On Friday, September 24, 2021, a small group gathered in Portland, Oregon, to watch and discuss the 1992 BBC documentary “People of the Shining Path,” as well as commemorate Comrade Gonzalo and discuss his contributions to the International Communist Movement. Before watching the documentary, the following was read about Gonzalo.
Chairman Gonzalo, also known as Dr. Abimael Guzman Reynoso, was born on December 3, 1934, in Mollendo, Peru. He was for much of his aboveground career a professor at the public university in Ayacucho. During his tenure as a professor, he spearheaded the building of communist organization and devoted his time to intimately learning about the lives of the masses in Ayacucho. He rejected the revisionist leadership of the USSR that succeeded Stalin and found Mao Zedong’s theory providing necessary leaps to the Communist tradition, including the strategy of protracted people’s war and cultural revolution, or the continued class struggle under socialism. Gonzalo was even able to visit China twice during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, returning to Peru determined to apply the lessons of the Chinese revolution. Gonzalo recruited students as well as faculty as communist cadre, with many of these students becoming teachers in small Indigenous communities after graduation in order to organize. In the mid-70s, several years prior to the launching of the people’s war, a number of communists, including Gonzalo, were arrested and soon after went underground.
Though they initially focused on building mass bases in the countryside, cities played a vital strategic role for the PCP (Partido Comunista del Perú, or Communist Party of Peru) as well. In the 70s and 80s, the shantytowns surrounding Peru’s capital Lima were rapidly growing as migrants fled economically devastated rural areas. Gonzalo recognized the necessity of organizing and building new power among the urban proletariat living in these shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima. During the 80s, as the people’s war advanced, the PCP gained mass support in these shantytowns, initiating the Revolutionary Defense Movement and Struggle Committees, and regularly subjected bourgeois power in Lima to impressive revolutionary warfare.
On April 5, 1992, as the PCP had control of around 60% of the country, Peru’s fascist president Fujimori shut down Congress, suspended the Constitution, and drastically purged the judiciary, carrying out a self-coup, whereby a legally elected president eliminates all legal-consitutional constraints on their power. He also set up secret military courts and gave free reign to the police and military, trained by the CIA, to murder suspected “terrorists.” On September 12, 1992, Gonzalo was captured in Lima, living in the home of progressive supporters. He delivered a speech from a cage in a pin-stripe prison uniform before international media in which he insisted that his capture was merely a bend in the road and that the revolution would prevail. The PCP continued to launch major attacks against the Peruvian state for about a year after Gonzalo’s capture, fizzling out by the end of the decade as the PCP’s Central Committee was further weakened by more arrests. A right opportunist line (ROL) was pushed within the PCP calling for negotiations with the Peruvian state and an end to the people’s war, claiming it was impossible to continue the revolution due to the severe level of repression. The Peruvian government and media claimed multiple times that Gonzalo supported these call for negotiations, though the legitimacy of these is debatable, with a former official once admitting fabricating letters by Gonzalo. Nevertheless, thousands of militants accepted the peace accords and the people’s war in Peru has not been able to fully recover from this “bend in the road.”
Comrade Gonzalo died on September 11, 2021 at the age of 86. Though Gonzalo once led the Communist Party of Peru and the Peruvian Revolution, his imprisonment completely cut him off from his party and all political activity. He was kept in isolation in a prison initially built for him on the Callao Naval Base, and was often denied contact with even his wife and lawyer. We cannot know how 29 years of isolation effected his mind and political convictions, but we know his contributions to the Communist tradition give life and direction to the people’s wars being waged throughout the world, namely in formally recognizing Maoism as a distinct stage of Marxism.
This evening, we remember Comrade Gonzalo’s life. Due to Gonzalo’s undeniable contributions to the Peruvian revolution, and the global proletarian revolution, his martyrdom cannot be in vain. His life beckons us to find relentless faith in the masses, and to commit ourselves to the scientific practice of building revolution.
I’d like to close with a quote from the 1988 interview with Chairmain Gonzalo:
“Fear? I believe that fear and lack of fear form a contradiction. The point is to take up our ideology, and unleash the courage within us. It is our ideology that makes us brave, that gives us courage. In my opinion, no one is born brave. It is society, the class struggle, that makes people and communists courageous–the class struggle, the proletariat, the Party, and our ideology. What could the greatest fear be? Death? As a materialist I know that life will end some day. What is most important to me is to be an optimist, with the conviction that others will continue the work to which I am committed, and will carry it forward until they reach our final goal, communism. Because the fear that I could have is that no one would carry on, but that fear disappears when one has faith in the masses. I think that the worst fear, in the end, is not to have faith in the masses, to believe that you’re indispensable, the center of the world. I think that’s the worst fear and if you are forged by the Party, in proletarian ideology, in Maoism principally, you understand that the masses are the makers of history, that the Party makes revolution, that the advance of history is certain, that revolution is the main trend, and then your fear vanishes. What remains is the satisfaction of contributing together with others to laying the foundation so that some day communism may shine and illuminate the entire earth.”