Gonzalo felt that in Yenan itself the CCP militarized. No doubt the Chinese party under Chairman Mao did militarise itself from the 1930's or even the Bolshevik party but the parties never gave a formal call and Mao emphasised on the important distinction between the party and the military organization.

Even if thought of Mao Tse Tung became a part of the Constitution of the Chinese Communist party in the seventh Congress held in 1945, it was never regarded as ‘principal’, as ‘Gonzalo thought’ was proclaimed in 1988.Whatever it's spectacular victories the PCP in 1988 was nowhere so close to toppling the enemy as the CCP was in 1945.To me even if adopting Gonzalo thought it should never have been principal. I negate the evaluation of Gonzalo to be the ‘greatest Marxist’ after Mao as it then places his contribution on the same pedestal as a Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin or Mao and negates other great leaders like Chairman Joma Sison. He may be termed as the most 'creative' Maoist leader of the modern era, being a genius in his own right.

Too much emphasis was also placed on bureaucrat capitalism by the PCP in economic analysis, negating the essence of semi-colonialism.

In September 1992 Gonzalo was captured by the Peruvian forces which created a dramatic setback in the armed struggle. Strangely in prison Gonzalo advocated road of negotiation and the armed struggle completely lost its momentum. The OCML –VP group and The Movement for General Amnesty and National Reconciliation (MOVADEF) condemns Chairman Gonzalo for capitulationism in prison and claim that the PCP betrayed the revolution after 1993 by advocating peace talks.. They propagate that Gonzalo undertook a major shift in position. I do not agree with their analysis but give them some credibility in the understanding on the inherent flaws of the movement and do not dub them as mere ‘police agents’ as some Maoist forces do. The fact that the entire central committee of the PCP disintegrated after Gonzalo’s capture speaks for itself. The fact that 180 degree turn occurred like a total reversal of a plot in an epic movie depicts certain inherent weaknesses in the movement.

Still I tooth and nail refute those who blamed Gonzalo for capitulationism. The political state in the mid 1990's warranted negotiation with such a setback in peoples war .Never forget that till late 1990's remnants of the war remained .Maoist forces refute the OCLM allegations tooth and nail which is positive. However they are in a fool’s paradise to claim that the armed struggle is still on the road to victory or re-organizing.

Today the sections that support Gonzalo thought like Dem Volke Dienen in Norway, Struggle Sessions blog in America or Maoist party of Brazil etc. must be admired for shimmering the flame of Maoism with untold determination against the counter revolutionary imperialist and revisionist winds. With deep depth of dialectical precision they have defended Marx, Lenin and especially Stalin and Mao. However the ‘Pro-Gonzolaite sections are vitiated with the sectarian understanding that ‘Gonzalo Thought’ has universal significance and that  subjective factors exist for carrying out peoples War of the Peruvian type in developed countries. Significant that Gonzolaite groups in recent times like Red Guards Austin and Red Guards Los Angeles have dissolved themselves.

It is still possible that the PCP could resurrect itself from being dead and buried today by making a strong self-criticism of past errors but still upholding the creative genius of the 'Shining path' movement. I feel a great analysis has to be made of the neo-colonial penetration. All revolutionaries should imbibe lessons from the great gains in earlier period and reasons for setbacks with particular emphasis on massline. Tears come down our eyes when we remember the cruel assassination of women comrade Edith Lagos in 1986 and the Ayacucho prison massacre. To me even if bounded within the prison walls Chairman Gonzalo is still a living legend whose spirit still shimmers the globe.

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May 22, 2020

Harsh Thakor

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