By Ulrike Salazar
On the evening of May 17, 1980, a detachment of the Communist Party of Peru (PCP) stormed the small town of Chucshi in the Ayacucho region of Southern Peru, tying up the registrar and snatching ballot boxes and voting lists and setting them on fire in the town plaza. It wasn’t simply a symbolic action – it was a declaration of war.
This was the first act, a sort of ceremonial opening, of the People’s War of Peru that rages on to this day.
This was the night before the sham presidential elections of 1980. After all the votes were counted, there were only about five million, just slightly more than one-third of a population of 17 million at that time. The Party sought to turn voter abstinence into a conscious boycott for years to come.
Although it was the first so-called “free” election since 1963 due to the numerous military juntas suspending elections years before, the masses were largely unmoved. After a series of military coups and dictatorships punctuated with social-fascist and pro-imperialist governments, the masses of Peru, especially the Andean peasantry, had long-since grown tired of the decrepit and reactionary Peruvian state.
For the second time in his political career, Fernando Belaúnde Terry of the Acción Popular centrist party won the presidency. Belaúnde was a reactionary servant of US imperialism, most infamously known in his first term for attempting to forgive a huge debt of a subsidiary of the US oil monopoly Standard Oil. He was immediately ousted by the military.
The masses, especially the peasantry, supported the PCP through the Party’s generated organisms, which are organizations for specific areas of struggle like women’s oppression, workers’ issues or student struggles. With the launch of the People’s War, the masses incorporated into the armed struggle and many eventually joined the People’s Guerrilla Army and the Party itself.
The significance of the initiation of the People’s War in Peru is historic. May 17, 1980, had a rippling effect throughout the world, ideologically and politically. Ideologically, it reaffirmed that it is only through armed struggle that the proletariat can seize political power.
Capitalism had been restored in both China and the Soviet Union before the initiation of the People’s War in Peru, but the burning of the ballots cast light on the whole world like a red sun rising in the era of strategic offensive of world revolution.
The establishment of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM) in March 1984 as an international association of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought Parties and Organizations (this was before Maoism was synthesized) would also mark a step in the right direction, its founding principally heralded by the People’s War in Peru.
However, RIM would eventually degenerate and die under the hegemony of Bob Avakian and the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, who attacked Chairman Gonzalo, the PCP and the People’s War in Peru in the 1990s.
In July, two months after the initiation of the People’s War, with the masses supporting and participating in the nascent People’s War, the PCP showed the country and the world they were not some impetuous band of guerrillas but deliberate revolutionaries set on waging a war of the masses on all fronts.
On July 29, the day the Peruvian Military celebrates the nation’s independence with a parade, the PCP supporters and guerrillas organized a huge spectacle to delegitimize the old Peruvian state and popularize the People’s War.
As President Belaúnde, government officials, the Peruvian Armed Forces and thousands of guests gathered for the parade, red balloons with painted-on hammers and sickles and red banners with revolutionary slogans, such as “Long live the Armed Struggle! Long Live the PCP!” filled the air.
The PCP had planned the action carefully and methodically, studying the wind currents to ensure the balloons fly directly over the military parade. After the balloons and banners were released, penguins were let loose into the parade, mockingly wearing presidential sashes. The police made arrests but never could figure out who was responsible and released all suspects.
On April 19, about a month before the launch of the People’s War, the PCP wrote a historical document after their First Military School, where the Party sanctioned the initiation of armed struggle. This document, “We are the Initiators,” captures the historical importance of the Peruvian revolution.
“Comrades, this is the world today,” the document reads. “We are living in correspondence with an extraordinary epoch. Never before have men had such a heroic destiny, so it is written. To the men of today, to these men who breathe, who struggle, who fight, it has corresponded to them to sweep away the reaction of the face of the Earth, the great shining mission given to any generation. We are in that situation. The world revolution enters strategic offensive, nothing can prevail against it; innumerable legions of iron rise and more and more will rise, and multiplying inexhaustibly they will encircle, annihilate reaction…”
Nearly a decade after the initiation of the armed struggle, the Party would hold its first congress where it analyzed several pressing questions. In the popularly-studied congress document, “Bases of Discussion of the General Political Line”, Chairman Gonzalo laid out the history of the working class’ struggle throughout the entire history of modern capitalism. He would go on to state that the first era of worldwide strategic defensive began with the Paris Commune of 1871 and the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution. The second era of strategic equilibrium began with the 1949 Chinese Revolution, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the national liberation movements; and finally the People’s War in Peru initiated the third and final stage of strategic offensive in world revolution.
The importance of the initiation of the People’s War in Peru is almost limitless. The PCP, and the People’s Guerrilla Army (later the People’s Liberation Army), would go on to conquer vast areas of the southern and central regions of Peru’s countryside, and eventually make it into metropolitan Lima. The ripple effects are still felt today.
But perhaps the greatest of all the contributions that the People’s War of Peru has given the world is the synthesis of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, principally Maoism, and Gonzalo Thought.
The PCP, and primarily Chairman Gonzalo, gave the world the revolutionary ideology of Maoism, an ideology that has inspired organizations and Communist Parties throughout the world to seriously take up the task of carrying out People’s War. May 17 lives on as a day in the international working class’ history, and it deserves to be recognized popularly in the ICM right alongside other important dates, such as October 1 as the founding of the People’s Republic of China, November 7 as the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution, March 8 as International Working Women’s Day, May 1 as International Workers’ Day and June 19 as the Day of Heroism.
History is a collection of qualitative leaps. It is made by the people in life-and-death struggle, the class struggle. The highest point in the class struggle is the People’s War. And the most advanced People’s War ever is the one in Peru which scales the Andes to assault the heavens.