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Maoism in the Andes: The Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path and the Refusal of History

  • Orin Starn (a1)

This article examines the history and ideology of the Communist Party of Peru-Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso). The rebels claim to embody a distinctively Peruvian Marxism. However, a close examination of the party betrays a conspicuous indifference to Peruvian culture and traditions. The distinctiveness of this largest and most diverse of the Andean nations disappears in the orthodoxy of a universal Marxism, in this respect placing the Shining Path within the long legacy of the imperial inscription of Latin American history into the preconceived categories and linear narratives of Western philosophy and science.

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1 Quoted in Gorriti, Gustavo, Sendero: La historia de la guerra milenaria, vol. I (Lima, 1990), pp. 66–7. This and all subsequent translations from the Spanish are mine, unless otherwise noted.

2 I have borrowed the first part of the title of this article from one of the best early articles on the Shining Path, by Taylor, Lewis, Maoism in the Andes: Sendero Luminoso and the Contemporary Guerrilla Movement in Peru, Centre for Latin American Studies, Working Paper no. 2 (Liverpool: Centre for Latin American Studies, University of Liverpool, 1983). I take some of the phrasing of this opening paragraph from Starn, Orin, ‘New Literature on Peru's Sendero Luminoso’, Latin American Research Review, vol. 27, no. 2 (1992), p. 212.

3 Arif Dirlik, ‘Mao Zedong and China's History’, in Arif Dirlik, Paul Healey, and Nick Knight, Critical Analysis of Mao Zedong Thought (New York, n.d.), p. 3.

4 Two of the best books on the Shining Path are Degregori, Carlos Iván, El surgimiento de Sendero Luminoso: Del movimiento por la gratitud de la enseñanza al inicio de la lucha armada (Lima, 1990) and Gorriti, Sendero: Historia de la guerra milenaria, vol. 1. Both are forthcoming in English translation from the University of North Carolina Press. One of the most useful existing English sources on the Shining Path is a recent anthology edited by Palmer, David Scott, Shining Path of Peru (London, 1992). Other valuable recent sources are de Paz, Dennis Chávez, Juventud y Terrorismo (Lima, 1989); Degregori, Carlos Iván, Escobal, Javier, and Marticorena, Benjamín (eds.), Perú: El problema agrario en debate (Lima, 1993); Hinojosa, Iván, ‘Entre el poder y la ilusión: Pol Pot, Sendero y las Utopías campesinas’, Debate Agrario, no. 15 (1992); Kirk, Robin, Grabado en Piedra: Las mujeres de Sendero Luminoso(Lima, 1993); and Poole, Deborah and Rénique, Gerardo, Peru: Time of Fear (London, 1992). The most comprehensive chronology and statistics on the war come from DESCO, Violencia Política en el Perú (Lima, 1989).

5 I am influenced here by Cornell West's fine article, ‘The New Cultural Politics of Difference’, in Ferguson, Russell et al. (eds.), Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures (New York, 1990), pp. 1936.

6 I paraphrase from César Vallejo's, ‘The Nine Monsters’ in Human Poems, translated by Eshelman, Clayton (New York, 1968).

7 An anthology edited by Stern, Steve J., Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, 18th–20th Century (Madison, 1987) offers a fine introduction to the history of resistance and rebellion in the Andean nations. Stern's, Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of the Spanish Conquest (Madison, 1982) examines the Onqoy, Taki, or ‘Dancing Sickness’, movement, while Husson's, PatrickDe la guerra a la rebelión: Huanta, Sigh XIX (Cuzco, 1992) takes up the Iquichan wars in the 19th century.

8 The song is ‘Ofrenda’, or offering.

9 For more on the debate about the concept of ‘Andeanism’, see Starn, Orin, ‘Missing the Revolution: Anthropologists and the War in Peru’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 6, no. 1 (1991); Mayer, Enrique, ‘Peru in Deep Trouble: Mario Vargas Llosa's “Inquest in the Andes” Reexamined’, Cultural Anthropology vol. 6, no. 4 (1991); the special issue of Allpanchis, no. 39 (1992); and Starn, Orin, ‘Rethinking the Politics of Anthropology: The Case of the Andes’, Cultural Anthropology, vol. 35, no. 1 (1994), pp. 4575.

10 Stern, Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest, p. 182.

11 From the Mapa de la Pobreza, Banco Central de Reserva Peruana (1981) cited in Webb, Richard and Baca, Graciela Fernández (eds.), Perú en Números (Lima, 1991) p. 303.

12 One of the best introductions to the literature on rural rebellion remains Skocpol, Theda, ‘What Makes Peasants Revolutionary?’, Comparative Politics, vol. 14, no. 3 (1982).

13 Quoted in Lynch, Nicolás, Los jóvenes rojos de San Marcos: El radicalismo universitario en los años setenta (Lima, 1990), p. 64.

14 See Hinojosa, ‘Entre el poder y la ilusión’ for more on the influence of Maoism on Guzmán.

15 Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru, Interview with Chairman Gonzalo, p. 11.

16 Guzmán, Abimael, ‘We are the Initiators’, quoted in Starn, Orin, Degregori, Carlos Iván, and Kirk, Robin (eds.), The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham, 1955) p. 313.

17 Morote, Osmán, ‘Lucha de clases en las zonas altas de Huanta (distrito de Santillana)’ Bachelor's thesis, Facultad de Antropología, Universidad Nacional San Cristóbal de Huamanga, Peru (1970).

18 For a critical overview of the enterprise of ‘Senderology’ see Starn, New Literature on Peru's Sendero Luminoso’, as well as an astute, yet exaggerated, essay by Poole, Deborah and Rénique, Gerardo, ‘The New Chroniclers of Peru: U.S. Scholars and their ‘Shining Path’ of Peasant Rebellion’, Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol. 10, no. 2 (1991).

19 Carlos Iván Degregori, ‘Jóvenes y campesinos ante la violencia política’, unpublished manuscript, p. 3.

20 Galindo, Alberto Flores, Buscando un Inca (Lima, 1987), p. 395.

21 One example was the anthropologist Ansión, Juan, ‘¿Es luminoso el camino de Sendero?’,Caballo Rojo, no. 108 (1982). In fairness, Ansión later rethought his position.

22 Strong, Simon, Shining Path: The World's Deadliest Revolutionary Force (London, 1992), pp. 27, 92. For a more recent, and just as egregious example of this kind of absurd exoticism, see Stavans, Ilan, ‘Two Peruvians’, Transitions no. 81 (1994), pp. 19, 38. Astonishingly, in the light of all the evidence to the contrary, the Mexican novelist insists that the Shining Path wants to restore ‘mythical Inca heroes’ to Peru, which he describes as a ‘semi-feudal, quasi-modern banana republic’.

23 Quoted in Kirk, Grabado en Piedra, p. 54.

24 Degregori, El surgimiento de Sendero Luminoso, p. 205.

25 Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru, Interview with Chairman Gonzalo (New York, 1989), p. 76.

26 Quoted in Degregori, Carlos Iván, Qué dificíl es ser Dios (Lima, 1989), p. 24.

27 Ibid., pp. 68–9.

28 Degregori, El surgimiento de Sendero huminoso, p. 198.

29 Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru, Interview with Chairman Gonzalo, pp. 51–3.

30 Moral, Roberto Noel, Ayacucho: Testimonio de un Soldado (Lima, 1989), p. 9.

31 A legal party, Red Homeland enjoyed the support of Deng Xiaoping and the Chinese government in the 1980s, and participated in elections as the Union of the Revolutionary Left (UNIR).

32 There is not space to consider the complex dynamics behind the rise of the so-called rondas campesinas. For introductions to the organisations, including the tremendous differences between the original rondas in the northern departments of Cajamarca and Piura and their namesakes in the war zones, see Starn, Orin (ed.), Hablan los ronderos: La búsqueda por lapaz en los andes (Lima, 1993) and coronel, José, Degregori, Carlos Iván, Pino, Ponciano del, and Starn, Orin, La rebelión del coro (Lima, 1995).

33 Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru, Interview with Chairman Gonzalo, p.68.

34 Martínez, Antonio Díaz, quoted in Salcedo, José María, ‘Con Sendero en Lurigancho’, Quehacer, no. 39 (1986), p. 62.

35 Ibid., p. 13.

36 The quote comes from a letter from a party militant to Guzmán from the late 1980s or early 1990s, published and translated in Starn, Degregori and Kirk (eds.), The Peru Reader: History, Culture, Politics, p. 336.

37 Mariátegui, José Carlos, Peruanicemos el Perú (Lima, 1970), p. 74.

38 Ibid., p. 66.

39 Ibid., p. 79.

40 Quoted in Carlos Iván Degregori, Después de la caída (Unpublished manuscript, n.d.), p. 5.

41 Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru, Interview with Chairman Gonzalo, p.147.

42 Many Marxists in the 1960s and 1970s took their pseudonyms from characters in Greek and Roman mythology, or Shakespeare (Carlos Iván Degregori, personal communication). Degregori himself, now a scholar of the Shining Path, was militant of the Movimiento Independiente Revolucionario (MIR) in Ayacucho in the 1970s, and took the name ‘Héctor’ after Troy's leading defender in The Iliad. Guzmán liked to quote Shakespeare; Degregori, and other leading students of the Shining Path I have consulted, think there is a good chance that Gonzalo's famous speech in The Tempest about utopia and society may have inspired the adoption of the name by the Maoist chief, whose original pseudonym was ‘Alvaro’.

43 Quoted in Poole and Rénique, The New Chroniclers of Peru, p. 144. I use their translation.

44 Revolt against the Shining Path in Huanta is discussed in Coronel, José and Loayza, Carlos, ‘Violencia política: Formas de respuesta comunera’, in Degregori, Carlos Iván et al. (eds.), Perú: El problema agrario en debate (Lima, 1992); for Huancayo, see Manrique, Nelson, ‘La década de la violencia’, Márgenes, vol. 3, no. 5–6 (1989).

45 Mariátegui, Peruatticemos el Perú, p. 62.

46 Mar, José Matos, Desborde popular y crisis del estado (Lima, 1983).

47 Degregori, El surgimiento de Sendero Luminoso p. 205.

48 Luis Arce Borja, quoted in Poole and Renique, The New Chroniclers of Peru, p. 144.

49 See the special supplement ‘Por la emancipation de la mujer’ in El Diario, March 13, 1988.

50 These figures come from Kirk, Grabado en piedra, p. 14.

51 Andreas, Carol, ‘Women at War’, NACLA: Report on the Americas, vol. 24, no. 2(1990) offers one such positive assessment. See Radcliffe, Sarah and Westwood, Sallie (eds.), ‘Viva’: Women and Popular Protest in Latin America (London, 1993) for a good overview of the questions of women and popular protest in Latin America.

52 Hartmann, Heidi, ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards a More Progressive Union’, Capital and Class, no. 8 (1979), p. 1.

53 Interviews by Kirk, Robin in Canto Grande prison in June 1991 (personal communication), and La Nueva Bandera, vol. 1, no. 3 (1994), p. 20.

54 Soto, Hernando de, The Other Path: The Invisible Revolution in the Third World (New York, 1989). Although De Soto's book played an important role in calling attention to the so-called ‘informal economy’, it also romanticised the potential and accomplishment of ‘popular capitalism’, underestimating how barriers of poverty and racism structure access to capital and the market in Peru. Golte, Jurgen and Norma Adams offer a critique of de Soto in Los caballos de Troya de los invasores: Estrategias campesinas en la conquista de Gran Lima (Lima, 1987).

55 Kirk, Grabado en piedra.

56 Ossio, Juan, Violencia estructuralen el Perú: antropologia (Lima, 1990) offers an interesting, if also unsatisfying, comparison between the Shining Path and Pentecostal churches.

57 The statement is reproduced in the Foreign Broadcasting Information Service (FBIS), Latin America, 2 February 1994, pp. 32–41.

58 See Amnesty International, Human Rights During the Government of Alberto Fujimori (New York, 1992) on human rights violations; on internal refugees, see Kirk, Robin, The Decade of Chaqwa: Peru's Internal Refugees (Washington, 1991) and To Build Anew: An Update on Peru's Internally Displaced People (Washington, 1993).

59 This information comes from my own visit to Paccosan, and interviews with survivors of the attack, in June 1993.

60 See the Scudder Latin America Fund, First Quarter Report, 31 01 1994.

61 Mariategui, Jose Carlos, ‘El Hombre y el Mito’, Mundial, 16 01 1925, p. 1 .

62 The phrase ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ comes from the title of the Colombian writer's novel.

63 Nobel acceptance speech by Marquez, Garciá, published in The New York Times 6 02 1983, translated from the Spanish by Marina Castãneda. My use of the speech borrows heavily from a superb article by historian Stern, Steve J., ‘Reply:“Ever More Solitary”’, American Historical Review, vol. 93, no. 4, 1988.

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