Long Live Chairman Gonzalo
On 11 September 2021, Chairman Gonzalo has been reported to be dead by the Peruvian prison service and the Peruvian government.(1) The president of Peru, Pedro Castillo, has tweeted in regards to Gonzalo’s death:
“The terrorist ringleader Abimael Guzmán, responsible for the loss of countless lives of our compatriots, has died. Our stance of condemning terrorism is firm and unwavering.”
Born as Abimael Guzmán, Chairman Gonzalo was the leader of the Partido Comunista del Perú(PCP) also known as the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path in English). The PCP initiated People’s War in Peru in 1980, and waged a righteous struggle against the U.$.-backed regimes in Peru until the capture of its leadership in 1992. Arguably the first communist leader to explain Maoism as the next stage of communism, Gonzalo was instrumental in pushing these ideas within the international communist movement.
At age 86, Gonzalo had lived in complete isolation in a Peruvian prison for 29 years. Long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture used around the world to combat political dissent. It is used most extensively within the United $tates, where in recent years over 100,000 people languished in such conditions.
Religious Idealism Barks
Gonzalo was an infamous figure in Peruvian society. The revolutionary violence of the PCP sparked hostile reactions especially from the petty bourgeoisie, the middle-peasants, and the likes within Peru. One outspoken figure which repeated these sentiments condemning Gonzalo on his death day was Archbishop Eguren of the Catholic Church in Peru. During a mass on September 12, a day after Gonzalo’s death, Eguren said this referring to the Maoist ideology and the Maoists of Peru:
“Along with him fell the principal members of his communist, terrorist, genocidal, and murderous gang, which caused the massacres of entire communities of poor inhabitants of our Andes and jungle regions in the 1980s and 1990s.”(2)
The Archbishop continued:
“The day Guzmán was captured was also one year after the start of the campaign ‘Peace in Peru is well worth a Rosary.’ This campaign was conceived and promoted by Bishop Ricardo Durand Flórez S.J., a great Peruvian bishop who, throughout his life and ministry, worked hard for the poor according to the Gospel.”(3)
After condemning Marxism through the usual Christian idealism, Archbishop Eguren replaces the anti-capitalist vacuum with the Catholic church’s historical response to poverty and capitalist ills: distribution of wealth and charity to the poor. We Maoists do not believe in the metaphysical notion that “the poor will always be with us,” nor that walking across a homeless person on the street is a test by god to prove ourselves of our good heart and soul. We believe poverty – and the impoverished proletariat along with the rich bourgeoisie – comes out of material phenomena: rise of capitalism through revolution, class struggle, and change of production relations. Thus, the elimination of poverty and capitalist ills will be done through the proletarian revolution against capitalism, class struggle, and change of production relations as well; not through wealth redistribution nor through charity.
Along with condemning Marxism, Eguren used this chance to call for the elimination of the politicians and bureaucrats of the current Peruvian government who had historical ties to the Maoist movement:
“We Peruvians should not forget, for an instant what this intrinsically perverse ideology embodies, as well as the immense suffering it has caused in the recent history of our country, much less allow it today to be able to seize total power. Therefore: Mr. President, clean up your cabinet!”(4)
Chairman Gonzalo and the PCP’s legacy in Peru is often associated with the “violent left.” So it is appropriate that one of the most popular opportunist and reformist newsletters, Jacobin, condemned Gonzalo by saying that Peru’s left is finally free to “move forward.”(5)
In the article, “The Shining Path’s Abimael Guzmán Helped Keep Peru in the Past,” Jacobin news cited the Lucanamarca massacre and the violence of the PCP against the indigenous masses as one of the main arguments against the PCP. The Communist Party of Peru (PCP) has mentioned in their writings the attacks against the masses by the masses, and how the state security used the differing class levels of the peasantry against itself (poor peasants, middle peasants, rich peasants). These tactics to divide the masses are used against the communists of India as well. In the remote and countryside regions under the leadership of the Communist Party of India (CPI-Maoist), the capitalist lapdogs in India find it much more useful to use local reactionaries against the guerrillas than using the army. If not the local police, it is the paramilitary organizations of rich peasants, middle peasants, lumpen-bourgeoisie, lumpen-proletariat, etc. that is attacking the Maoists. In Peru, the majority of the PCP guerrillas were indigenous themselves as the main population base in the communists’ base areas were indigenous.
When judging the legacy of a People’s War and a revolutionary party, communists should know when to throw away the baby with the bathwater and when to still keep it. Before the capitalist roaders overthrew socialism in the Soviet Union, many of the errors of what would become the capitalist line (commandism and economism) has been planted by Stalin as well and other comrades. This did not cause Mao to throw away Stalin’s legacy. In the same breath, when Fidel Castro liberated Cuba from imperialism and semi-feudalism, his merits were part of a worldwide movement for national liberation of the colonies at the time – it isn’t until Castro’s selling out of the entire island to the Soviet social-imperialists as a sugar factory that Maoists should throw Castro away.
Heavier Than Mount Tai
It is well within the realms of material reality that the PCP’s legacy among the general Peruvian society lies not only in the Peruvian comprador bourgeoisie who propagate the ideas of the PCP as bloodthirsty terrorists, but also within the bad lines and practices of the PCP as well. It is an often repeated idea we hear that if the revolution fails, it is the fault of the revolutionaries. In the same light, it’s the internal characteristics not the external of a communist movement that will ultimately decide its success and failures.
We must draw a clear line between us and those who condemn the PCP because they waged People’s War. Whatever internal contradictions led to the collapse of the Peruvian revolution, it was a shining example in theory by leading the world to the concrete ideas of Maoism and in practice in mobilizing the Peruvian people to control a majority of Peru before their fall.
Communists should learn their lessons from their errors in history. For the enemy to say, “Denounce Gonzalo!” is for them to also say “Don’t learn your lessons! Give up revolution!” Nevertheless, no matter what the Catholic idealists or the writers of Jacobin wish, the PCP and Chairman Gonzalo’s legacy will not go away as easily as they wish.
Long Live Chairman Gonzalo – Death Heavier than Mount Tai.
Notes 1. RPP, September 11th, 2021, “Murió Abimael Guzmán, el sanguinario cabecilla del grupo terrorista Sendero Luminoso.”
2. David Ramos, September 13th, 2021, “Archbishop calls on Peruvian president to rid his administration of ties to Shining Path.” Catholic News Agency.
5. Miguel La Serna, September 15, 2021, “The Shining Path’s Abimael Guzmán Helped Keep Peru in the Past.” Jacobin.
6. Communist Party of Peru, Collected Writings.