On Boiling Babies: Combating Bourgeois (And Dogmato-Revisionist) Myths about the Communist Party of Peru
I’ve seen a number of leftists on YouTube and other places engaging in the propagation of a variety of erroneous information and outright lies regarding the Communist Party of Peru, known to most as the “Shining Path” (the Party itself never called itself this), including that they indiscriminately butchered indigenous people for no apparent reason and “boiled babies alive”, again, for no apparent reason. Revolutionaries should be careful to not fall prey to bourgeois sensationalism and reactionary sentiment pushed by the ruling class. It obscures the real lessons that can be gleaned from previous struggles and serves none but the enemy.
The Communist Party of Peru did not “boil children alive”. I have seen nothing like this written anywhere. They did, apparently, use scalding water as a method of execution, along with stones and machetes. They did, also, engage in the act of killing infants, elderly people, and pregnant women at the village of Lucanamarca in 1983. This act was ostensibly retaliation for the murder of PCP cadre Olegerio Curitomay by villagers. Abimael Guzman, known to his Party and the Communist movement as Presidente Gonzalo, took credit for these reprisal killings on behalf of the Party, saying:
In the face of reactionary military actions… we responded with a devastating action: Lucanamarca. Neither they nor we have forgotten it, to be sure, because they got an answer that they didn’t imagine possible. More than 80 were annihilated, that is the truth. And we say openly that there were excesses, as was analyzed in 1983. But everything in life has two aspects. Our task was to deal a devastating blow in order to put them in check, to make them understand that it was not going to be so easy. On some occasions, like that one, it was the Central Leadership itself that planned the action and gave instructions. That’s how it was. In that case, the principal thing is that we dealt them a devastating blow, and we checked them and they understood that they were dealing with a different kind of people’s fighters, that we weren’t the same as those they had fought before. This is what they understood. The excesses are the negative aspect… If we were to give the masses a lot of restrictions, requirements and prohibitions, it would mean that deep down we didn’t want the waters to overflow. And what we needed was for the waters to overflow, to let the flood rage, because we know that when a river floods its banks it causes devastation, but then it returns to its riverbed…. [T]he main point was to make them understand that we were a hard nut to crack, and that we were ready for anything, anything.
Let’s unpack this a bit. The “masses” did not carry out the killings at Lucanamarca. Contrary to the self-righteousness and arrogance that infects many Communists, historical and otherwise, working class people do not routinely think about how to commit infanticide. This was an act carried out by armed detachments of the PCP. Secondly, the masses are the makers of history, not things to be “kept in check”. If anything, it is the masses that keep us in check. This statement is a perfect example of what we call commandism, and a good example of the PCP’s consistent failure to correctly apply the mass line as Mao Zedong taught. I’ve been studying Maoism for a few years, and I’ve never heard of Maoists in India, China, the Philippines, or anywhere else massacring nearly an entire village. That is not revolutionary violence, and Communists do not turn our guns on working class people, and peasants.
Secondly, I’ve seen those who follow the “Peruvian” line in the ICM claiming that Abimael Guzman did not have a cult of personality around him. Yes, he did. Anytime you start a statement with a paragraph long paean to one person, that’s a cult of personality. Anytime you call down the fires of revisionist hell on people who criticize President Gonzalo, or his modern day “heirs”, that is a cult of personality.This trend was woven into the blood and sinew of the PCP, with Guzman being seen as the penultimate leader and authority of the party, it’s “Great Leadership”. When this Great Leadership was arrested in 1992, his movement proceeded to split and had collapsed into a band of drug traffickers hiding in the jungle, most of which seem to have forgotten about Puka Inti (another of Gonzalo’s monikers). Cults of personality, “great, infallible leadership”, and other such silly notions are a religious and bourgeois/feudal practice.
Thirdly, the PCP did, indeed, target other “leftists” for punishment. But, these other “leftists” were not saints, they were actively cooperating with the government in many cases and serving as informers. The PCP targeted revisionist countries’ embassies for bombings not out of sectarianism but because these countries were supplying the Peruvian government with arms to be used against the PCP. This was an active wartime situation. Of course, this does not excuse the shameful and petty behavior of our modern dogmato-revisionists in the US who produce an array of drama prone front groups because “Presidente Gonzalo’s Happy Fun Time Animal Murder Faction — Red Brigade” and “Black Red Guard Is An Implacable Enemy of the Working Class Study Group” probably isn’t going to recruit many working class people, along with a bunch of sectarian ramblings posturing themselves as polemics during which this sect picks fights with everybody from PSL to various anarchists to FTP to DSA to whatever “postmodernism” is this week. The most extreme example is last year’s shenanigans at an anti-fascist event in Kansas City where an IWW member was assaulted, which was roundly denounced and held up as an example of cowardice, which it was. The PCP’s targeting of stated and active enemies of the revolution was correct, and every Maoist party has engaged in the same practice. Those in the first world who pathetically ape this correct practice through random harassment and internet callouts posturing as polemics should study more.
Fourthly, the question of Guzmán’s surrender is a subject for debate and speculation. I believe that he did indeed surrender under immense torture and psychological distress. I have seen no evidence that any of the materials that he made were forgeries. The debate surrounding whether or not he truly surrendered has been going on for two decades and people are treating documents and videos like the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination. Yes, he surrendered. People who get captured and don’t want to be tortured to death (most people) usually do.
Finally, I’ve seen people claiming that the contributions of Presidente Gonzalo are of universal validity, that he is the “greatest living Marxist-Leninist-Maoist”, and his ideas must be accepted by all who are real revolutionaries. This reads like religious fundamentalists calling more progressive denominations “heretics”. Such dogmatism and arrogance simply does not stand up to reality. For one, for something to be “universal”, it must guide towards a victory. Simply declaring something to be so does not truth make — this is how toddlers argue. Considering that Gonzalo currently resides and will die in a highly secure military prison and not in the Presidential Palace in Lima, the “universal validity” of his thought is rightfully in question. Che Guevara’s formulation of focoísmo is not universal because his attempts to apply it outside of the concrete conditions of Cuba resulted in frustration in the Congo and his death in Bolivia. Real Maoists criticize everything and study everything, even our failures, we don’t universalize them.
What do I personally think of Gonzalo and the PCP? They were a movement that had great potential. Contrary to revisionist opinion, they did have mass support in Ayacucho and other areas because the government ignored these areas and the masses suffered intense starvation and privation as a result of centuries of feudalism and neglect. However, this mass support was squandered through idiotic actions such as those that took place at Lucanamarca. If you want the people’s support and loyalty, it’s good to not kill them. They also demonstrated, despite their research and study, a remarkable ignorance of the nuances of Andean indigenous cultural life, leading them to do more silly things such as cancel festivals and slaughter animals which should have been seized distributed to the peasantry. They also had a dogmatism, best exemplified by Gonzalo himself, that set them up for a harder fall when the leading organs of the Party were arrested. They were an important Party nonetheless, considering that they initiated a People’s War when modern revisionism was in the process of seizing China and destroying the USSR, a massive slap in the face to the “There is No Alternativeism” of Margaret Thatcher. As for their modern day followers, I see interesting things coming from Brazil and Latin America. The Americans and Europeans seem to be looking for something to be obnoxious about and need to learn that polemics don’t matter in a prison full of Nazis.