History Politics

Sendero Luminoso, Peru’s Shining Path Movement

Back in the day I’d occasionally find myself in the kitchen of a student house-party ambushed by a killjoy Maoist preacher eager to bend my ear about the Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path, one of those obscure left-wing Latin American guerrilla groups whose faraway actions occasionally made the news here in Ireland. While I didn’t have that much knowledge about the politics of South America, beyond an interest in the initial propagande par le fait activities of the Tupamaros in Uruguay, I knew enough to be sceptical about anyone expressing enthusiasm for the cult-like ideology of what was officially the Communist Party of Peru. Unfortunately the senderistas were often deserving of their poor reputation. The YouTube channel BadEmpanada has published an illuminating overview of the history of Shining Path that is worth a watch. (Apologies for the pun.)

9 comments on “Sendero Luminoso, Peru’s Shining Path Movement

  1. Abimael Guzman is cut from much the same cloth as Saloth Sar/Pol Pot. Thankfully, he never got true “control” of much of Peru, as I’ve no doubt that had the Shining Path been capable of taking major cities it would have been as bad as “The Democratic Republic of Kampuchea”.

    I’m familiar with Peru and it’s always frustrating to see that country has never gotten the Government or the so-called “revolutionaries” it deserves. With regards to the reign of Juan Velasco: Yes, it’s impossible to overlook the fact he was a military dictator. However, the land reforms really did make a massive differences in the rural life of much of Peru. It didn’t hit every region and was perfect nowhere. However, some of those “local leaders” where the land reforms did take hold were remarkably progressive given the overall situation. Thankfully, neither the Shining Path nor the repressive governments that told hold later were able to roll back the clock or get rid of the changes. In some respects refusal to distinguish between true Gamonales in some areas and local leaders in others, the. re were real shades of Soviet de-Kulakization, where peasants who had a little more than their neighbors were labeled as “kulaks”.

    A lot of Communism’s susceptibility to extremist dogmas and cults of personality seems to come down to the 19th century reductivism that Marx all but perfected. Anyone who is born after 1860 or so into even a fragile Democracy and then buys into beyond a brief youthful (or middle aged!!) flirtation, likely has some traits such as a willingness to go to certain types of extremes both psychological and physical. Whether that has to do with some quirk in the personality, a reaction to the society they see around them, or both is kind of variable.

    Ah and Jose Carlos Mariategui. Was the landlord class as bad as he made it out to be? It was. However to go to far as to imply that Peru’s Independence from Spain declared in 1821 and its (relatively peaceful!!!!) abolition of slavery in 1854 had not made a difference in the lives of ordinary people……I’ll be kind and say that’s ill-supported claim. Even beyond Mariategui’s time the vacillation between military and democratic rule was not some trivial thing.

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  2. A grim crew. I remember at one point there was a lot of stuff about how they’d inevitably take over Peru and then onwards across South American. Never quite saw that myself and it always seemed to be a terrible potential outcome. The cult-like aspects were very obvious way back when. And given the immiseration of peasants (I don’t use that pejoratively) and the working class in Peru already at that point difficult not to think they made a very bad situation functionally worse.

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  3. Jim Monaghan

    I think one of the newish groups claiming to be Republican Socialist seem to be members of the fan club for above

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    • Why do you think that’s the case? Do people not know what The Shining Path has done? Or do they dismiss it as a propaganda lie?

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      • Jim Monaghan

        Alas, many groups are prone to the “enemy of my enemy” is potentially a friend or ally. Hence the illusions in Putin, Stalin before him etc. Yes, they do believe it is a lie or they simply justify it. They refuse to support the Uyghurs, the people of Belarus etc. The only imperialist crimes are those committed by the USA. Personally, I oppose oppression everywhere, no matter by whom.

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        • We lucky for them the Shining Path is very unlikely to wend it’s way to Ireland. At absolute best, it seems as bizarre for Irish Republicans to back them as it was for Guzman to hang dogs in protest of Deng Xiaoping’s revisionism regarding Chairman Mao. Even though a certain crop that originated in Peru absolutely did have a profound effect on Irish history!!

          How much anyone in the West can do to help the Uighur of China is at best an open question, I’m afraid. With Putin I don’t trust the bastard, but know better than to think ALL of his opposition even in Russia is on the side of angels.

          I remember my first run in with a “Tankie” organization. When in a meeting, they were using the phrase “dictatorship of the Proletariat” some guy from Venezuela raised his hand and said “Where I come from ‘dictatorship’ is a very bad word”. Of course, they gave a standard explanation about how it was the only way to tend the “hegemony of the ruling class”.

          One the bus, in disbelief that I had spent time in a meeting that defended the idea of a dictatorship, I started reading their literature. In the FAQ one question read “Is it true that Stalin was responsible for the imprisonment and starvation for millions of people?” to which the answer read “We don’t know. We’re only taught what Capitalist media and schools want us to believe.”

          Just like the Venezuelan couldn’t see the word dictator as a positive good, I don’t see how anyone with any connection or affinity with Ireland of any kind can be a Tankie given the Holodmor and other Soviet Famines.

          I personally believe all ideologies calling for a “purely” capitalist or socialist economy are 100 miles of bad road.

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  4. Although not a supporter myself I would have thought the attraction of Sendero Luminoso for some would be obvious: they were still fighting and had won control of some areas. Revolutionaries, faced everywhere with defeat, disaster or apathy, seek a “shining” example (sorry for the pun).

    I thought this comment was rather supercilious and at the same time weak theoretically: “A lot of Communism’s susceptibility to extremist dogmas and cults of personality seems to come down to the 19th century reductivism that Marx all but perfected. Anyone who is born after 1860 or so into even a fragile Democracy and then buys into beyond a brief youthful (or middle aged!!) flirtation, likely has some traits such as a willingness to go to certain types of extremes both psychological and physical. Whether that has to do with some quirk in the personality, a reaction to the society they see around them, or both is kind of variable.”

    What is “extremist”? The term is often a liberal one which posits the liberal in the desired position with “extremists” to right and left. Then socialists who adopt a similar position see anyone going further than them as “extremists” (or “ultra leftists” in Lenin or Trotsky speak). Older ex-revolutionaries with what my father called “political hardening of the arteries” also speak tolerantly or critically of youthful “extremism”, because of course being older and wiser they now know better.

    Capitalism is extreme, so extreme that it is actually now putting the whole biosphere and human existence in danger. Revolution is necessary and must perforce be extreme. But is it helpful to speak of “extremes”? Surely more useful to speak of what does work and why, against what does not and why.

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  5. So are the Sentiero Luminosa still going? Back in the eighties we were climbing in the Cordillera Blanca and were warned from Lima. Of course they did not wear badges and you did not who were sympsathisers. We learnt Quechua some, as well as Spanish and that was appreciated . As we were leaving from Lima we heard of a terrorist victim , apparentley Welshman, up in the Amazonas region of Peru. The rumour goes he was found hanging , crucified in a tree with his severed penis in his mouth. I do not know if he had learnt the language (1988).

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