Himal carried the article “The Paradoxical Support of Nepal’s Left for Comrade Gonzalo” by Stephen L. Mikesell in its March/April 1993 issue. In late November, the international press reported that Abimael Guzman (Comrade Gonzolo) had exchanged his bushy beard for a trim moustache, and had apparently shed his ideology as well. While the rebels accuse the government of torturing and drugging Guzman, other Peruvians think that the spirit of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) Maoist guerrilla movements leader has been truly broken. Given the relevance of Guzman for many in Nepal’s Left, Himal asked research scholar Mikesell to provide a follow-up commentary.
THE New York Times reports that, from jail, Comrade Gonzalo is calling for the Shining Path “guerrillas to suspend the war, and to the government to start peace talks”. Elements of the US Left in New York City say that these were the words of a man desperate to get out. Committee members of the Shining Path say it is “a dirty trick by the government”. The Peruvian authorities admit to having isolated Gonzalo and of providing him only with selected information that showed that the Shining Path was being destroyed. hi return for each of his conciliatory statements, the Government is gradually improving his prison conditions.
The Shining Path movement has big problems: mass desertion by cadres, loss of its means and resources, and, with eighty percent of its leaders dead or jailed, a leadership crisis which threatens to divide the party. As for Peruvian society, the Times reports that “…the fear has been lifted from this country, which has endured 27,000 deaths and U$ 24 billion in damage from the revolution.., peasants are cautiously returning to abandoned villages. In the rich farming region north of Lima, farmers and ranchers are restoring estates long considered lost in ‘red zones’. And a new generation of young middle class Limenos is discovering the sidewalk cafe”.
The newspaper fails to mention that the great bulk of the deaths were of peasants and Indians indiscriminately killed at the hands of the Government in a continuing war of genocide against them. While peasants may be returning to villages, it is because they had fled after being caught in the middle of a war that made a bad situation intolerable. The war against the Shining Path was being used by the government to destroy all popular alternatives, not only to the government’s programme (which is basically collaboration with and capitulation to international financial interests), but to the Shining Path’s revolutionary programme. Any popular initiative and any peasant village not organised into guerrilla columns was left exposed to the full force not only of the government, but of the Shining Path’s zealous retribution for “collaboration”.
While the great bulk of the Left in Peru and elsewhere was disenchanted with the Shining Path’s sectarianism and killing of its leaders, this does not mean that the government’s suppression of the Shining Path is the Left’s victory. The restoration of estates to landowners in a system that was known only for extreme exploitation (both of people and the environment) now leaves peasants more exposed than even before. This is a hollow victory. And this “young middle class” which is rediscovering the coffee shops in a peasant society is similar to the fifth column that is being created in every developing country of the world, including Nepal, by international banks and agencies to expand the programmes of multinational corporations, to twist the local institutions, and to milk the indigenous peoples, their lands and resources.
If Gonzalo’s capitulation signifies anything hopeful, it is the possibility that human struggle against oppression may be freed of the legacy of Lenin’s programme of centralised party control over struggle, of his “revolution in one country”, and an obedience to doctrinaire interpretations of Mao by his epigones. There is a need to recognise the international character of capital, as Marx did, and that national struggles, from a global perspective, can easily be isolated and destroyed — more so in victory than in defeat. There is a need to recognise that strategy of struggle must begin with the situation that people find themselves within, not with ideology.
Approaches such as that of the Shining Path had efficacy when class struggle could still be framed in terms of national struggle. Theoretically and practically, they denied the inexorably global character of capitalism and the need for a truly international and nonsectarian approach to revolution. A centralised party meant that in the face of failure, revolutionary objectives were diluted with reformist ones by a leadership that subordinated the needs of the working class to their own personal survival, while victory meant the establishment of new ruling classes, often as intolerable as the old.
Gonzalo’s capitulation hopefully reflects a new wind blowing among the Left of Latin America, as was expressed in a declaration coming from a conference in Nicaragua last year. This evolving view recognises the legitimacy and necessity of many alternatives to itself. Rather, the Left must work side by side with them, each coordinating and allying with the others, but also each maintaining its independence.
Comrade Gonzalo’s transformation should have lessons for Nepal. It would be dangerous to assume that because he was defeated, the “other side” won. Gonzalo was fighting what up to now has been called `development’ — development in Nepal that makes a few people rich at the expense of 18 million peasants; ravishing the environment; the unforgivable sacrifice of 200,000 women to Bombay and Calcutta; and accepting the continuing bondage of nine million others; building an international debt that turns our people into international bonded labourers and our statesmen into international beggars; and the sellout of people and resources to a progressively corporate control of the world.
The question is how to make a movement for change that in the true spirit of Marx and countless true prophets and revolutionaries, starts with people, not ideology — be it Mao’s Thought or Market Theory, a movement that encourages and builds upon a wealth of alternatives emerging from the people, one that recognises and confronts the international character of capital and of the state by building an international community of peoples rather than dividing them so tragically. And finally, one that disposes of Lenin’s centralised, dictatorial model of a party — and likewise the bureaucratic, expert-financed, finance-dominated and command-oriented practice of `development’ —and makes democracy both the means and the goal. By democracy, I mean in substance, not this plutocratic sleight of hand of representative democracy: collectively based on strong grassroots organisations and with the focus of decision-making and accountability at the bottom, not the top.