The Left in Peru

AV:  What problems does Peruvian left face?
RRM: After ten years long crises we are now in the process of reconstruction and renovation of the left. We were affected by three principal factors: First, the neo-liberal offensive all over the world that was represented here by the dictatorship of Fujimori. This dictatorship triggered enormous campaign that was attempting to discredit all left wing movements, all opposition parties and unions; the second, factor of Shining Path – movement that adopted the policy of confrontation with other organized left-wing parties.

AV:  Including MRTA.
RRM: Including MRTA.  Shining Path was using left wing ideology to promote armed struggle, and we had to respond to that situation and to defend ourselves. In this process we lost around one hundred leaders – workers, mayors including a mayor of Ayacucho/Huamanga – center of Shining Path, social leaders like Maria Elena Moyano. Until now we are not sure of who killed these people, if it was Shining Path or the state apparatus. The war that lasted over ten years placed us – the left wing – between two fires. On one hand – Shining Path – on the other, state repression, including even the state terrorism. This situation didn’t leave us much space to operate – often we had to go underground, to hide our militancy – many of those who had advocated the struggle before became pacifists. In these conditions it was extremely difficult to continue the struggle.

AV:  What was your party’s situation during the dictatorship? Were you continuing to function as a party?
RRM: Yes, we were functioning as a party. Our party – Peruvian Communist Party – is the oldest Communist party in Peru – we are the root party founded by Mariátequi in 1922. Therefore, our party has a national structure. It has a tradition of struggle as well as cadres in the principal workers unions. During the coup on April 5, 1992 our party stood shoulder to shoulder with other democratic parties in Peru, defending democracy. At that time we were representing just a tiny minority, but we were able to preserve our structure.

AV:  After the coup you were boycotting elections…
RRM: Of course. We didn’t participate in elections. Coup happened in April and in December 18 was killed Secretary General of General Worker’s Confederation who was in fact a head of our party. In the following months, 5 leaders of Worker’s Confederation were killed.

AV:  Who did it? Before we all believed that these killings were done by Shining
Path.  But now this certainty is lost.
RRM: True. We can’t be sure anymore if they were killed by Shining Path or by the repressive state apparatus. For instance – the case of Pedro Wilka – now we know that he was killed by the state apparatus – by its paramilitaries.  But when the killing took place, there were several hypotheses, including one about Shining Path.

AV:  Now there are even doubts about who really killed progressive mayor of Villa el Salvador shantytown – María Elena Moyano.
RRM: Nobody knows. Therefore, several investigations have now been opened, but conservative sectors of the society are trying to block these investigations.
But coming back to your initial question – about the crises of the left wing. The third factor that was leading to this situation is of course the international scenario – what is often called a fall of Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. Influenced by all three factors, the left entered into profound crisis. Crises of ideas – there were suddenly all those “modernizers” and advocates of the “third way”. However, the core of Peruvian left decided to resist and maintain its ideology. We tried to preserve our influence in the worker’s movements, because we believe that there lies the base for the further reconstruction of the left. After the dictatorship we also decided to unite two most important Communist Parties – Peruvian Communist Party and Patria Roja – Red Homeland (Communist Party of Peru). Both parties are coming from the same base, but were ideologically divided in the 60’s, during the separation of the Soviet and Chinese ideologies. We decided to reunite these two important Communist/Marxist forces. Therefore, we already issued our first manifesto, and now we are deepening our cooperation, entering the second stage: after uniting our two parties, we began to work with other forces that may be called socialist or Marxist. Therefore, on the May First – worker’s day, we announced creation of the “Coordinator of the Left” (Coordinadora de Izquierda). This coordinating body includes two Communist Parties and several other movements. It’s like a united front. We need united left, especially now. We don’t want to abandon our socialist ideas; therefore we have to unite every movement, every party that shares our beliefs.

AV:  But your struggle must be very difficult. Owners of Peruvian media are right-wingers. Peruvian people were brainwashed during the dictatorship. Even democratically elected President of Venezuela [Hugo Chavez] is
hardly surviving conspiracies from the ruling business elite. And he is already there  – in the Presidential Palace.
RRM: It is definitely very difficult. But don’t forget – we still have strengths, not only weaknesses. One of our strongholds is our influence on the worker’s movements. Nobody can dispute that. Communists are deeply involved in worker’s movement. Worker’s movements in Peru were already organized in the 30’s, they have great experience in the struggle, and it has qualified cadres. Also, while preserving our ideology, we are trying to modernize ourselves, by dropping some elements of dogmatism. The other positive factor is that in Peru we already have some experience with the unity. “United Left” (Izquierda unida) functioned in the 90’s. In the past, we had a few good left-wing governments and people still remember them. Also, while we don’t have big left wing newspapers, there are a growing number of so-called popular publications – some of them are still at a provincial level. Bourgeoisie does not yet control these publications. And look, what is a circulation of the biggest right wing newspaper – El Commercio?

AV:  Some 200 thousand…
RRM: Right – on Sundays they sell between 150 and 200 thousand copies. All the rest of the major newspapers sell lesser. But small newspapers that sell for one half of a sol have the largest circulation. Most of them don’t have any clear political orientation and some of them played dirty during the dictatorship. But now they are changing their orientation, because they need big market. And who buys them: mostly the poor. Because poor can’t afford big newspapers and have no time to watch television: they have to have several jobs in order to survive. Look at Liberación – a new left-center left newspaper – it’s a great success, and it has taken a big part of the market from La República, which has always been closer to the government. And again, in the provinces, the left has presence in the media. Provincial tabloids have to survive and they can do so only by selling to common and poor people – they don’t live from Coca-Cola advertisements. “Left coordinator” is going to soon start publishing its own national weekly newspaper called “La Jornada”. Soon after we are planning to convert it to a daily publication with at least 20 thousand copies. There is one more positive element that is helping us: disastrous failures of the present and previous governments. We didn’t invent dissatisfaction of the people. We don’t want to start any serious struggle right now. We don’t want to bring down the government. Why? Because if we bring it down now, there is going to be new government even more radically reactionary. We need more time to regroup and to launch our own program of united left. Social situation in this country is despicable; it is calling for the left to rise again. No official parties, including APRA, can fill the space created by the suffering and social tragedy in which our people have to live. The left led rebellion on May 14, and we did it successfully, despite the fact that the government tried to discredit us, again. They got it wrong  – we are fine with democracy, and with the system that is again reemerging in Peru. We are fine with it for now. Because we need time to regroup and to create very serious programs that would allow us, in the future, to govern Peru.

AV:  So you are not counting on revolution, anymore?
RRM: What we want to do is to channel the popular discontent – so it can lead to the support for our organization. This discontent has to be converted into a muscle, into a force.

AV:  Do you still hope to take power in this country?
RRM: Of course, of course we do. Our planning is strategic. We are not planning to support the old system forever. Our goal is an alternative society, after all. But for now we need time to regroup and to regain support.    

AV:  One of the main problems of the left in Latin America is a chronic lack of unity on the continent level. With exception of Cuba, all left wing governments were destroyed by the right wing with direct or indirect backing of the United States. I am talking about Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Chile. Not long ago, Chávez miraculously survived a coup in Venezuela. There is never any help from neighboring countries. Why this lack of unity? Can you do it alone in Peru?
RRM: Times are difficult. Look at the last 10 years. Neo-liberalism without competition. Look what happened to European Socialists – a disaster. Argentina and the rest of Latin America that doesn’t grow. The only thing that grows is poverty. Unemployment. And all over the world and here – there is more and more of opposition against globalization. That’s why we went to the World Social Forum II in Porto Allegre, which can create this system of support you are talking about. It was a great success. The first forum was attended by 10 thousand people, the second by 60 thousand. Great personalities were there – like Chomsky and Lula. It is obvious that there is a growing crisis of the neo- liberal model. Globalization is not solving problems of humanity.

AV:  Sure, but although the opposition has more members than a few years ago, its real power is diminishing.
RRM:  Right. Sometimes it seems that there is no exit from the present situation. Poor people in many countries will soon become so desperate that they will make their countries ungovernable. Poor countries will not be able to pay external debt. The foreign debt represents the heaviest burden that has to be carried by our nations. And if we stay on this course, if we don’t address problems of misery and hunger, the situation will lead to the social explosion. Again, it will not be we who will create the explosion – those in power will – The World Bank will; President of the World Bank will, IMF. The policy of IMF has to be thoroughly redesigned. But to re-design it in some “third way” would mean that it would serve the present system again. Our party does not support these cosmetic changes. Look what is happening in Europe, in France for instance. Decline of the left there happened mainly because European Communist parties abandoned their basic stance, in Italy even their names. In Latin America we have a great tradition of struggle. Sure, we had some problems here. But for example Cuba is still resisting imperialism of the United States. We are too close to the United States and we feel foreign policy of that country more than any other part of the world. Just look at “Andean Initiative” or “Plan Colombia”. Or in Venezuela. Therefore, we think that there is a favorable scenario for the change. We are ready to be self-critical – to admit our mistakes from the past, but we are not ready to abandon the struggle. We have to work together for the globalization of the struggle. This means that we have to create structures at the continental level, even at the global level.

AV:  But how can you do it practically? In Latin America, the majority of the people are being indoctrinated by the right-wing propaganda. When you mention Left, they immediately imagine the Soviet Union, gulags and its collapse, or worse still – extreme groups like Shining Path.
RRM: Sure – we have to fight on several fronts. On the ideological front we have to rebuild people’s belief in socialism. We shouldn’t follow Europe where many socialist parties have moved to the center. These very parties are now failing and losing power all over Europe. Here, we don’t want to abandon our principles, our flags, our projects. Of course we have to re-think our strategy, we have to come up with many new ideas. We have to let people participate more in decision-making. Instead of constantly confronting with the state, we have to come up with proposals that would help solve basic problems of our nations.

AV:  But how can you fight such a well-established system of power? Can you break predominantly racist and feudal establishment that is controlling these societies for centuries, without a revolution – an armed struggle?
RRM: There are really no manuals that define how the struggle should be conducted. We already had some experiments with the armed struggle in Peru: comrades from Shining Path, comrades from MRTA. Both movements adopted exclusively military strategy for their struggle, without developing political conscience of the masses. Since their actions were of a strictly military character, it was easy for the propaganda apparatus to discount them as terrorists. We don’t want to exclude possibility of any form of the struggle, but we also believe that there should be an integral strategy of our Left.

AV:  Is there a plan of cooperation between left wing parties in Andean region?
RRM: I have to admit there is no concrete plan, but there is cooperation and there are coordinated actions. We have cooperation with all Communist parties of Latin America and with all democratic parties. We are part of Sao Paulo Forum that unites over 100 political organizations – Marxist and non-Marxist. We are meeting on a regular basis; we discuss common strategy for Latin America. We also have cooperation with the Communist countries and Communist parties all over the world. We are trying to rebuild what was destroyed by the first wave of the neo-liberal offensive. And the support is growing. Just look at Argentina – people in this continent don’t believe in bourgeois parties, anymore. People want direct participation in decision-making and we are willing to give it to them. We are not afraid of the people, while most of the governments of this continent are. Look at our President – Toledo. He lies. He has signed the document, promising his people that his government will stop privatization. But privatization has become one of his main goals. And people are wondering: is this a system we are expected to defend?

AV:  That’s why his popularity dropped to around 20%.
RRM: And it is still going down.

AV:  Why are Communist Parties in Latin America presently so weak?
RRM: I think because political and social discontent of our people has not yet transformed into political movement. Our people are desperate, they are protesting but when there is time to vote, they are voting for the right. Why? Because we were not well organized, because we were not able to create sound political programs and projects. Also because there was enormous disinformation campaign during the dictatorship. Believe it or not, Fujimori has still support of over 10% of Peruvians – despite all that he had done. And where are these supporters: in the shantytowns where he had built some schools or electric transformers. Our people are looking for concrete gestures – many of them don’t care about ideology. He has built roads, and people are taking these roads every day and are grateful to him. Some don’t bother to think that he ruined the country. That’s how he gets his 10% support. Disastrous governance of Toledo makes some people say: “It would be better if ‘El Chino’ came back and introduced his authoritarian government’”.

AV:  Yes, there are some very dangerous trends in Peru. It seems that a great number of Peruvians are dreaming of some form of dictatorship. Pinochet may be one of the most admired people in this country.
RRM: But you know why, comrade? During the years of dictatorship many of the values of the Left simply disappeared. And we allowed it to happen. Solidarity, fraternity, democracy. Why should we let right-wingers claim monopoly on democracy? Before we used to say: “down with the bourgeoisie and their democracy”. We made some great mistakes! We have to be very careful – there is no way we can use this kind of language, anymore. Our language used to be too dogmatic, too totalitarian. And not only our language – our thinking, too.  People simply don’t want to hear this kind of language. For instance, we have to say: “Look comrades, in Peru we have incredibly serious problems with misery, with poverty. Let’s work together to eliminate it. Let’s promote solidarity. Let’s see what we can do concretely, now. Let’s build soup kitchens; let’s promote small companies. These are our concrete plans: one, two, three…”

AV:  Why is Left not talking much about the racism in Peru? This country is in some ways similar to South Africa thirty years ago. It is predominantly controlled by extremely small white minority; indigenous majority is marginalized economically and socially but also in terms of their language and culture.
RRM: You are absolutely right. We have not dealt with these important issues, yet. Why? I can’t say, I guess we were too much wrapped up with other issues. But here in Peru the racism is still terrible. And Peru is not like Chile – we have enormous indigenous population – we are an Andean country. So far we were concentrating more on economic issues. Of course we are trying to combat racism, but maybe you are right; maybe it wasn’t enough. This topic is important for the entire continent, not only for Peru. We are mostly mestizos, and we also have an enormous number of people of African descent, almost 3 million only here – in Peru. But this is what I want to say: we have many problems we have to deal with. It will be heard, but we didn’t disappear. We are ready to fight, working on new proposals, projects, and solutions. We have support that is growing, but we still have a long way to go. New generation is taking over – old leaders from the 30’s and the 40’s are leaving. I am Secretary General, but I am relatively young and I come from the province – from Ica. Everything is changing – collapse of the Eastern block, dictatorship, civil war – all this had an enormous impact on us – on the Left. Sometimes I feel that we has just crossed an enormous desert and our journey took ten years. And only recently we have arrived at oasis. That’s why we are not ready to say: this type of democracy should fall. Because we are not yet ready to offer an alternative project – alternative solution. We are working very hard but we are not ready, yet. If we would go to elections now, our united Communist parties would get only about 10% of votes.

Andre Vltchek is a journalist.  Renan Raffo Munoz is the General Secretary of the Peruvian Communist Party.

Leave a comment